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The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework: What It Means for You

In previous blogs, we have talked about what you can do to comply with modern data privacy standards, such as the European Union’s GDPR regulations. Today, we’re going to share what we have done lately about meeting privacy standards – and how this will benefit you.

We are proud to announce that Service Objects has been jointly certified by the European Union and the U.S. Department of Commerce under the new EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework. We have aligned our own privacy policies to meet the requirements of this Framework, and recently achieved self-certification in the summer of 2018. In the process, we are now meeting the highest standards for the collection, use and retention of personal information for ALL of our clients worldwide.

Understanding the Privacy Shield Framework

So what is the Privacy Shield Framework? In a nutshell, it requires businesses to comply with EU data protection requirements when transferring personal data from the EU to the United States during transatlantic commerce. Here are some of its key principles:

Notice. This includes disclosure about what kinds of personal information are collected about individuals, the purposes for which it is collected and used, the identities of parties to whom information is being disclosed and why, the rights of the individual to access personal data you may hold on file, and access to an approved independent dispute resolution body for privacy complaints.

Choice. Individuals must be offered the choice to opt-out of data being disclosed to third parties or subsequently used for other than its original intended purpose. In the case of sensitive personal information, ranging from medical information to religious or political beliefs, affirmative express consent must be obtained prior to such use or disclosure.

Accountability for onward transfer. Data can only be transferred to third parties for limited and specified purposes, and only after ensuring that these third parties will provide the same level of privacy protection.

Security. Organizations must take reasonable and appropriate measures to protect data from issues such as loss, misuse, or unauthorized access or disclosure.

Data integrity. Steps must be taken to ensure that personal data is accurate, complete, current and reliable for its intended use.

Access. Individuals must have the ability to access their personal data and correct, amend or delete it where appropriate, except in cases where the costs or impact on the rights of others are prohibitive.

Recourse. A key principle of the Framework is access to approved third-party recourse mechanisms for complaints regarding data privacy issues, including binding arbitration on request.

So, what is the benefit of our participation in the Framework? These guidelines provide a level of security and safety for the data we collect about you, as well as data we process on your behalf. This is particularly important if you work with clients in the European Union, but also represents an important set of safeguards for the data of all of your clients. You can view our revised data privacy practices right here.

Data privacy has evolved quickly from being a lofty goal to having specific, measurable best practices in recent years. The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework represents another step toward creating global standards and certifications in this area, and we are proud to be a part of it.

What the US Supreme Court Sales Tax Ruling Means for You

If you are an online retailer, your world just changed in a big way.

In a narrow 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court recently ruled that states now have a right to force out-of-state business to collect and pay sales taxes on sales to their customers. This means that if you do business nationally, you may soon be responsible for sales taxes in any state where you have customers. This article is a guide to how this new ruling may affect you, and what you can do about it.

Online sales tax collection: How we got here

First, let’s start with a little history.

Until recently, out-of-state sales taxes were not an issue for many businesses. According to a legal precedent set in 1992 in the Quill Corporation vs. North Dakota case, businesses were not required to collect sales taxes from out-of-state customers, unless you had a physical presence or “nexus” in that state. (Note that this only applied to collecting these taxes: consumers have always technically been responsible for paying them, albeit with a sketchy patchwork of enforcement.)

This latest Supreme Court ruling in Wayfair vs. South Dakota overturns this precedent, on the grounds that it no longer reflects the economic reality of today’s massive online retailing environment. Quarterly retail e-commerce sales have grown nearly fourfold over the last decade to just under US $125 billion per quarter in Q1 2018 (and a record $452 billion annually in 2017), while annual sales are projected to nearly double to US $638 billion between 2016 and 2022 – on the order of 20% of total retail sales.

These figures represent a lot of tax revenue for states to leave on the table, and few states want to see these revenues decline every year. And in recent years, 31 states have found loopholes for collecting these taxes anyway, by either tightening the definition of “nexus” (for example, paying commissions to referral websites in that state) or requiring documentation and reporting of large purchases. But now, the Supreme Court has cleared the way for any state to simply require sales tax collection.

