Cloud Accounting Practice Management Small Business

Customer Support Technology Tools I Can’t Live Without

Written by Jim Savage

Business toolsOver the years, I’ve become completely dependent on a few software tools – some of which are free – that I use to effectively to support my clients. Without these tools, I’d be lost keeping track of websites, logins, passwords, and other relevant data. There are lots of options out there, and I’ve used many of them, but the tools I’ll discuss in this article are ones that have withstood the test of time and ones I use every day to keep me on track. I’ve broken them down into six categories:

  1. Customer relationship management (CRM)
  2. Project management
  3. Password management
  4. Note taking
  5. Appointment scheduling
  6. Remote access

CRM

By far, the most widely used application I use is email. I probably spend a majority of my time living inside of Microsoft Outlook, which satisfies my needs for tracking email, maintaining contact information, and calendaring. I keep all of my emails stored in folders by client and project for easy reference. For the things that Outlook isn’t able to do well, I’ve tried using just about all the major CRM software packages in this market space, e.g., Salesforce, Method:CRM, and several others, but the one I’ve had the most success with is Zoho CRM.

The things that Zoho does well are tracking contacts, accounts, and the sales cycle from a lead to a potential client as well as linking with Outlook and Zoho Projects (see next section). I keep my Outlook contacts and calendar synchronized using Google Apps, which in turn synchronizes with Zoho, so I don’t have to enter the data in two places. I also have a website entry form that brings in the data automatically to Zoho as a new lead and sends me an email to let me know I have a new inquiry. It also synchronizes with QuickBooks.

Project Management

Another tool I can’t live without is Zoho Projects. I’ve tried other project management apps, most notably Mavenlink, which is also a great application (see also Stacy Kildal’s article “Get More Work Done with QuickBooks and Mavenlink”), but I’ve found Zoho works best for my specific needs. I can track all of my tasks and milestones as well as keep notes, attach documents, and time track all my customer projects. I can invite users who are specific to each project to collaborate and share information on their projects.

Password Manager

Password toolsIt’s impossible to keep track of all of my passwords, not to mention all the passwords of my customers. There are a lot of utilities out there to securely keep track of passwords, like RoboForm, SplashID Safe, and others. The one I use and couldn’t live without is LastPass. It keeps track of all of my logins and passwords and stores them securely. It makes them accessible from any browser and has a mobile version, so I always have access to the information and never have to scramble to find a password.

Note Taking

For information other than passwords for each client, such as serial numbers, license codes, and other things specific to that client, I use Evernote. It keeps all my information synchronized across all my devices – PC, Mac, tablet, and phone – in one account. I keep a client notebook with notes for each client. I also use it for a number of other things where I just need to keep a list of something. It’s a great tool, and I would be lost without it!

Appointment Scheduling

One of the things I found was taking a huge amount of time was scheduling meetings, including one-on-one meetings and group meetings. It normally takes three or four emails back and forth to schedule a meeting, getting everyone’s available times and finding times that work. I do a lot of client consultations too, so just scheduling a one-hour meeting with one client can take a few emails or phone calls. One of the biggest things I’ve done to save time is to begin utilizing an online scheduling tool. There are a lot of them out there, but the one I use is ScheduleOnce. It allows me to send a link via email or send someone to my website to choose a couple of times based on the open times that are synchronized with my Outlook calendar. I can then approve that time, schedule the meeting, and have a confirmation sent to the client. This app in itself has saved me countless hours.

Remote Access

Up until about a month ago, I used LogMeIn to access a lot my clients’ computers, but they recently did away with the free version, so I’ve had to rethink the method I use for unattended access. Many of my clients utilize cloud hosting, so I can use a remote desktop connection to get to them. I currently have most of my clients on Trapp Online, which allows me to have all my clients available to me with one login and password. For online meetings, I use GoToMeeting. If I need to access the client’s computer, I can do so with the click of a button by making the client the “presenter.” I use GoToMeeting all the time and find it indispensable.

Summary

What's in your toolbox?As you can see, there numerous customer support technology tools available. The products and applications I use are by no means the only ones out there, but they’re the ones I’ve found I can’t possibly run my business without. I’d love to hear your feedback on the software tools you use.


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About the author

Jim Savage

Jim Savage has been a QuickBooks Pro Advisor since 1999. He has since signed on with the Intuit Solution Provider program, which specializes in marketing to the mid-market channel. In addition, he is an Advanced Certified Pro Advisor and his company, Savage and Associates, is an Advanced Certified Pro Advisor and certified in QuickBooks Enterprise and QuickBase in the ISP channel. Prior to becoming a Pro Advisor, Jim was an IT director for a major health insurance carrier and has been involved in large scale IT projects throughout his career. He is now specializing in EDI and E Commerce clients and integration with QuickBooks. Since he has referred to himself as "The QuickBooks Guy" since he started, his website is named appropriately, www.thequickbooksguy.com.

