August 7, 2015
Customers vs Locations (Intro to Software)
Quality software is defined, primarily, by design precepts, rock solid data structure, and functions specific to their industry. Today we are looking at an example of this last quality.
Although we could list dozens of core functions that good pest control software should provide, we will focus only on a few, and only one at a time. These short discussions are designed to help pest control companies become more informed when selecting software to use. This note represents one installment in an occasional series. To read others in this series, look for “(Intro to Software)” in the title.
Today’s function is the separation of customers and locations. This is one of the easiest requirement to see and understand. A customer is, ‘who pays the bill’. A location is a property where we apply treatments to control pests. They are not the same. It is that simple. Any quality software for the Pest Control industry will keep these two data concepts separate. They should never be lumped together. No exceptions. Note that each Location record will have a Customer ID that shows who it ‘belongs to’. And from a customer record it should be easy to view all their locations in one place.
Unfortunately, much software used in the pest control industry was written for other industries where customer/location separation didn’t matter. This software is often offered to pest control operators as a ‘bargain’. Like clothes, where ‘one size fits all’, they are a very poor investment. Buy software that is designed explicitly for our industry. Buy software that ‘fits’.
Several situations can quickly show the value of keeping customers and locations separate. A customer may have more than one location. Perhaps a customer has house and a weekend cabin, or a house and a shop at a separate address. You would then have one customer with multiple location records. So one customer could be responsible for multiple locations.
What if a customer with five locations wishes to change his or her billing address or phone number? If your software lumps customers and locations together, you will have to make the change in 5 places! But, if your software properly separates the data, you will make the customer’s requested change in but one spot. Nice.
Sometimes, though, a customer for will request two separate records for tax reasons. For example, they might have a one record under their own name for their home, but a separate customer record for their business. By carefully separating customer and location records, you can easily meet their needs.
What happens when a property is sold? Well, since each Location is ‘hooked’ to only one Customer, you can just change the Customer ID on that location record when the property sells, without losing any of the locations historical data critical to that property! So, no matter how many people own a given piece of property over time, the treatment invoices stay intact, because they are hooked to the location, not the just customer. Neat!
This also means that if you go into a location record to view all of its historical invoices, you will be able to see each of them, even if the work was done for several different customers over time. Conversely, if you go into a Customer record you can see only the invoices for that customer.
By now, you’ve probably realized that each Work Order and Invoice is going to have both a Customer ID and a Location ID. One shows who is to pay for it, and the other shows where you are to do the work. This double linkage is a powerful tool that all good software vendors have adopted.
Lets look at three more real world example to show why you’ll want to keep your customer data separate from location data:
1You’ve decided to focus on growing your business in a specific town with a postcard mailing to everyone you’ve done work for in that town. How do you prepare this mailing list? Find all locations for that town, go to their related customers, and print! This prevents customers with multiple locations from getting duplicate mailings. (Notice we did the searching in the Location table.)
2You want to promote a new product for ant control with a postcard mailing. How do prepare the mailing list here? Go the the Customer table and search the historical information for those customers who have used ant control services at least once in the last 5 years. Print. (Notice we did the searching in the Customer table.)
3One of your customers with a dozen rental properties calls and asks for a summary of all their expenditures for the last tax year. Can you provide it? Yes, and easily. Go to the single customer record, view date range payments, and print!
When looking into software for our industry, it quickly becomes apparent that there are a large number of potential products. But all quality software will separate customer data and location data. Any software that does not support this… is simply inadequate. By keeping them separate, you have dramatically better tools to meet the real world needs of you business.
If your software lumps customers and locations together, it is time to switch.