From the Rolodex to Command

Deborah Lynn Blumberg|Published: Mar. 11 2019

The Evolution of Contact Management

Americans in the 1940s had a problem. More families were moving to the suburbs, a change that began to wreak havoc on people’s address books. White-out plastered pages and paper clips fastened extra, makeshift sheets to back covers.

In Brooklyn, an inventor named Arnold Neustadter was determined to solve the address book dilemma. Neustadter was fastidious when it came to contacts. His daughter, Jane, once told a reporter that when she took a phone message for him as a child, he demanded she write down the person’s first and last name, their phone number, the time they called, and why they were calling.

Neustadter had already invented the Swivodex, which kept ink bottles from spilling, and the Clipodex, which attached to the knees and helped stenographers as they took dictation. In 1950, he started selling the Rolodex – a rotating, desktop card index named by combining the words ‘index’ and ‘rolling’ – and it was a hit. In the 1980s, models went for as much as $200 and could hold up to 6,000 contacts. People embraced this new system of keeping track of friends, family, and business contacts. It was the precursor to our modern-day databases or contact management systems.

It was the 1960s when computerized databases first emerged. IBM used an early one called the SABRE system to help American Airlines manage its reservation data. Over the years, the technology evolved. Most recently, workplaces have been dominated by CRMs, or customer relationship management software, which stores contact information and tracks interactions with customers and potential customers.

Yet, many have found off-the-shelf CRMs to be difficult to navigate, disjointed, and too hard to integrate with other crucial business tools. They’re also pricey. The problem runs rampant in real estate, where contacts are the lifeblood of an agent’s business. Too often, frustration leads to missed opportunities. Agents have been calling for a better system.

Keller Williams has answered.

The Black Box

Gary Keller, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Keller Williams, laid the foundation for the new technology years ago with his Black Box, which he used to organize his database. Your contacts are your business, Keller has long said.

In the 1970s, he created a streamlined system for organizing and keeping in touch with contacts. His method centered around a physical black box and a series of cards. After meeting a contact, Keller would create a yellow, permanent card for that person with their basic information: name, address, phone number, and birthday. He would then file it away under their last name in A–Z cards.

He then made an additional card for each person. This white card was an ongoing record of the relationship, with notes from the day they met and information on when to follow up. He’d file that under the appropriate month of the year. Then, each month, he marketed to his A–Z contacts and worked through individual relationships based on their second-card specifics. That was key since one of the biggest complaints about professional-service individuals is that they don’t follow up, he says. It was a system that worked, and worked well. But, keeping track of all the cards and making notes by hand was cumbersome.

Over the decades, recording client interactions has evolved from handwritten to digital; manual to automated. And now, Keller Williams is achieving a new frontier – automated to integrated. Enter the company’s new contact management technology, aptly named “Contacts.” Contacts is part of Command – the agent business operating system of the future.

Delivering Command to associates is a core part of Keller Williams’ evolution into a world-class technology company that’s disrupting and revolutionizing real estate. With Contacts, agents can use Kelle – their virtual assistant – to add and update contacts and leads, as well as track touches … anytime and from anywhere. Agents can also sync their current database with Command, transferring hundreds or thousands of client data in mere seconds.

A Better Way

Julia Hurley of Just Homes Group in Lenoir City, Tennessee, was one of several agents to get an early peek at Contacts through the KW Labs program, where agents work side-by-side with technologists to ideate, test, and refine technology.

“This is better than anything else, period,” she says. “It’s a dream.”

From early on as an agent, managing contacts was a challenge for Hurley. She had lists upon lists of partial information – a first name with a phone number, an email address with no name. Yet, she refused to pay for a system she knew wouldn’t accomplish what she wanted it to. “I knew there was a better way to do it,” she says.

In the meantime, she developed a system much like Gary Keller, with actual boxes. She also created spreadsheets. The need for a better system really hit home after Hurley lost all of her data due to a system glitch. “I felt like I was crashing,” she says. She had to rebuild everything for a $25 million-a-year sales team. She lost clients, and money. That’s when, in a moment of self-pity, she sat down with a bag of Oreos and typed out a manifesto of sorts on how a contact management system should work.

She sent it to Gary Keller, and soon after, she got a response. Hurley was invited to Austin to meet with Keller and key members of the technology team. The tech team was able to recover her data and incorporated some of her ideas into the new systems they were developing. Hurley was now eager to better-manage her data.

Slowly, she’s been migrating her data over to Contacts and creating custom tags to keep track of them. “I have no limit on how I can classify every single contact,” she says. “I can add limitless relationships. It’s unbelievable.”

One of her favorite features is that, when out and about, she can ask Kelle to create a new contact from a phone call she’s received, and then revisit the contact later. Previously, she’d get multiple phone calls while running around town, and would lose track of them due to poorly scribbled notes. Those were missed opportunities.

Hurley still remembers the Rolodex days … she loved hers. And, she’s kept books of alphabetized business cards squirreled away. But now, she’s embraced Keller Williams’ new systems, and there’s no looking back. “Our tech will make the world of real estate a better opportunity in which to thrive.”

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