How this ruling will affect your business

So what will the impact of this ruling be on you and your business? The answer is, “it depends.”

For now, everyone is waiting to see how states will respond to this new ruling. New legislation will take time to be crafted and approved. And small business may catch a break: for example, in the case at hand before the Supreme Court, South Dakota only required sales tax collection for sales volumes in excess of $100,000 or 200 transactions per year. But given how 40 states had petitioned the Supreme Court to rule in favor of this – and bricks-and-mortar businesses have railed against the unfair tax advantages of online sales – it is a safe bet that more sales tax collection with be in the future of many businesses.

Another wild card will be how states treat tax rates for out-of-state purchases. Inc Magazine points out that there are currently close to 10,000 separate taxing jurisdictions in the United States, giving one example of how sales in Chicago require the collection of four distinct taxes – a city tax, county tax, state tax, and an additional “special” tax. States may mandate the use of the same tax levies as in-state purchases, although there have also been calls to simplify out-of-state sales tax rates.

Automation to the rescue

Needless to say, this ruling promises to increase the costs and complexity of selling products across state lines. But for most businesses, the rational choice is to automate the computation of sales tax rates. Service Objects’ DOTS FastTax service provides real-time sales tax data based on your customer’s contact information. Synchronized with tax authorities nationwide, FastTax integrates address validation and geolocation to guarantee accuracy, in a world where tax rates can very from street to street.

We can’t stop the evolution of retail buying patterns and e-commerce. Nor can we control what happens with sales tax policies from here. But we can make both of these things much less frustrating, with solutions that integrate directly with your CRM or marketing automation software. Contact us today to learn how FastTax can help put much of your tax compliance on autopilot, now and in the future.

data privacy laws

A New Data Privacy Challenge for Europe – and Beyond

New privacy regulations in Europe have recently become a very hot topic again within the business community. And no, we aren’t talking about the recent GDPR law.

A new privacy initiative, known as the ePrivacy Regulation, deals with electronic communications. Technically a revision to the EU’s existing ePrivacy Directive or “cookie law,” and pending review by the European Union’s member states, it could go into effect as early as this year. And according the New York Times, it is facing strong opposition from many technology giants including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others.

Data privacy meets the app generation

Among other things, the new ePrivacy Regulation requires explicit permission from consumers for applications to use tracking codes or collect data about their private communications, particularly through messaging services such as Skype, iMessage, games and dating apps.  Companies will have to disclose up front how they plan to use this personal data, and perhaps more importantly, must offer the same access to services whether permission is granted or not.

Ironically this new law will also remove the previous directive’s need for the incessant “cookie notices” consumers now receive, by using browser tracking settings, while tightening the use of private data. This will be a mixed blessing for online services, because a simple default browser setting can now lock out the use of tracking cookies that many consumers routinely approved under the old pop-up notices. As part of its opposition to these new rules, trade groups are painting a picture of slashed revenues, fewer free services and curbs on innovation for trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT).

A longstanding saying about online services is that “when something is free, you are the product,” and this new initiative is one of the more visible efforts for consumers to push back and take control of the use of their information. And Europe isn’t alone in this kind of initiative – for example, the new California Consumer Privacy Act, slated for the late 2018 ballot, will also require companies to provide clear opt-out instructions for consumers who do not wish their data to be shared or sold.

The future: more than just European privacy laws

So what does this mean for you and your business? No one can precisely foretell the future of these regulations and others, but the trend over time is clear: consumer privacy legislation will continue to get tighter and tighter. And the days of unfettered access to the personal data of your customers and prospects are increasingly coming to an end. This means that data quality standards will continue to loom larger than ever for businesses, ranging from stricter process controls to maintaining accurate consumer contact information.

We frankly have always seen this trend as an opportunity. As with GDPR, regulations such as these have sprung from past excesses the lie at the intersection of interruptive marketing, big data and the loss of consumer privacy. Consumers are tired of endless spam and corporations knowing their every move, and legislators are responding. But more important, we believe these moves will ultimately lead businesses to offer more value and authenticity to their customers in return for a marketing relationship.

