Client Data — Cradle to Grave

For a number of years, I have been giving seminars on the importance of maintaining a good, accurate and workable set of document/records for each client. It may well be that the “good” part of the prior sentence is redundant since if records are accurate and workable, good would follow suit — well not exactly, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Before you finish that yawn, let me tell you why I think this is worth talking about. First, I openly admit that when it comes to paperwork, I am lazy; I hate it; I don’t like it; I have to make myself do it — there, now we are both on the same page. The other part of paperwork which I choose to call my PaperTrail, has enabled my company to operate with more than average efficiency and with a minimum (but enough) detail for both needed use and contingency. Over the balance of this year, I plan to offer up some of the methods my company has developed for data gathering and storage; data that is central to operations, decisions and safety (mostly company or corporate rather than personal).

Please take caution with any interest in using these methods to make sure they are appropriate in your area and that means having your attorney review for adequacy. These methods and procedures make the professional assumption that you are schooling your company on the best way to use good judgment not look for the rule(s).

Act One, Scene One: The phone rings — Hallelujah. We answer it, with hopefully a short exhortation as to why we are the best remodeling company on the planet and the caller says, “I’m interested in some remodeling.” Sirens and alarms go off, lights flash and everyone snaps to attention — as they should.

Enter Stage Left: The computer form known as “The Client Data Master.” At this point we have begun construction of the client data master file; the first impression we make on the client prospect is about to be formed, ready for pouring (placing if you’re a purist) and just as in concrete, it’s easier to get it right the first time than to do it over if you even get the chance. So what do you do next after thanking the voice for calling? You begin gathering data, some of the most important data about the client that exists.

Just a short departure here for those of you who may follow this series, I mentioned that I am lazy. I always have been “make lots of pages” lazy, so you will see that many of the forms we developed for running our operation are on one (not two or more unless absolutely necessary) page. I really believe over the years being this kind of lazy has saved me at least $449.87 or the cost of 10, four-drawer file cabinets for the extra pages in a file.

Act One, Scene One and a half: Our person begins an orderly but friendly process of gathering the data we need, and at the same time because the gathering is concise, the caller is impressed maybe not to the point of admitting we will do the work regardless of the cost, but close. There are simple bits of information we will need if we are to be successful and to prompt the conversation to provide those little tidbits of information, we follow the same form. We call this form the Client Data Master (CDM) because when it is fully utilized, it has at least a recap of all the pertinent data of the job from first call to construction sign-off and acceptance.

This form, as in most of the ones we will introduce in this series, is a MS Word template so we can call up a blank form for filling in on screen. Further we have prompts built into the form making it easy to ask the questions covering the information we need. When the form first appears, the form date is already in place and the section shown by highlight “Select Name” has a drop-down menu with a list of the names of your people who may be taking the information or who are filling out the form; this “who” is important since if you have a question, you will know who spoke to the caller. The next click is the tab key which advances the cursor to the “Select Type” next to the LEAD SOURCE box. Here again, we have a drop-down menu from which the user selects the caller’s response to: “How did you hear about us?” The source of the lead is very important to us for cost/efficacy analyses. You can tailor the list of leads to as many or few as you like but frankly keeping track of more than five to seven kinds of lead is a waste of time unless you are huge. And if it is a referral, the next click of the tab key advances to the REFERRAL NAME box for listing the name of the referring individual for a contact and thank you.

Now we begin getting the “who is this” information; the data next to the NAME CONTACT INFORMATION begins with the name prefix. Here again we use a drop down menu with the choices of Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr. for two reasons: The first is so that we can address them properly; the second is to have good information for use in any mailing since we can use this as a mail merge data base. Our next click on the tab key advances to the FIRST NAME & MI then to LAST NAME for the caller, followed by the spousal information. When this section is completed, we have information to address the individual properly, to thank the person who sent them, to do a lead cost and efficacy analysis and if something isn’t clear we know who talked with the caller.

Our next thump of the tab key takes us to the section IMPROVEMENT SITE & ADDRESS showing the (street address) (city), (state) and (zip) as separate fields again to facilitate use for a mail merge. One can also incorporate a help screen by using the F1 key to make sure the user simply asks the caller for their street address and the other information including the city, state and, the zip and types it to the proper field as the caller speaks. The section OWNERS RES IF OTHER THAN SITE deals with cases where the address for billings and other correspondence should go if the improvements are remote — most often this set of fields is empty because clients are living on the job site.

The next section of this same form, I call the CONTACT INFORMATION. Again, using the tab key to advance from field to field we obtain the various telephone numbers for work and home, land lines and cell phones, and there is room within the field to include restricted times or other instructions. Our next and very important section is for e-mail addresses. As recently as two or three years ago, callers would have been very reluctant to give e-mails; now it is almost a preferred method of informational exchange.

The section/field for LOCATION OF SITE is intended to be general information such as the section of town, subdivision, new lot or houses but not as complicated as a legal description. The final two fields for information in this section deal with appointment times and dates; these can be used for actual appointments or for preferences.

This first exposure to the caller who may become a client has taken about four and a half minutes, usually two minutes for the SALES PROSPECT RECORD and two to three on the CONTACT INFORMATION. We have collected a significant amount of information from which our salesperson can make informed remarks as she or he begins qualifying the caller from “call” to “lead” and hopefully to client. If, for whatever reason, that doesn’t work out, the caller file can be deleted, filed for use in future mailings or established as a lead for a sales call.

This is taking much longer to explain than it takes to use in real life. Once a company establishes use of a grand data record such as the CDM, it becomes a quick source of most of the data needed. We have revised this a little over the years but not very much — it is user-friendly, computer-friendly and most of all client-friendly and it covers (when we are through) the entire history of the job, not bad huh, at least for just one page, while you’re here . . .