If you sell either reactive or proactive services, or directly support people who do the selling, then you must be concerned with database integrity.  After all, how can you sell a contract without having accurate installed base and contact information? This is what I am talking about:

  • Customer name, contact information, and summary of past transactions and conversations for both you and the whole service team
  • Installed equipment information like model, serial number, and installed date
  • Current entitlement (warranty, billable, contract)
  • Date of last service call or on-site visit and outcome
  • The same information about all your other equipment at the site

If you haven’t thought about this subject before, you are probably scratching your head and wondering how this information never got entered.  Or maybe you realize that it was entered when the products were first installed and now you find out that there are errors in the system. How can that be?  Well, here is one giant reason:

Don’t think these things can’t ever happen to any of your customers?  Well, think again.  In any 2-hour period in the U.S., 578 companies will change their phone number; this means that 1,806,480 companies will change their phone number in any 12-month period.  Some of them are Fortune 500 size.  No doubt, some of these will be in your contact list.

A few common mistakes and omissions that you can avoid

1. Make sure that you check names before entering a new customer.  A common mistake is listing a customer under two or more names. For example, I have Google Alerts set up to notify me when my name appears somewhere on the web.  Here are the alerts:

  • Sam Klaidman
  • Samuel Klaidman
  • Samuel L. Klaidman
  • Sam L. Klaidman

If you have the same customer listed under different names, you can easily miss out on sales. The solution is to merge the entries to make a single record that is more complete.

2. When equipment was installed, the database was created properly, including the name and contact information of the end user and department manager.  Recently, the manager has moved on and been replaced.  Either your company was never told of the change or someone in your group talked to the replacement but never updated the online records.  Either way, you have no idea who is now in that job.

3. The fat-fingered devil took control of someone while entering data.  We all know the fat-fingered devil.  He causes us to type San when you meant Sam.  Not all systems have spellcheckers and even if they do, not everyone look at the squiggly lines under text.

How to prevent data errors

One problem is that even when you find and correct a mistake, it is very difficult to take preventative actions. People very infrequently raise their hand and admit the error.  Instead, it usually goes like this:

How to proactively identify database errors

As far as I know, there is only one way to identify database errors, and even that way is not foolproof.  My solution is to confirm every entry by attempting to contact each person using email or snail mail.

With email, send a message to each contact with a subject like “Please take 15-seconds to confirm our records.”  In the body of the message, include all the contact info from your system and ask the contact to return it if all is correct, or change it and return and add the word “updated” to the subject line.

If your email is bounced with a message, like “Jane Doe is no longer…” then its time to do some detective work.  Someone has to reach out to other employees in the same area of the business as Jane and find out who is taking her place.  What a great opportunity to introduce your company and organization, find out if there is anything you can do to help now, and start building a relationship.

One thing I’ve done around the end of the year is to send each contact a little gift, like a calendar with the service groups contact information. Go online and you can find thousands of inexpensive gifts that you can send out.  Or ask the person in Marketing who handles tradeshows. Not only are you saying “thank you” to all your customers, you will get feedback about who is no longer there by including a short message asking for confirmation of receipt. To be sure you get feedback you can address the package to “Jane Doe or Current Lab Manager” or whatever.

If you follow my model, then send the gift in December and the email in June or July.  Even if you are diligent, you will find that errors creep into your database, but the number will be small. You should also set an accuracy goal.  I suggest working to achieve the same record level accuracy (as a percent of records) as the Inventory Control Manager does for inventory accuracy.  And both of you can cooperate to improve both measurements.