Live Chat Means Real People at Service Objects

Have you noticed that more of us are talking with inanimate objects lately?

When we ask Siri for directions on our smartphone, command Alexa to order more toilet paper, or tell Google Home to play Ed Sheeran’s latest album on repeat, we’re becoming part of a trend: engaging bots that seem almost-but-not-quite human.

We understand the attraction businesses have to bots. They are inexpensive, ubiquitous, and great for getting the weather in Phoenix or a link to a specific web page. But bots are increasingly making their way into more and more areas of our lives nowadays, including sales and customer service. For example, according to this article automated chatbots are the future of technical support, and nowadays there is even an entire magazine devoted to them.

This is where we draw the line, however. When you contact Service Objects, you will never deal with a disembodied piece of artificial intelligence. If you visit our website during business hours, for example, you will discover that you are greeted with a chat screen manned by a real, live human being.

Live technical support: Someone’s always home

Our highly-rated technical support is 100% live people too. Call us during regular business hours, and we’ll normally get someone on the line with you within 15 minutes – sooner if your issue is urgent. And when problems strike off-hours, production customers can reach a member of our Quick Response Team 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Why we like the human touch

Nothing against automation – that is our business, after all – but here is why we insist on using live people for our sales and support:

  • First of all, we are not typical sales people. Sure, we enjoy people purchasing our products as much as anyone. But to us, you are not another data point in our sales funnel – we want to get to know you, learn about your specific needs and challenges, and brainstorm unique and cost-saving solutions. With no sales pressure whatsoever.
  • Second, support is the lifeblood of what we do. Our products are classified as services, and we take seriously what that word means: being of service. A large part of our reputation revolves around providing industry-leading customer support for our products, and in our view this starts with having access to live, knowledgeable people.
  • Third, bots are only human (pun intended). Stories about misinterpreted automated queries abound online, while Siri reportedly struggles with everything from decimal points to Texas accents. There is even a joke going around that when Amazon.com purchased the Whole Foods Market grocery chain, it was due to a misinterpreted Alexa command given by their CEO Jeff Bezos. Bot errors may be funny, but not when they happen to our customers.

Data quality and real people: A good combination

We’ll still keep using bots for things like talking to our GPS, or asking Siri when Harrison Ford was born. But when data quality is your business, and you are selling mission-critical products with a 99.999% uptime record, we believe that only real people will do. We personally feel the same way about sales and service as we do about food and recreation – we prefer natural to artificial. And if you work with us, we think you will too. We look forward to hearing from you, feel free to contact us or give us a call at 800.694.6269.

 

Online Fraud is Growing. What Can Your Business Do?

What is one of the biggest growth industries in the United States today? Hint: It isn’t something most of you would want your kids to major in at school, unless you want them to go to the state pen instead of Penn State – because this rapidly growing industry is online fraud.

The Costs of eCommerce Fraud Are Staggering

Estimates vary, but recent figures from DigitalCommerce360 project the value of eCommerce fraud nearly doubling from US $10 billion to $19 billion between 2014 and 2018, as the eCommerce market continues to grow from a historic peak of US $2.3 trillion in 2017. One particular area of fraud, account takeovers, jumped 45% in Q2 of 2017 alone according to the Global Fraud Index, and these fraudulent pirated accounts represent one of the top three types of online retail fraud.

A subtle but equally important issue is what the fear of online fraud costs you and your business. According to a recent fraud benchmarking survey from CyberSource:

  • Domestic and cross-border orders have exactly the same rates of fraud among companies surveyed – just under 1% – however nearly twice as many cross-border orders get rejected, costing valuable revenue as well as damaging customer relationships.
  • The costs of manual transaction review are one of the major financial consequences of online fraud. Nearly 80% of companies conduct manual reviews, impacting an average 25% of their transactions – and yet nearly 90% of these transactions are ultimately accepted.
  • The costs of manual review hits smaller companies particularly hard, where companies under US $5M in annual revenue review nearly six times the percentage of transactions (47%) as companies greater than $100M (8%).

