Rest in Peace, Rolodex – Managing Contacts and Address Books in the Digital Age

Whether you’re running your own business, or just trying to communicate efficiently with family, groups of friends, sports team members, etc., having an organized Address Book or Contacts database makes your life a lot easier.

For purposes of this article, I’ll use the terms Contacts and Address Books interchangeably, to refer to the databases or lists of people and their contact information that are stored in our accounts and devices.

These lists are what make it possible to quickly place a phone call from our smartphones, or send an email to someone or to a list of people by picking names from a list. In a small business context, these databases often function as mini-CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems, even though, strictly speaking, CRM systems are much more feature-rich than typical Contacts databases.

Even if you’re not running a business, having a single, organized Contacts database can make your everyday personal communications easier. For example, what torture might you have to go through when you:

• Get a new computer or mobile device
• Need to update someone’s name, phone, email, or address
• Need to send out an email campaign
• Need to send a physical mass-mailing (like holiday cards)
• Need to send a group text message from your phone

As I mentioned in my previous article, over the years you may have accumulated different email addresses and different phone numbers for the people in your Address Book(s). Each account you have (iCloud, Gmail, Comcast, Hotmail, AOL, your work account, etc.) has its own contact database, or address book. Only some of these providers make your Contacts available to a mobile device or email application. Comcast, for example, typically does not. Furthermore, email software such as Microsoft Outlook or the Mail apps on PC’s and Mac’s may have their own locally-stored databases of Address Books that don’t synchronize with anything.

Which Will Be Your “System of Record” for Contacts?

I recommend deciding on ONE account that will “drive the bus” with regard to Contacts and sticking to it. We’ll call this your system of record. Which account makes sense to be your system of record will depend on your preferences for smartphone platform (Android, Apple, etc.), whether you use email software like Microsoft Outlook or Mac Mail versus your provider’s Webmail site, your preferences for creating distribution lists or categories, and several other factors. This is a decision that is typically reached during our consultation.

The Road to Nirvana

contacts address book
Old-school address book

Once a decision is made as to which account should drive the bus, we get to work. And by work, I do not mean that you will have to re-enter all of your contacts.  I wouldn’t wish that on anyone! All of the major account providers have a facility to export Contacts and import Contacts. We export them from the old system(s) and import them to the one which is going to be the system of record. We can even import your contacts from Excel, if that’s where you keep them. Once they are in the system of record, use whatever de-duplication tools are available (Gmail’s are great) to whittle the list down, de-duplicate, and clean them up. Once you are finished with your cleanup and satisfied that you won’t need to return to the old lists, go back into the accounts you exported from and DELETE the old contact records. This will leave you with a single system of record for your address book.

We follow this change up with the necessary configuration adjustments to each of your devices and software, to ensure that any new Contacts you add wind up in the new system of record and not back in one of your old databases. We make sure that your new, shiny, perfect Contacts database is available to you – and synchronizing — across every device you use – smartphone, tablet, computer, etc.

If you’re running a small business, having an accurate customer database is critical to any communication and marketing strategy. Even if your business is growing to the point where you might eventually need a formal CRM system, your Contacts database is usually the best place to start.