Tin Can Telephony

by Kari Deming

My greatest frustration as the (cue dramatic music) Keeper of the Database is incorrect data – typographical errors, transposed numbers, misspelled names.  I dare say we’ve all experienced the sinking feeling of calling Mrs. Smith for a ten a.m. phone conference and hearing that the number you have dialed is invalid.  Similarly, returned snail mail and the bounce-back of undeliverable email vexes us, both for the waste of resources and the inefficacy of our communication.

Unfortunately, as we’ve all been told, to err is human.  Our brains race a step ahead of our fingers, making 555-1212 into 555-2112.  Our “stubby fingers” land imprecisely on the keyboard and Medicare becomes <rfovstr.  Perhaps most frustratingly, we make assumptions:  a returning client’s contact data is not verified;  Jayne Smythe is misspelled Jane Smith; Daffy D Duck, a deep-throated woman, is marked as a man; a county is variably entered as Saint Clair, Saint Claire, Saint Clare, St. Clair, St. Claire, St. Clare, St Clair, St Claire and St Clare, making reporting challenging, at best.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to improve the accuracy of human data entry, leaving forgiveness to the truly divine. The easiest fixes involve your case management system:  limit fields where free text is allowed; use check boxes, toggle switches and pull-down lists wherever possible; employ templates and labels to enhance consistency.  Beyond that, data-entry training is key.

  • Instill the need, the rationale, for good data entry in all advocates:  do it early; reinforce it often.  Train with examples of callers not reached, conflicts not found, and system administrators raging or weeping.good_operating_02
  • Ensure that advocates touch type while watching the screen. If you’re not watching the screen, you can’t be sure the the data is properly appearing.
  • Require that basic contact data be verified with all returning clients.  Always.  Every time.  Really.
  • Insist that advocates ask new callers to SPELL names and addresses.
  • Finally, train advocates to repeat spellings for verification, and to use the international phonetic alphabet for clarification.  

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