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From Paper to Progressive – Duplicate Names

While working with my client who is switching to a computerized system, we came across an issue with duplicate customers in our database. These duplicates happened mostly from a lack of users understanding of best practices when entering data. After reviewing and assisting with the clean up, I came up with some tips that makes data entry more uniformed which should lessen the amount of duplication and make it easier to find customers in the future.

Use ‘and’ instead of ‘&’ – This one I saw happen a lot. A customer by the name of “A & A Contracting” was listed with the following variations:
  • A & A Contracting
  • A&A Contracting
  • A& A Contracting
  • A &A Contracting
All these different variations make it hard to locate the customer when doing a search, forcing users to scroll through the name list to find the name they are looking for. By following the rule everyone would have entered “A and A Contracting”. While possible, I doubt that many users would ever enter “AandA Contracting” as the name as it doesn’t look readable.

No abbreviations with periods – I recommend that when a company has abbreviations or initials in their name to exclude the use of the period and spaces. Some people use it, others don’t, and in a database that can cause people not to be able to find the name they are looking for. A common example that I use is “W.B. Mason”. I would recommend that the name entered would be “WB Mason”. First, this simplifies the data entry. For people that are new to computers, the less typing the easier it is for them. This also eliminates issues where someone might enter “W. B. Mason” by putting spaces, and another person not entering spaces. The more room that users have to change things, the more likely you will get duplicate names.

Don’t use shorthand – (unless it’s VERY common). A lot of the companies that my client deals with are contractors and construction companies. This lead to some people using shorthand for these words, “const.” or “cont.”, and sometimes as “con.”. Not only can this be confusing (is ‘con.’ short for construction, contractor, continental?) and makes it harder to search.

Enter as much information as you can get – This one started popping up when the owner wanted to make the employees enter client information instead of just using a generic customer. We ended up with multiple customers with just the name of “Mike” and a phone number. With 8 “Mike”s on the list, it was near impossible to tell which is which. Adding even a last name would have helped out a lot, but adding the address would also make it easier in case there are multiple people with the same first and last name. This is one of the hardest to overcome as it is because employees get lazy and don’t want to enter all the information.

By following these few guidelines, your customer list should become less cluttered with garbage, be faster and easier to locate existing customers, and make the information you collect much more valuable.
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