Client, Contact and Customer Management
Although those who work in sales-, marketing- or support-related positions in IT surely know some of the basic truths and techniques I’m about to expound, other IT professionals may not be as sensitive to the issues and concerns involved. The basic concept behind this month’s column, in fact, lies in the wry realization of the point to an old joke: One waiter in a restaurant says to another, as they pause briefly between trips to their tables: “Gee, this would be a great job if we didn’t have any customers!” The point, of course, is that without customers, alas, there would be no jobs.
In the ’90s, buzzwords like “sales force automation” and “contact management software” likewise contained a powerful germ of informational truth—in this case, the real power behind many of these systems came from their ability to gather up and present information about customers. In their most basic form, such tools present names, titles, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and personal notes or observations about the entries they manage for their users. Call this “contact information.” In more powerful forms, such tools not only handle contact information, they can also document recent customer or client history, orders, contacts with other company personnel and problems reported (and even which ones have been solved and which are pending).
In truth, understanding who one’s customers are is a key ingredient in achieving IT success. That’s why even those who labor in IT departments that are true cost centers (that is, they don’t generate revenue for a company, but they do incur costs) and thus might be said to have no “real customers” can benefit from recognizing that the departments and their staff members whom they serve are in fact their customers. That said, it’s unlikely that many companies or organizations will take that recognition so far as to provide IT staffers with contact management or customer relationship management (CRM) tools. Nevertheless, savvy IT workers can use simple tools—like Outlook or Outlook Express, for example—to implement their own “poor man’s CRM” systems.
In fact, the address book that is part and parcel of most e-mail packages includes a text entry window at the bottom of the “General” pane in its detail “Contact” windows. I’ve done some experimenting with this area and have been able to paste in Word documents as large as 500 KB without losing any data. This suggests that savvy IT personnel can use this area to keep notes about phone calls, interactions and other services they provide to individuals in their organizations. The next time you talk to that person, you can scan your prior notes to see what you’ve done for them lately (or what they’ve asked for lately) and be a lot better prepared to serve them well.
In a similar vein, this kind of use of contact records also supports the old-fashioned kind of networking: from person to person. Even when IT professionals interact with colleagues or peers outside their organizations, or when they do interact with customers for some reason or another, they can use the same approach to keep up with their activities, promises and future plans. This approach turns a simple list of names and e-mail addresses into a pretty powerful client or customer management tool in its own right. Also, should the time come when you must turn to some of these individuals for help or advice, this information can prove invaluable in helping you identify those most likely to be able to do you some good.
Since I’m writing this story for a certification magazine, it’s inevitable that this technique should have some impact on your certification activities. You can use notes inside your address book to identify people in user or study groups. You can also use such notes to identify people with specific topical or exam expertise, those who’ve loaned you (or to whom you’ve loaned) study materials and so on and so forth. In fact, by being careful to use the same terms and phrases for topics of interest to you throughout your address book, you can use its search facilities to quickly identify individuals with some connection to your search terms. Personally, I’ve found this approach to be invaluable in grouping people by their specific interests or abilities, and there’s no reason why this technique can’t work for you.
Georges Santayana was a wonderful poet, philosopher and writer whose work spanned the 19th and 20th centuries. He may be best known for the dictum: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In this case, those IT professionals who fail to keep track of history and other useful information, and to annotate it with key terms and phrases, will end up having to repeat themselves endlessly when they could otherwise just go look it up in their address books!
Ed Tittel is vice president of IT certification at iLearning.com and contributing editor for Certification Magazine. E-mail Ed with your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.