Today's post is written by Melanie Waldman, a Consultant at Sonoma Partners.
The Microsoft Dynamics CRM add-in for Outlook is a convenient tool that allows users to view, create, and edit records in CRM without ever having to leave the comfort of Outlook. The add-in also allows users to sync contact records from CRM directly into their Outlook contacts.
But what happens when you’re syncing contacts between CRM and Outlook? What happens when you merge duplicate records when contacts are stored in two places? In this post we will examine the way that CRM and Outlook manage contact records throughout the merge process.
When you use the CRM add-in for Outlook, contacts can be synced between Outlook and CRM in two ways:
- Users manually track a contact from their local contact list in Outlook
- Contacts created/managed in CRM match the sync filters set in Outlook
Once a contact has been manually tracked or has met the sync filter criteria, any updates or modifications to the contact record are passed back and forth between CRM and Outlook.
Over time, users may manually track local Outlook contacts that already exist in CRM and even with duplicate checking in place, users may carelessly create another record in CRM for a contact that already exists; no matter how clean the data started, your CRM system can quickly become bogged down with duplicate records.
With the sync between CRM and Outlook, users may be updating certain fields on one record and not the other, without knowing another record for the same contact exists.
However, once duplicate records have been identified, if users have adequate security permissions, they can clean up the data and merge the duplicate records. Through CRM’s native merge functionality a user can select which record will be the ‘winning’ record and which record will be the ‘losing’ record; the losing record will be deactivated at the end of the merge process.
Users can also select what data should be included on the winning record and what fields should carry the value from the losing record, instead of the winning record.
After the merge is complete, if you return to your active contacts view in CRM you will only see the winning record listed. If you toggle to the inactive contacts view, you will see the losing record. You can also navigate to records related to the losing contact and you will see that the winning contact record has taken its place.
Seems simple enough, your data in CRM just got a little cleaner, but once you open Outlook things get interesting.
Depending on a user’s Outlook sync filters, when duplicate contact records are merged in CRM, the losing record will be removed from the owner’s Outlook contact list without being replaced with the winning record.
The default Outlook sync settings are set to “sync active contacts that are owned by the current user”. If you remember, earlier we stated at the end of the merge process the losing record is deactivated. With this filter criteria, the losing record no longer meets the requirements causing the link between CRM and Outlook to break and the losing record will be removed from the user’s contact list. The winning record, while still active, will not meet the Outlook filter criteria because it’s owned by another user. Therefore the current user will lose all trace of the contact in Outlook.
Obviously this is a red flag, losing or misplacing contact data will kill user adoption. The good news is there are ways to avoid the loss of data.
Outlook sync filters are configurable at an organizational and user level. You can change the default sync filter to include inactive contacts. When a contact is deactivated in CRM, the link between CRM and Outlook won’t break, the contact will be visible in the user’s Outlook contacts, but under categories it will show that the contact is inactive. If the user chooses to view the contact in CRM it will bring them to the deactivated record. It’s important to note that changing the sync filters to include inactive contacts only solves half of the problem, the winning record will not sync to Outlook and the user will not receive any updates made to the contact going forward.
To solve for both problems, we recommend using connections or a custom entity.
Users would create a record through connections or the custom entity for each of the contacts they want to sync to their Outlook. They would also change their Outlook sync filters to look for connections or related records on the custom entity. Since connections and related records are passed to the winning record in the merge process, users won’t have to worry about their contacts changing ownership or falling out of the sync filter.
At the end of the day, duplicate data will exist in your system and the CRM add-in for Outlook will still have its limitations.
But the fight against bad data entry is an easier fight than the fight for user adoption.
And despite its limitations the CRM add-in for Outlook offers users an alternative way to interact with the system; flexibility is key in today’s fast-pace work environment.
We here at Sonoma Partners have taken a lot of interest in how the CRM add-in for Outlook works and how data is exchanged. As our investigations dig up new findings we will be sure to post them on our blog.