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Redundant paperwork is ruining everything

Forget Perfect

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Lisa Earle McLeod

How many forms did you have to fill out the last time you went to the doctor?

Was it fun?

Why is it that Kroger knows what kind of conditioner I use (and when I’m about to run out), yet my doctor’s office needs to ask me my address and phone number almost every time I visit?

We live in a world where some organizations know everything about you, while other organizations ask you the same questions over and over again.

It’s hugely annoying.

To be fair, doctors are required by ethics and the law to update patient medical records regularly. But are you honestly telling me that they couldn’t pre-populate the form with your basic information, and just let you check a box if they’re the same?

It’s not just the medical profession that asks for information they already have. I recently gave a keynote speech at a large conference where they asked me to fill out a lengthy speaker questionnaire in advance. I spent 30 minutes filling in boxes with information that they already had in my contract.

In this situation they were the client, so I gritted my teeth and did it.

But it had a chilling effect. I had to give myself a little pep talk to remind me that the person requesting the lengthy form was just trying to do her job.

Organizations usually believe that they’re requesting information so that they can better serve the customers.

But what they often fail to recognize is that asking your customers, or even your vendors, to provide you with redundant information is not only a waste of time, it detracts from the business at hand.

The effect is cumulative. The more times you’re asked to fill out forms or provide data, the less enthusiasm you have for the relationship.

For example, when I call AppleCare, I give them one piece of information, the serial number. In less than a minute the person on the other end of the line knows everything about me and my machine, and we jump right into business.

It wouldn’t surprise me if my Apple customer profile has comments like - “Customer cried hysterically when she lost her data in 2009” or “Always ask customer if machine is plugged in.”

I don’t know how Apple captures their data. That’s the point. They make it easy for me to engage because they’ve taken the time to store my information in a way that’s easily retrievable. Every call I’ve had with AppleCare has been personable, efficient and effective. They never make me feel like a moron for not speaking computer, and I never think they’re morons for asking me the same information I gave them last week.

Apple may be the cream of the crop. But there’s no reason why a lawn service, orthodontist or babysitter can’t do the same thing. When you capture the customer’s basic info and preferences, and make the info easy to retrieve, you can focus on your relationship instead of the forms.

In our business, we have a rule: never ask a customer for information that you can find elsewhere. We’d rather spend time talking to customers about their goals than asking for their address.

Paperwork is bad enough, but when people ask you to fill out their forms with the same information you provided on a previous visit, they’re trying to make their life easier, not yours.

‑ Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant and author of several books(www.LisaEarleMcLeod.com).

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