June 06, 2011

New Year's Resolution: Discover Outlook Contacts

Catherine Sanders Reach

If your New Year’s resolutions include using software that you already have more effectively and renewing your focus on networking, then an easy first step to keeping your resolutions is to use the contacts functions in MS Outlook.

The 2009 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report: Law Office Technology revealed that the use of e-mail software is universal among respondents’ law firms. The product brand name listed most often by respondents was Microsoft Outlook at 73 percent. While many lawyers are quite proficient at using MS Outlook e-mail functions, many have not fully explored much beyond the basics of the contacts feature.

MS Outlook contacts – Why?

So, why use the contacts feature in MS Outlook in the first place?

Many of the popular software programs used by lawyers integrate with MS Outlook to pull data from the contacts list, even sophisticated software for client relationship management, such as a practice management program or a customer relationship management tool.

Additionally, most smart phones synchronize with MS Outlook contacts, allowing you to have access to the full contact information of your important clients and colleagues on the go, without keeping multiple address books.

MS Outlook contacts can also merge with MS Word to generate personalized letters and envelopes with a few simple clicks.

Of course, the most obvious reason to use the contacts feature is to keep you from wasting time, hunting for phone numbers, e-mail addresses, mailing addresses and other essential information.

Painting a complete picture

When you add a contact to MS Outlook, the input screen includes a place for adding a person’s name, company name, up to 19 phone numbers, a Web site address, up to three e-mail addresses and physical addresses, notes and a picture of the contact.

Having all this information can be a wonderful client development tool. For instance, if you upload a picture of your contact, that picture will appear whenever you get an e-mail from that person, helping you put a face with a name—literally! Additionally, the notes field can be used to record when and how you met a person, the nature of the relationship or other information.

However, to take advantage of the full power of the contacts feature, especially for client relationship management, look under the “Details” (in MS Outlook 2007) to reveal additional information that you can add to your contacts’ profile. You can add clients’ office locations, birthday and anniversary dates, their assistant’s name, or create your own fields to add the kind of information you want. You can even add information that would inform you of a conflict check.

Adding contacts – The easy way

Entering MS Outlook contact information is time consuming. One quick step to get the process started is to right-click on a person’s e-mail address in any message contained in MS Outlook, and choose the “Add to Contacts” option. This automatically adds a person’s name and e-mail address to a new contact form. To save time filling out the rest of the information you need, products like Copy2Contact will automatically add information from an e-mail signature to a contact form.

There are also business card scanners such as CardScan and Neat Receipts that come with software that will automatically add information from business cards to MS Outlook contact records.

Keeping up with your contacts

MS Outlook allows you to start a workflow directly from a contact’s record. For instance, if you need to contact a client about scheduling a meeting, you first pull up her contact information, where you can review your notes. From there, you can choose to initiate a phone call, schedule a meeting, e-mail her, lookup her Web site or get an online map to her office to plan a driving route to see her. All of this can be accomplished with a single click from within contacts.

You can also flag a contact and generate a reminder so you won’t forget the date and time to call, e-mail or schedule a meeting with that person.

In MS Outlook 2007, you can categorize your contacts to view them by categories. For instance, you could create a category for contacts made at a recent event, such as a conference. Then, returning at a later time, you can sort the contacts by category and view only the ones you made during the conference. You could go back in a few months and sort them by category for easy viewing. And you can add multiple categories to any contact record.

A last tip—If you want to see all at once the e-mails, appointments and other information tracked by MS Outlook 2007 for a specific contact record, click on “Activities” on the contact page, and the software will search for and display a history of your communication and interaction with that person.

The bottom line

If you are seeking a simple way to do a better job of networking and keeping up with your clients and colleagues, give MS Outlook contacts a try. Chances are it is already part of your computing environment.

This article first appeared in YourABA e-newsletter, a monthly publication distributed via email to all ABA members.  Learn more about the benefits of belonging to the American Bar Association.

Catherine Sanders Reach