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CRM on the Mac

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Things haven’t gotten much easier since our 2013 update, the Mac continues to be very weak in database management, especially in CRM-type solutions. Managing contacts is an arduous task on the Mac, particularly in the area of seamless integration with social networks.

There are a few rays of sunshine. Apple has broken its tradition of rarely updating its Contacts app, with the ability to paste an entire address into the address field and cleverly inserting it into the right fields — street, city, state and zip. Thanks so much Cupertino!

And much promise lies on the horizon. We now are starting to see some real innovation in cloud applications. One cloud application we’re truly smitten with is Airtable, a cloud-based relational database disguised as a spreadsheet. It’s Google Sheets on steroids.

What sets Airtable apart from typical spreadsheets is the ability to link one field in one table to another table. This lets you perform lookups of company names, products, you name it. It also helps with data consistency. You can, for example, create a lookup table for tags, which avoids duplication or using the wrong ones.

Airtable CRMAirtable is full-fledged relational database that allows you to link tables on a common field. It also lets you add attachments to each record; provides a record-change audit trail; and features collaborative record editing and commenting.

Airtable can be connected to other applications using another remarkable cloud-based app, Zapier, which lets you connect applications to exchange data. For example, we use the “Import new contacts from Google Contacts into Airtable” zap to keep our Airtable CRM data up-to-date. Sadly, there is no way to currently synchronize an Airtable database back to Google Contacts, you can only add records.

So what does CRM on the Mac look like today? It’s not pretty but since you asked, here are all the ugly details.

Why is maintaining a customer, or even a personal database, so difficult on the Mac? A large part of the blame lies with Apple itself. This innovative company provides a lackluster, but free, contact management tool, Contacts, as part of the macOS operating system.

Because Contacts is capable enough to satisfy most users, few developers have taken on the challenge of building a truly useful contacts manager for the Mac. Yet as most power users know, Contacts is one of the weakest elements of Apple’s ecosystem, one that leaves a lot to be desired.

For example, while the entire world is now familiar with the concept of “tags,” Apple is sticking with the old-school label of “Groups.” Yes, a contact can belong to multiple groups, which is the core concept of tags, but it’s not immediately obvious to the casual user.

But the worst part is that Apple has largely ignored the social media world, making integrating Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter handles and links a thankless task. Yes, there are optional fields for this type of data but it makes information sharing with other programs hopelessly complex.

Another annoying feature is merging duplicates. Apple’s approach is to do as it sees fit. The user has no interaction with what happens to duplicate records. Apple simply combines them and puts conflicting data in the Notes field.

That may be fine for some, but it’s a major headache for users who need to wade through all their entries to find the ones that were de-duped and look at the Notes field to see what Apple did to your record.

Since many people only have about 300 contacts that’s not too much of a chore, but when you have 3,050, it’s a big mess. It would have been nice if Contacts automatically created a Smart Group containing merged records, so one could easily review changes, but this feature is still outstanding after publishing this article for the past five years.

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