Customer Management and Interaction

Customer ManagementKnowing your customers is a key component in business. If you still store your customer information in a Roll-A-Dex, or an Excel spreadsheet, it can be difficult to keep track of important information or know when they need service. Upgrading to a customer database can make a huge difference.

With spreadsheets like Excel, it can be cumbersome and time-consuming to sort through hundreds of records like customer information. Since there aren’t any controls, you can easily make an error, change something by accident, or leave out information.

There are numerous customer databases on the market. A little research will help you determine which one is right for you. But there are a couple of features that you will need: the ability to take short notes about your customer, and the ability to track when you need to return. For example, you might want to jot down any concerns that arose the last time you were there. Did you do anything special that you would like to follow up on? You might even want to put in the name of their dog or kids to remember to ask them how they are doing. A good database will allow you to filter and run a report on customers that you need to see on any given day.

If you only see them once every three to five years, scheduling your customers is another important feature.

You want to be able to call your customer and ask them if they need their septic tank pumped. Wouldn’t it be great if you had a system to remind you to do that—especially if you have hundreds of customers?

Below are some software suggestions that might work for your business. There are a number of different options based on a variety of different needs.

Customer Database Pro (free trail; $99) CNET gives it three stars but says it is simple to use. It works on several different Windows operating systems.

FileMaker Pro ($275) It works on both Windows and Mac operating systems, and also runs on iPad and iPhone. FileMaker Pro is easily customized software that gives you access to your customer’s name, number, email address, and more. It allows you to send out email campaigns—tracking date sent, recipients, and detailed results. It also allows you to track your time and billing. An added feature allows you to also track your own assets.

MS Access (free trail; $140) It gives you templates to keep track of your customers’ key information and comments, your assets, and can turn quotes into invoices. There have been complaints about it not being user-friendly or scalable. One of our readers, Steven Richards with AquaSource, had a custom database built using MS Access. “It’s fairly comprehensive and allows us to keep all records of service and phone calls or communications with the clients,” says Richards. “It also has a tickle feature
to notify us of customer maintenance schedules that need to be serviced.”

CRM Customer Software (free) Track customer relationship information, interactions notes, tasks, and events. It allows you to set reminders, such as phone calls, and easily filter data to produce customer reports. Operates on both Windows and Mac.

Oracle Small Business Suite (call for price) This web-based application offers accounting and payroll, customer relationship management, order processing, inventory management, time and billing, and Web site/store creation and hosting. It can be shared among different locations and accessed by employees on the road or telecommuting. It allows you to track leads, has customer support management, and sales force automation. This is good when a boxed solution doesn’t work for you. There have been some complaints about the expense of having an Oracle person help trouble-shoot since not many outside of Oracle are trained to do so.

Sage 50 Accounting Products (prices vary) Peachtree is now Sage 50. They have a variety of products that are mostly for accounting but some include project management software that could be used as a customer database.

ServiceTask (free trial, $24 a month or $49 per month) Track customer activity, quickly schedule jobs as far out as you need, track job activity, and view summarized lists of planned jobs. ServiceTask is 100 percent web-based software which means you can manage your business from a browser, desktop or mobile device. You can access your ServiceTask account anywhere with an Internet connection. There is nothing to install or download and support and upgrades will always be free.

Story by Jennifer Taylor