Excel is not a customer database

, posted: 25-Jun-2012 06:00

With surprising frequency I'm meeting with businesses who are using an Excel spreadsheet (or spreadsheets) as their primary store for customer info.  It's not until I point out some big flaws with this approach that they realise that this isn't a future proofed solution, and when it breaks, there will be tears.

It starts out innocently enough - with a handful of customers, and a staff member or two, a shared Excel spreadsheet is quick and simple to setup.  To get around concurrency issues (not being able to open the same spreadsheet by two separate people) staff call across the office and get the other person to close their copy down.  All works well until the company expands not only their customer base but their staff as well.  Spreadsheets weren't designed to work this way.

Excel isn't the one to blame here.  Excel was designed as a tool to do reports, analysis, what-if scenarios.  It was never designed to be a database with hundreds of rows and multiple worksheets.

The three biggest issues I see with trying to use Excel this way are:

Data redundancy

Data redundancy is having information that is repeated in two or more places.  The classic example of this is a customer's address and phone numbers.  In an ideal world, you would store these details in one place, and they would flow through to all your different systems such as sales, support, accounts etc. 

You can't do this in Excel - where you need the customer's details, you need to have another copy of them stored.  When a customer comes to update these details, multiple places have to be updated, and if one is missed, this causes issues.


It's not easy to run complex reports such as "what products have we sold the most of and to whom" or "what is the most popular product" - all you have is pages and pages of data.


You may want some parts of a customers record (like their credit limit) not accessible/editable by some staff - can't do this in Excel.  It is an all or nothing list. 


So what's the solution? Find CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software to keep track of all this or get a solution custom written (blatant plug: by someone like us). 

Investing time and money when your business is small and easy to manage will pay big dividends as it grows, and allow you to expand easily without causing further headaches.

Other related posts:
Cyber attacks on NZ small business
How one database query can fix HOP cards
Review: Navman MiVUE680

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New Zealand

I'm Nate Dunn, and I work for 3Bit, and am a moderator here at Geekzone.

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