Week Ten: Seat Belts

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What a week! To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, oh the places I’ve gone! I started the week out flying to San Francisco to visit a client about an hours drive away. Once that trip wrapped, I flew north for a two day visit with my Seattle client. A cousin of mine who lives in the area was celebrating her birthday, so I stuck around through the weekend to spend some time with my family. I even got to see Seattle during the day!

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The rental car company gave me a Ford Explorer to drive through the mountains of Northern California. I’m only 5’2″, and I normally drive a Prius, so this SUV was a behemoth to me! I am also from Illinois, so hills and curves are still pretty terrifying. This got me thinking. How did they decide on the modern seat belt design? There certainly must be more elaborate methods to ensure driver safety. For example, did they consider wrapping drivers in bubble wrap? Didn’t we all choose this method to keep our eggs from breaking in our middle school science experiments?

If bubble wrap, cotton swabs, or any other innovations from Mr. Basolo’s seventh grade science class can keep us safer while we drive, why don’t we just wrap ourselves up before getting into the car? Because that’s just ridiculous! In the real world, where cost-benefit analysis is a real thing, it is neither practical nor economical to adopt this level of safety when driving. For one, it would take a really long time to suit up into an acceptable level of bubble wrap. Imagine how many reams of it you’d go through each year! For another thing, it would limit our mobility. Would you be able to look behind you before backing up, or would the bubble wrap prevent full range of motion?

While there may be safer methods to protect drivers, seat belts are the least obtrusive and most flexible way to ensure driver safety, which means a better chance of compliance.

This gets me to my actual point (thank you for waiting so patiently!). The same is true of data entry. Data-oriented people (which I’m assuming many of you are) can never have enough data. We might explore every nook of our database to see what field we can map to what attribute, triumphant in the complexity of reports we can offer. As data people, we should be excited about these options. However, we encounter problems when we try to explain these options to our front line partners. That’s because we’re basically asking them to put on their bubble-wrapped suit every time they go on a prospect visit. Consider the following questions:

  • How many fields do your development officers have to complete before submitting a contact report? More than five?
  • Can your database auto-populate the ID of the user who is signed in as the author of contact reports, proposals, and solicitations?
  • How many screens do development officers have to navigate through to update a prospect stage or enter an upcoming task on a prospect record?

I agree that we’re asking them to enter valuable information, but I also see how much bubble wrap we’ve asked them to wear in the process:

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Some of us are constrained by databases that don’t have an intuitive design (believe me, I’ve seen fascinating setups at some of your shops!). The point of my long and overly complicated analogy is that we have to figure out how our front line partners can enter relevant information in a way that doesn’t lead to hours of confusing data entry, otherwise it simply won’t get done. Here are some ideas:

  • Can we focus on two to three data points that will get us what we need for projections and strategy meetings?
  • Can we integrate a dictation software into our shop that will allow our front line partners to speak their meeting notes while en route to the airport?
  • Can we partner with leadership and our colleagues who design system reports to lessen the amount of click-throughs needed for key moves management updates?

I’m certain that some of you reading this have faced this challenge before, so I’d welcome your feedback. What has worked at your shops?

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One response to “Week Ten: Seat Belts”

  1. Mark Egge says :

    The word that kept popping up in your post, and that really lies at the center of all of this is _design_. Seatbelts exist in their current form because of all the design decisions that went into putting them in place. There are decades of design behind them, and what we have, therefore, is really, really good. (It provides a high level of safety while accommodating all the necessary convenience factors.)

    Unfortunately, we do not have the same amount of effort and thought put into the forms we use to capture contact reports and gather information from gift officers. One big problem — that you astutely highlight — is balancing the volume of information we want to get from the gift officer, with a level of ease necessary to keep the process from being terribly painful. I haven’t seen tons of contact report forms from other shops, but I suspect most of them are good at capturing lots of info, but not so good at making it painless.

    I don’t think it’s an impossible problem to solve. Think of the most painful data-gathering and entering exercise we all (in the U.S.) do every year: filing taxes. Can you imagine doing your taxes by filling in a typical contact report form? It would be a nightmare! We’d all say “forget it — I’ll just take a huge penalty from the IRS!” But companies like Turbo Tax have found a way to gather massive amounts of information from people in a way that isn’t mind-numbingly awful. They’ve done this through a well designed process for gathering the information, combined with user-friendly interface.

    We really ought to take a cue from them (and other user-centric, well-designed data gathering tools!) and make our contact reporting tools better for everyone!

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