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.

Save $600pa on your home phone and internet

, posted: 18-Jun-2012 06:00

Short version: Swap to VoIP and naked DSL.

Below is my example on how to reduce your home phone and internet bill by $50/month.  Your mileage will vary.

I've been meaning to take a look at my parent's telecommunications for some time - they were with Telecom (and had been for sometime) for their phone line and broadband.  When they received a call from a Telecom rep offering them a sharper deal and mum called me for my opinion, I decided to stop being lazy and work out a better deal for them.

Their April bill was pretty standard:


After doing some research online, I found Snap offered the best deal for naked DSL, and used 2Talk for VoIP (I prefer VFX but they don't allow multiple concurrent registrations, meaning, I can't have one number registered to multiple devices). 

The spreadsheet I used to compare the two offerings was:




Foot notes:
  • Snap naked broadband is $60 a month for 10GB, I added a $15 data pack to take it to 70GB (Telecom was only 60GB)
  • I'm unsure about whether wire maintenance is still there, so I've added it to the Snap + 2Talk offering so as not to unfairly skew my results
  • There is a one-off porting fee of $20 per number.
By porting (or moving) their main phone number to 2Talk, they were able to retain their residential phone number.  I also took their existing cordless phones and plugged them into the FXS ports on an old Draytek Vigor2700 router I had spare, which means they were able to keep using the phones they were used to.

New benefits:
  • Saving $50 a month on their phone and internet bills
  • Paying only 22 cents per minute for mobile calls (old rate was 46 cents).  Unfortunately they didn't make any national calls, so I had nothing to compare with.
  • All of the 2Talk features, which include call waiting, caller display, voicemail-to-email to name a few (comprehensive list here)
The biggest vulnerability is if the internet goes down or if there's a power outage - since they couldn't remember the last time either happened, they were happy to resort to mobile, and didn't want to invest in an UPS (backup power supply).

If you lack the technical expertise to do this all yourself, the Orcon Genius can achieve the same thing in one device.

Finally, my biggest advice for anyone attempting this: porting numbers will drop any attached services.  If you port a phone number, and there's broadband on that line, the broadband will be disconnected.  Please check and double-check all details before attempting a number port.


, posted: 4-Jun-2012 17:29

As well as ordering around the troops here at 3Bit, I own a cafe in Mt Eden called Tuihana Cafe, which is run by my better half Leslie.  I've been wanting to do a blog post about the cafe for some time now, but needed an excuse for some blatant self promotion.

A couple weeks back Hansomedan flicked me a PM about a charity auction on TradeMe, so we've donated a boozy lunch for two, all proceeds going to Starship:

Lunch for two at Tuihana Cafe Mt Eden on TradeMe

(Full thread here, with lots of other auctions in support of Starship - auction closes Thursday night)

Being of the geek persuasion, I couldn't help myself with the cafe, so some of the tech we run include:

If you're thinking of dropping in, flick me a tweet (@nate) and I'll make sure I'm around (I promise I won't make torture you with one of my coffees, as I'm crap at it, but my staff are amazing ;) ).

New Garden Shop

, posted: 31-May-2012 17:33

For the last four years, my Dad has been running his own garden shop, Just Add Worms (twitter: @justaddworms).  Originally starting off as a blog about all things green and organic (which has been one of his big hobbies ever since I can remember), it gradually morphed into a blog with an online shop

Initially we opted to use WP e-commerce, a plugin to Wordpress, but once you grow past a handful of products, with different variants, the plugin doesn't really cut the mustard.

A month ago I started hunting for an alternative, and ideally I wanted a cloud based solution so there would be no installation/maintenance from my end -  Shopify was the front runner but too expensive to run for a small shop (there's a monthly fee plus a per transaction fee). Most of the other cloud based products were about the same, so I settled on installing Magento (open-source) on one of our Linux servers here at 3Bit.  While it is a behemoth of a product, it covered off everything we needed and after many hours of customisation it was about ready to go, until I came across a big issue: Dad couldn't manage the store - it was just far too complex and my instructions were not helping.  His needs were quite basic, and Magento was really overkill.

After a few Google searches, I came across Small Fish, a Kiwi created and hosted shopping site based out of Wellington.  What really impressed me about their offering is how many features the software has, but everything is broken down into wizards which clearly explain what each option does.  Add to this the Edit, Preview and Live buttons at the top (you can edit products and categories directly on the site then preview straightaway), it makes it a perfect solution for even the most novice user.

At a monthly fee of $39 with no transaction fees, it really is a great little niche product.  It doesn't have all the features of Magento, for your average online shop, it definitely fits the bill.


This blog post was originally all about Small Fish but it's also Dad's birthday today, so how about the unique gift of a blog post?

Happy Birthday Dad, thanks for everything.

NZ Music Month - Tim Walker

, posted: 4-May-2012 16:21

UPDATE: Tim won best international artist at last night's Musicoz Awards in Sydney. Congrats Tim!

Since 2000, May has been New Zealand Music Month.  While nearly all of the music played on the commercial stations is sourced from the US, it's always great to hear and support artists from a little closer to home.

Tim Walker is a mate of mine, and also an aspiring Kiwi musician.  Anyone in the industry will acknowledge that trying to get commercial airtime is hard and the market is so small that artists often head overseas to make a decent go of it.

I've just received this video that Tim's uploaded, and decided to get him some more exposure by putting it here. Enjoy!

Follow Tim on Twitter or Facebook.

nate's profile

New Zealand

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

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The views and opinions represented on this blog are personal and belong solely to the blogger and do not represent in anyway those of 3Bit Solutions Limited or any other company.

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