Once upon a time, each home would typically have a single landline phone number for their contact. Boy, have those days changed! Now, a family will commonly have a bunch of contacts, particularly when you include cell phones, e-mails, web sites, and tweets.

Many of us have work phone, home phone, wife work phone, wife cell, wife email at home, wife email oat work, husband cell,  husband cell, husband email at home, husband email at work, children phone, website, etc etc. The list is seeming endless. And this list seems to grows longer with every new tech device. Will we see more ‘Contact Details’ in the future? Bet on it.

In the past, software would have dedicated fields for the phone, email, and FAX, with some packages offering a field for Alt phone 1 and Alt phone 2.  But with many customers, there simply is not enough spaces for all the needed contact details. And, by having multiple isolated fields, your ability to search all contacts in one place is thwarted.

What should software provide? The answer is, a window or ‘portal’ into an unlimited list of contact details. Each contact detail would include a ‘Type’, like ‘Husband Cell’ or ‘Wife Work’, the contact itself, and a way to designate which entries are the customer’s preferred way to be contacted. Good software should adapt with the times. Contact Details should be portal into a variable number of contacts. With a ‘Preferred Method’ checkbox, the preferred entries automatically sort to the top! That is how modern software works.

It gets better, too. ‘Phone Masks’ (a programming phrase and technique) can auto-format your phone numbers such that the area codes will wrap in parenthesis, a dash is inserted between the prefix and the four digit number, and extension, if any, is marked with an ‘X”. For example 1234567890 would instantly change to (234) 456-7890 as you move into the next field.  Another component of phone masks, is that they can include formatting intelligence. So, for example, if you type in too few digits, the whole number turns red to alert you to your error! Phone Masks also effectively manage email addresses and web sites in your contacts portal: they turn blue and act as true hyper links. That is, clicking on them opens your email client with a new email, or takes you to their website, depending on which you click into. So, again, the software can perceive which are phones, email addresses, or websites, and then act accordingly! Wow! Expect to see other one-click items soon. Again all of this is possible because of the use of contact number portals.

Searching. Do you ever miss a call and wonder who it was? You can often see the number in your caller ID, but in this age of cell phones, usually you will not see who it is. What do you do? With poor software you would have to hunt for it in each of the multiple fields, assuming the software allows searches. But with modern software, and a contact detail portal, you can search all contacts for all customers in one place! Easy and extremely fast. In other words, the searching algorithm, indexes all contacts for all customers. Even if you have 10,000 customers with 10 contacts each, it finds the correct customer in less than a second! Another interesting twist is that if you are looking for a customer based upon a incomplete number or email, you can also also use wild cards in the search!!! This means you can find a number by the last four digits. And, you can find all customers with a given prefix! Think targeted marketing….

Another possibility that quality software provides, is the ability to send statements or invoices by email. Hmmm. But where do you put the email address? A separate email field?  No, because they might have more than one email address. Instead, merely put the emails right in the contacts portal along with the phones and websites. Good software will easily determine which contacts are emails, and even note which one is preferred. So when you click “Email Statement”, you can be assured that the proper email address will be found, then used, and the statement sent! Another advantage here is that you can easily enter multiple emails for a customer, knowing the the ‘Preferred Method’ email will be used.

What about call sheets? We all use them for reminders for upcoming schedules. In the past you would dig out a note card with the phone numbers, or find the customer record in the database. But a smart contacts portal will allow your software print a call sheet already showing the three most preferred phone numbers (with their types)  for calling. Again, this happens automatically, with no effort on your part.

Contact portals are the only smart way to keep track of your contact details. Does your software have them? It should.