Keeping Data Up to Date Is an All-Hands Evolution
Don't wait until your database is clogged with useless records to undertake a massive housekeeping project. Make sure everyone in your organization is trained to update customer records whenever a change is discovered. That means deleting the old data as well as adding the new. A system that's full of cryptic partial duplications and incorrect contact information isn't going to do anyone any good.
Some things in life are fleeting -- the lifespan on the mayfly, the appearance of a rainbow, the pure white of the first snow of winter. Some things in your CRM system are fleeting too -- namely, the quality of your data.
Did you know that every year, somewhere between 25 percent and 40 percent of your customer data ages out, goes out of date, or otherwise becomes obsolete? That's a lot of data -- and if you believe that your customer data is one of your greatest assets, it represents a tremendous loss.
However, it's really only a loss if you do nothing about it. Data is going to age, and customer information is going to change, regardless of how much you worry. Customers may change location or go out of business. Your contacts in an organization might get fired, transferred or promoted. Your customers' needs may change, their payment terms may need to be adjusted, or they may expand or shrink their operations. That's just the way it is.
How you deal with this is key to a lot of things -- chief among them, your continued CRM success and the return on your CRM investment. Dealing with the data issue starts with the people managing the CRM users in sales, marketing and support.
Let George Do It
It would be nice if you could make one person the "data quality czar" and have that person take care of checking and correcting data, but it doesn't work that way. Keeping your data current and useful is an all-hands activity, and you need to make sure that's a widely known fact inside your organization.
That means that everyone updates customer records as appropriate. If a marketing effort brings in a new address for a prospect that's already in the system, it makes no sense for marketing not to make that update. If it is discovered during a support call that a customer's contact at a company has changed, then service needs to update the record so that sales doesn't have to discover it when calls are made for repeat or renewal sales.
Of course, sales people need to make changes when they discover them as well. I know what sales people are thinking: "Oh, great. More data for us to enter into the CRM system." I feel your pain -- but it's worth it when you or someone else in your organization needs that data. If it's not you who updates the records, then who will?
Keep It Clean
As the manager of this system, it's important to establish a policy and do some training about what an update to the data entails. Changes in data do not mean the creation of new customer records -- especially if the original record remains in the system -- but many businesses inadvertently do this when their CRM users aren't versed on the policy for updating data.
This multiplies the problem; in one instance I had personal experience with, new data was entered as new customer records. That meant that searches resulted in multiple hits on the same customer; each record had different (and often incomplete) data, and it became an effort in detective work to figure out which piece of conflicting data was the most recent.
CRM is intended to gather data into a usable format that facilitates greater productivity; a circumstance like this does the exact opposite of that. Spell out clearly to your people that critical changes -- names, addresses, phone numbers, and the basic CRM data -- must be made, and old data must be purged. If a customer's status changes -- it drops you as a vendor, it goes out of business, it fails to pay on a contract -- this information needs to be entered into the CRM system.
More importantly, it must be a common practice to be on the lookout for changes in your customers' information and for the responsibility for recording these changes to be shared by everyone. Also, it will be helpful to do a programmed update of your CRM data periodically -- at least to examine records that have gone untouched in a while and to purge duplications.
As sure as the pristine first snow will eventually fade to squishy brown slush, that update will be much less painful if your entire corps of CRM users is working full time to make sure your data's up to data.