Why you can't eliminate dupes

I’ll frequently hear from my clients and other database managers, “Our members keep creating duplicate records of themselves, rather than using their existing database record. What can I do to eliminate duplicate records that are created by my customers and members?”

This is a common problem across all of my clients, without regard to the system they are using. There are several elements at play:

  1. Customers are busy, just like the rest of us, so they’ll take the path of least resistance. If you don’t make it obvious how to retrieve a password AND explain why that’s better/easier than recreating their record, they’ll keep recreating records.
  2. Customers are human, so regardless of how much we beg, cajole, and threaten, we will have some amount of dupes. No matter what.
  3. It’s difficult to design a system that checks for dupes without creating all kinds of obstacles for the customer and slowing the whole process down, thus negating its value.
  4. We have to have systems in place for dealing with the dupes. I recommend to my clients developing several data integrity reports to check for this kind of problem regularly. Here are a couple of earlier posts on that subject: active vs. passive data management and weeding the garden.

Finally, keep in mind that, generally speaking, cleaning up the duplicate records is still easier and better than other alternatives (e.g., having staff do all the data entry, or setting up barriers that are so high that customers stop using the website.)

My point is that while we should continually strive to minimize dupes, we’ll never eliminate them.

About Wes Trochlil

For over 30 years, Wes has worked in and with dozens of associations and membership organizations throughout the US, ranging in size from zero staff (all-volunteer) to over 700. In that time Wes has provided a range of consulting services, from general consulting on data management issues to full-scale, association-wide selection and implementation of association management systems.

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