CRM software runs my life

Xero Accounting usability review

Xero touts itself as “The world’s easiest accounting system”. I don’t think they have much competition as far as usability goes in the accounting space, but I would guess that is because their competition probably think it is impossible to reduce accounting functionality into a usable package. I have had an extensive play with their demo, and I have seen a really surprisingly large number of unique and very usable elements to their user interface. Just when you think Web 2.0 usability techniques have plateaued, it is nice to be reminded that there are still plenty of boundaries to push. I just want to point out a few of my favourite interface elements of this beautifully designed interface.

The Xero Dashboard

The Xero Dashboard

When you first login you are greeted by a welcome message. This isn’t particularly unique, but it has nice touches. A warm dialog, pre-loaded sample data and a link to view the sample data straight away. They even have a different demo company set up for each country they operate in, taking into account local accounting rules etc. But that’s not all! Once you load the Demo Company data you can either take a tour, or tackle one of the top 10 tasks that people complete in Xero.

Tour or top 10 tasks

Getting Started Alert

I think this shows a good level of hand-holding, but also of understanding and targetting your customers.

Another nice usability touch is the auto-logout function. Users generally hate the auto-logout 99% of the time, but it does save their bacon that final 1%. To make it as unbtrusive as possible Xero use a lightboxed login box when your 30 minutes is up (and it is good they actually display the limit here too). This makes logging back in a breeze, and teasing the user with all their content subtly appearing under the lightbox makes them feel that it isn’t a big process to dive back into the software again.

autologout is painless

Lightbox style Auto-Logout

Reports are another area where usability is always difficult, in this case navigating to the reports that you use most regularly. Xero allows the user to simply click the star next to the report, and that report will then appear in the higher level Reports dropdown. You never have to see the full list of reports again!

Simple report navigation

Simple report navigation

It’s pretty minor, but it is a solution I never thought of to a problem I have faced for a while.

Finally one last idea that looks simple, but is actually very effective. The action button that performs more than one action:

button dropdown

Consolidated Action Buttons

I like this because it keeps action buttons to a minimum, allowing them to be placed more consistently and concisely on a screen. It also forces you to make sure the actions on a page are related and required.

Other nice elements include inline help content throughout, consistent positioning and colouring of action buttons, good usage of white space around tabs and tables, the ability to save drafts or ‘publish’ data entry and the use of simple language (“Money coming in” rather than “Accounts Receivable”).

Well done Xero, you are now my usability reference whenever I get stuck! 🙂


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  1. Tom

    I have just been evaluating xero but have chosen saasu for my business. It has better intergrated payroll and seems to have been around for the bit longer. Definitely worth checking out.

  2. Tobias

    Good review, but I agree with Tom above. Xero at first seems pretty slick but there was something about it that I didn’t feel completely comfortable with when I tried it. Probably just teething problems as they get bigger, probably worth waiting for though. Look forward to watching this software grow though. Has potential.

  3. Well, it depends on what you are looking for. Xero is perfect for small businesses, who need a simple easy to use cost effective application. Were Saasu, is a bit more in-depth. We integrate with both of them, and find an even mix with our customers using them. Great Review Scott.

  4. I think Xero looks great. It looks straight forward and intuitive. If only it had a good CRM which integrated with email providers such as Mail Chimp or Vertical Response. Customer categories would be very useful.

    The payroll function is not very advanced either. It should allow tracking of personal leave entitlements, holidays, and recording of pay rates as annual rates as well as hourly rates. Pay classifications, applicable awards or agreements, Super funds, etc are needed also.

    I think I will get Xero because of the WordPress e-Commerce plugin, but I would have got Sassu because of the CRM if it had had the WordPress plugin. I hope Xero will have improved by the time I need payroll.

  5. I have just found that Xero integrates with Capsule CRM, which also intergates with Mail Chimp. Capsule CRM is another $12 per month. So the CRM seems OK with Xero. This leaves only the payroll to fix up. I’m sure it will be done soon enough.

  6. Also, I just found that Xero integrates with but this is quite expensive, starting at $25 per month. Anyway, looking forward to trying it all out. Realistically a MYOB or Quickbooks yearly subscription is over $400 per year. Xero plus WebPayroll would be more expensive than MYOB or Quickbooks, but have the advantages of cloud computing.

  7. i’m sure no-one cares for too many comments, but just one more thing:
    Xero seem to now be charging $49 per month for the usable version – (ie. more than 5 invoices per month). This is without providing an acceptable payroll system. This would mean paying for a third party payroll system as well as $49 per month for Xero. MYOB is cheaper. Based on that Saasu is the better option imo, as their payroll seems quite usable for Australia.

    Both Saasu and Xero can use OneSaas to integrate various services such as plugins, CRM etc. OneSaas is working on a WordPress eCommerce plugin interface which will suit me.

  8. Deirdre Lowery

    Well I am a home business (agriculture) and don’t need the payroll or CRM or other flash stuff. Just want to be able to input invoices speedily and reconcile my bank statements but this program is so repetitive, not a lot done automatically. Much rather Quickbooks for useability.

  9. Melanie

    Has anyone used the multi-currency feature and care to comment on that. I have a client whose primary currency is IDR, also dealing with GBP, EUR and USD – sometimes multi-currency payments on 1 invoice. They are a small business (tourism related) and need multiple users at 2 locations. This seems better than QB online which won’t accomodate the currency issue. Payroll would be nice but not a huge issue.

    Would appreciate any insight as need to get them on track with the right solution. Will check out the other packages mentioned here as well.

    Thank you

  10. In November 2010 Interactive Accounting introduced RSDataWeb & superMate. These two excellent tools enable seamless data integration of banking and investment transactions into an online superannuation financial reporting & tax form preparation platform. This allows the first steps to be taken towards best practice in Super Administration in Australia for tax accountants without off-shoring the work.

  11. Jason

    We just switched from xero to tallyzip. Xero is nice, but it’s not as non-accountant friendly. Plus, it doesn’t have any other office features. We were using freshbooks and highrise along with xero, but found tallyzip rolls everything into one really nicely.

    Honestly, I think their usability is much nicer.

    • Chris

      Hey Jason, I’m trying to find reviews on TallyZip. Do you know if they handle imports from QB and have accountant access like xero? That’s pretty important to us.

    • Hey Jason,
      Tallyzip looks impressive. Do you know if it will handle multiple entities. We’re a micro business, but for tax reasons we have 2 companies that need to be reconciled to/from our various bank accounts. Has anyone else found a solution for that in the entry level accounting space ??

  12. JR

    Just tried tallyzip website, but it seems they are out of business? So back to Xero then?

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