There are simple and rather intricate or complicated ways to keep you from forgetting things, and we’ll look at some of them here:
Yes, I know, it sounds very simplistic, but you’d be surprised how many people do not have customer notes because they believe they can rely on the regular nature of their activity. Some of us might be able to do that (“somebody calls with a request, I fulfil it and that’s it”), but let’s be realistic: most jobs are not like that and require different approaches and steps for each task you are required to do, be it as an employee or as a self-employed person.
Taking notes can take many different shapes: from having sticky notes with basic information to fully fledged information exchange systems shared by hundreds, if not thousands of people.
We are all used to taking notes occasionally, and in many cases that is just about enough to keep going about our business. Mostly, those notes would involve reminders of things to do, things to remember, or simply be a to-do list. Nothing wrong with that.
The problems start when those to-do lists are more than just that. “Things to remember” might end up being “things I should always remember when working for this customer” or “things I have learned and should implement elsewhere”, and when that is the case, simple notes or post-its will no longer do the trick. Something more dedicated has become necessary: maybe it’s time to develop your version of a “business strategy list” or specific notes dedicated to each customer?
Business strategy list
This can take many forms: from a list with the basic “things that I need to always keep in mind” tacked to the wall next to your workstation to a book or electronic file where you write down anything that you experience and that might be useful to you when working with new customers in the future. Of course, the content of those lists will change over time, and having those ideas in front of you at all times will make it simple to update them as your experience changes.
Think “be happy” written in giant letters above your computer screen…
If you are running the kind of business where every customer is different, each job turns out to require different ways of doing, even within a framework of possible avenues, you might want to think about starting to keep customer logs. I know: you already have a file on the customer that contains the initial request (what if you have received a phone call initially?) and the quote (what if the conditions of the quote change along the line?), so why keep more information?
Well, as you can already see, situations change, some of the information might only exist in the form of a text message on your phone, or in an email, or as a sticky note lost in your car. While you are working on the project you may be perfectly aware of what needs doing, but what if you work on multiple projects at the same time? Will you be able to easily separate them in your mind?
Maybe having a customer log isn’t such a bad idea? It need not be extensive, but creating a standard log for each customer, containing all the bits of information you come across with that customer, maybe even a record of what you did and when, listing phone calls (with some info, if necessary), etc. will be useful for billing purposes, keeping track of time you spent on that project, and ultimately allow you to collect all pertinent job-related information (new measurements, additional requirements, etc.) that you need to continue and finish the job properly without worrying too much about lost information or stuff you simply have forgotten.
If you are running the kind of business where you need to coordinate with your employees or you need to juggle who does what and when, then customer logs become even more important. Besides having all the information, they need to be shared easily, though. There are online options for basic project management (I personally like the flexibility of podio.com, but there are lots of similar apps around) that allow you to share information instantaneously, and that even provide simple workflow and task assignment options to boot.
I realise that a lot of small businesses use google docs or dropbox, etc. online storage tools to share information, but I’m not so sure they offer the same options and possibilities that online management tools like the aforementioned podio.com and others do. Furthermore, in light of current developments with online data security breaches and expected new legislation regarding customer information in the cloud (this concerns the UK, but is likely to have equivalent legislation in other countries), I’m inclined to discourage sharing this kind of thing over cloud document storage systems. You might say that online management tools follow similar lines, but at the very least your data will be saved on dedicated servers.
Customer relations management (CRM) database
The next step up would be a dedicated in-house CRM system, with fully-fledged case registration, tickets to be followed, intricate follow-up and data extraction systems, analysis tools to find the bottlenecks and general management tools to boot. Many large companies – especially the ones with multiple locations (more often than not in multiple countries around the globe) will need a centralised system to ensure the proper working of their computer hardware, central bookkeeping, work exchange, etc. A CRM system is mainly focused on customer relations as the name suggests, involving marketing, bookings, problem logging, mailings, etc.
These systems can be extremely intricate and need a lot of maintenance and regular adjustment to new developments. Let’s put it this way: if you don’t run a business that employs personnel to do only marketing, only coordination, only customer follow-up, these large-scale software products are probably not for you. However, there are smaller scaled CRM solutions (again, most are online databases) available that you might want to look into, especially if you want to include marketing into the mix, beyond taking note of what goes on with each customer.
Which one is for you? I would suggest considering to at the very least keep a set of customer logs to ensure that you won’t forget those little niggly details that keep the cogs of your business from stopping in their tracks.
And lastly: don’t forget for a minute that the very same issue applies to your home and private life as well! As do some of the solutions mentioned above.
Ask the ClutterMeister
Some pertinent ideas from the 'old office dog' who has seen it all, to help clear away the mess in your office.
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My name is Tilo Flache and it is my mission to help my clients organise and declutter their work spaces.