Lost: Beware of the "Others"

CRM MVP Joel Lindstrom, a Solutions Consultant for CustomerEffective, discusses a lesson learned by way of a cautionary tale. ‘Read and heed’ as my professors used to say.

If you ever watched the television series Lost, you know about the “Others.”  These were mysterious inhabitants of the island who were often at odds with the show’s main characters.

In Microsoft Dynamics CRM, there are also “Others.”  These “Others” frequently show up in picklists, such as account industry, customer type, address type.  When you are configuring one of these picklists, sometimes the thought goes through your mind “maybe I should add a placeholder called “other” just in case I didn’t think of every possible choice.”

Before you let an “other” into your list, think twice.  Consider this cautionary tale.

One of our clients is an accounting firm that serves multiple industries.  One of their goals was to track business by industry, so they required the Industry plicklist on the account form; however, they also included an option for “other” in the picklist.

After they had used CRM for a couple of years, we helped them develop some dashboards and reports for their account data.  What we found when we graphed their accounts by industry was that the “other” bar was significantly longer than any other industry.  This was not because these companies were in unusual industries, they were all in one of the existing industry codes, such as manufacturing.

The lesson learned was that users tend to take the easy way out—it was easier to select “other” than to determine and record the actual industry in the field.

Here are my recommendation on how to fight the “others” in CRM:

  1. If possible, don’t include “other” in your picklist.
  2. Instead, have an easy process for your users to follow to request new picklist values, in case a legitimate option is missing.
  3. If you must include an “other” option, monitor this data closely to insure that records don’t get mis-categorized as “other” if they actually have a more legitimate categorization.


Joel Lindstrom

Comments (4)
  1. Neil Benson says:

    Hi Joel, there is an 'other' side to this debate : )

    If you don't include an 'Other' option in your picklist then users could mis-select the industry and you'd never know. It's much easier to spot 'Manufacturing' companies mis-classified as 'Other' than it is if they are mis-classified 'Industrial Services'.

    Use good names, provide good training and documentation. Most importantly, don't ask people who don't care about the data quality to input the data. That means getting the marketing users to classify accounts by industry code, not sales people. Even better, if it's vitally important, then use a third-party data provider (D&B, Hoovers, OneSource, etc.) to classify your customer demographic data.

  2. Manish MISTRY says:

    I tend to agree more with the Other side in Neil's comment. If the data is to be analysed for business purpose, it is necessary.

  3. John says:

    I think it's hilarious you're referencing Lost, how many Microsoft fans also watch Lost?


  4. Joel Lindstrom says:

    Good comments Neil and Manish.  I agree that you can't get totally away from using Other.  I just have seen it mis-used so many times, you want to think about it rather than just adding other, and have a process for monitoring.  Another good idea is to have a text field that is required when other is selected, and monitor the values that get entered in there–this will help you identify several things–such as which users need more training–if you see the same person selecting other and entering in a value similar to one of the picklist values, then you know they need more training.  Or if you see the same value being entered multiple times in the Other Detail text box, that's a great way to know when new values need to be entered.

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