22 Comments

  • Jim, nice article.
    You mentioned Citrix GoToMeeting – agree wholeheartedly – we use this along with GoToWebinar and GoToAssist (best for serious remote access to customer machines for support) and more recently ShareFile.
    I don’t think our business could live without these applications – we use them all the time and rely upon them.

    John

    • Yep, I use gotomeeting all the time. And I do use Sharefile also, I forgot to mention that in the article.
      Thanks for the reply!

      • I use join.me from time to time. Best thing is they still have a free version. It works, if you like it, stay with it, it is pretty easy to use.

    • I used Smart Sheet for a customer project, it was pretty cool and I have used OneNote a lot too, but I am mainly keeping notes for myself, so Evernote does the trick.
      Thanks!

  • Great stuff, Jim. I use RoboForm for password control – it syncs with all of my desktop and laptop computers, as well as my iPad. I’m currently using TeamViewer as my remote access tool.

    • I used Roboform in the past, it works great, at that time they did not have the mobile sync, but LastPass works on my Android phone, my iPad and all my computers as well as different browsers. It is free, they have an upgrade, but it is only $12 a year.

      I prefer TeamViewer, but technically if you are using it for business, you are supposed to pay for it and it is a little pricey.

      Thanks for the comments!

      • Pricey depends on what features you need, and what you are comparing it to. I use a variety of their features (not just the remote support), and it ends up cheaper for me than using GoToMeeting (which you pay monthly for) and one of the per-fee remote solutions. But, again, my needs may be different than what other people are looking for.

        In any case, there are a lot of options, and the ones that you list are great ones!

  • Great article. I was just wondering what you use to send/receive files from clients and if you use a cloud portal (Dropbox, Google Documents etc.) where clients can access files related to a project you may have done for them in the past.

    • Karen,

      That is a good point. After I wrote this I realized I forgot about file sharing. I use Dropbox all the time, I have file folders setup for each client. Makes it nice because I can get to any of my clients files from wherever I am.

      I do use ShareFile as well whenever I need to send or receive larger files.

      Thanks for the feedback!

      Jim

      • Doug – I would love to see a sample of how you are using both the smartsheet and one note. I presently have be bouncing the idea of OneNote again however, I can’t find a way to make it so all parties can see it.

        • Kim, as far as OneNote and “all parties”, that depends on how you are set up. If everyone wanting to access this is on a LAN and you just need to access the info in the office, you only have to store the “notebook” that you want to share on a server so that all people can open it. That works very well.

          If your people are in different offices, different locations, then there are several ways to share things. At The Sleeter Group we have people in several different remote locations. The OneNote notebooks are shared using Microsoft Sharepoint, which does take some technical knowledge to set up. Alternately, if you don’t want to go the Sharepoint route, you can use Office 365 and share your OneNote notebooks using Microsoft OneDrive. I do that for my own notebooks, so that I can access them using either my laptop or my iPad while I’m traveling. On my desktop, using Office 365 (Office 2013) I have my single One Note installation that uses notebooks that are on my local computer, shared with The Sleeter Group on Sharepoint, and that I share with my family members and business associates using SkyDrive.

      • Jim – What is your take on SmartVault. I have been using both SmartVault and Drop Box. I am concerned that I am now paying way to much for SmartVault and not getting the value from it.

        • SmartVault does so much more than DropBox. I actually use both myself. I don’t like DropBox for client related materials or things that need to be secure. I use it to move info from place to place, share info easily with other members of the business. SmartVault is where things go that need secure storage, as well as documents that relate to activity in QuickBooks (since it is integrated with QuickBooks). If I’m dealing with client files, I’ll use either SmartVault or Sharefile (I have both).

        • Yep, what Charlie said, I use both as well. Secure stuff I use Smart Vault, moving files around and sharing I use Dropbox.

  • Hi Jim: I personally love Zoho CRM with the Zoho project manager and can’t live without them now.

    As for the client remote log in, I purchased the LogMeIn Central which works out around $25 per month for 100 computers with an annual subscription. For me, this was a good fit because it’s got all of the computers I support in one place within one log in. It also allows you to deploy Windows updates as needed and virus scanner updates. It’s also simple for someone to get the link to download the app and install. Setting up remote desktop is involved and too many things can go wrong. In addition, the client would have to have a static IP address.

    I’m with Doug on OneNote not only for the network/group aspect but because you can swipe a note and add it to the task list/Calendar in Outlook. I use Lync that comes with my Office 365 for video conferencing and to share screens for short sessions.

    I’m a big fan of RoboForm and it does work with a Droid, iPhone, iPad and Mac. There is a button that will sync an everywhere account.

    But above all, Zoho is my favorite.

    • Laura,

      I agree, Zoho CRM and Project have become part of my business now and I would be lost without it.

      That is cool about RoboForm, last I used it was a couple of years ago, sounds like they have adapted to the mobile environment.

      Thanks for the comments,

      Jim

  • Nice article. I find GoToMeeting extremely useful in my business. It is a very nice tool for helping customers out using a remote desktop

  • Hi Jim,

    Very nice article. I use Inkpad for notes on my phone, and love it, teamviewer for remote access (I guess most people use it).