Managing God's Customers

By Gerry Blackwell | Posted April 08, 2004

Customer relationship management (CRM) programs for small businesses abound these days, but few as affordable and flexible as QuickBooks Customer Manager from Intuit.

The $80 program combines rudimentary CRM with project management and personal information manager (PIM) functions — and it integrates tightly with QuickBooks, Intuit's best-selling small business accounting program.

Launched last year, Customer Manager came with a huge ready-made market of QuickBooks users. We wanted to find out how they are using the new product and how they are benefiting.

That's Church Business
You may not think of a church as a small business, but when you listen to Linda Beauregard-Vasquez, office manager at the Unity Church of Antelope Valley in Palmdale, Calif., you'll change your thinking.

Beauregard-Vasquez was an alpha and beta tester of QuickBooks itself, which the church started using five years ago, and also of Customer Manager. She is, to say the least, an enthusiastic proponent of the new product.

"It's absolutely phenomenal for churches," Beauregard-Vasquez says. "I think of it as being the holy grail of $99 databases."

The program's key strengths, she says, are its tight integration with QuickBooks, and the fact that it's an all-in-one, swiss-army-knife program that replaces a number of other applications and is also easy to use.

It's by no means only for churches that it's phenomenal, she adds. Beauregard-Vasquez has personally spread the word to more than a few small business-owning friends and acquaintances who now use the program with great success.

She uses it for virtually all church business — including managing complex projects, such as the church's annual carnival and the current capital fund-raising campaign.

She organizes contacts into often overlapping categories such as congregants, members of the Women of Unity group, or of the church's teen group or Sunday School students, then uses the category lists to track and manage all aspects of the church's dealings with these groups, including financial transactions.

Raising Corporeal Capital
Customer Manager works, in effect, like a front-end to QuickBooks. The way Beauregard-Vasquez is using it to manage the capital fund raising campaign illustrates the tight integration with the accounting program.

The Antelope Valley church is in a funding crisis right now because the state government is expropriating its land to build a highway bypass. The proceeds from the expropriation will fall well short of covering the cost of buying a new property and building a church on it. So the church has had to undertake a rapid and aggressive fund-raising campaign.

In Customer Manager, each project can have its own page with multiple display windows for transactions, contacts, things to do, project steps and deadlines, and so on. One of the first things Beuregard-Vasquez did was set up a category for potential donors and another for donors and add contacts from her existing Customer Manager database.

Now she records transactions easily from within Customer Manager and they're automatically posted to QuickBooks.

"Customer Manager basically sits on my desktop all the time," Beauregard-Vasquez explains. "If someone calls in to pledge a donation, I can instantly enter it from Customer Manager."

"I just go to that name and click on it, then click again to make a financial transaction. And I can be using Customer Manager at the same time to make notes on the phone call."

One of the nice things about Customer Manager, she says, is that it gets around a problem with QuickBooks that many small business users may also encounter. Some contacts are both customers of the church — donors — and also suppliers.

Beauregard-Vasquez herself is an employee and also a donor — and must occasionally be paid out of petty cash for ad hoc purchases she makes for the church. In QuickBooks, she would have to make separate entries for these two aspects of the relationship.

In Customer Manager, she can bring the two aspects together in one place. Now if she calls up the record for a congregant who also provides services to the church, she sees all the finanical transactions associated with that person — donations and payment of fees for service.

Database Devotions
Another reason Beauregard-Vasquez is enthusiastic about the product is that it fulfills so many different functions so well and easily that it eliminates the need for other programs and modules. Many churches, for example, buy separate attendance modules and fund raising programs. She does it all with Customer Manager.

To manage the carnival event or the capital campaign she might in the past have used Access, the Microsoft Office database program, or Act!, a CRM/contact manager package from Best Software, plus Excel, the Office spreadsheet — and of course QuickBooks for financials. Customer Manager lets her do everything in one place using one interface.

"I hate both Access and Act," she says. "You really have to know a lot [about database systems] to make those programs work for you. But Customer Manager is so menu-driven that anybody can use it."

That's another huge advantage to Customer Manager. Beuregard-Vasquez is clearly a computer adept but most of the church congregants and officials who also get involved in church business are anything but.

"Many of them are a bit nervous about using computers," she says. "But Customer Manager is so easy and comfortable and non-threatening that they can use it without any problem."

She calls Customer Manager "a great solution to a software dilemma," but admits it's not perfect — yet. It needs "tweaking," she says.

For one thing, when she generates a list of contacts for a mailing, she currently has to export the list to Micrsoft Word to print mailing labels. She wants to be able to print the labels from within Customer Manager.

She would also like to be able to run e-mail campaigns from within the program — create a list, create an e-mail, hit one button and send the same e-mail to all. Both functions are coming, Intuit has told her.

How valuable is Customer Manager to the Unity Church of Antelope Valley? "For me it has saved a tremendous amount of time and money," Beauregard-Vasquez says. We figure you can probably trust a church lady.

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980's. Just for fun, he also authors features and columns on digital photography for Here's How, a spiffy new Canadian consumer technology magazine. Blackwells knowledge is vast and his wit eduring.

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