The uptake of all of this? Guarding against eCommerce fraud is really a two-pronged effort: reducing online fraud itself, and reducing the revenue lost to the indirect costs of fraud. For both of these issues, the key is implementing effective automated solutions.

Technology Plays a Key Role in Preventing Online Fraud

According to the CyberSource survey, companies themselves rate three technologies among their top weapons against fraud:

Address verification: making sure an address is real, valid, and corresponds with the person making the order

Credit card number verification: making sure a credit card is legitimate and properly owned

Fraud scoring models: coming up with a quantitative score based on multifactor analysis

Other tools fall into the category of leveraging existing customer data, such as credit history checks, customer order history, or two-factor phone authentication using previous device information on file.

Cyber-fraud is growing explosively nowadays because the market for it gets more lucrative every year, and combating it requires tools that keep you one step ahead of the fraudsters. Service Objects’ fraud prevention capabilities have the advantage of leveraging authoritative up-to-the-minute third-party data, such as USPS CASS Certified® address validation capabilities, global address validation that verifies and corrects international mailing addresses to the unique requirements of each country’s postal address formats and cultural idiosyncrasies, and IP validation that helps you ensure that the origin of an online order correlates with billing and shipping locations. In addition, we offer lead and order validation capabilities using multi-function verifications that give you a quantitative quality score you can use to automate your order processing decisions.

We offer a free consultation to help you determine what tools can help protect your revenue stream. Contact us today to learn what we can do for you.

Around the World with Data Privacy Laws

If you work with data, you have certainly heard by now about GDPR: the new European Union laws surrounding consumer data privacy that went into effect May 25, 2018. But how about PIPEDA, NDB, APPI, CCPA, and SHIELD?

These acronyms represent data privacy regulations in other countries (in these cases for Canada, Australia, Japan, California and New York respectively). Many are new or recently expanded, and all are examples of how your legal responsibilities to customers don’t stop with GDPR. More importantly, they represent an opportunity for you and your business to use data quality and 21st century marketing practices to differentiate yourself from your competition.

Data Protection and Privacy Laws Are Becoming Increasingly Popular

Let’s discuss some of these new regulations. According to authentication vendor Auth0, there are a wide range of reasons for their recent proliferation. First, the rollout of GDPR has implications for other countries, including whether their personal data can flow into the EU – meaning that their data quality and protection regulations must align sufficiently with EU rules to be “whitelisted” by them. New laws now being adopted by other countries address issues such as breach notification, the use of genetic and biometric data, and the rights of individuals to stop their data from being sold.

Moreover, data privacy and security doesn’t stop with Europe and GDPR. Other countries are now starting to explore the rights of consumers in this new era of online information gathering and big data. For example, Japan and other countries now have additional regulations surrounding the use of personal information codes to identify data records, and there is increasing scrutiny on personal data that is gathered through means such as social media.

Contact Data Plays a Key Role in Compliance

Now, let’s talk about your contact data. It often isn’t ready for global data regulations, through actions such as not gathering country information at the point of data entry, or having onerous location data entry requirements (like putting “United States” at the end of a long pull-down menu of countries) that encourage false responses. Worse, existing contact data often has serious information gaps or incorrect information, and it goes bad very quickly: for example, nearly 20% of phone numbers and 35% of email addresses change every year.

Finally, let’s talk about you. In the face of a growing list of data privacy and security regulations, your job isn’t just to become GDPR-compliant. It is to build and maintain a best-practices approach to data quality, which in turn keeps you up to date with both today’s consumer data laws and tomorrow’s.

Data Quality Best Practices Are a Competitive Differentiator

Taking a step back from this flood of new regulations, we would also suggest that an ideal goal isn’t just compliance – it is to leverage today’s data quality environment as a competitive opportunity. Why do these new laws exist? Because of consumer demand. People are tired of interruptive broad-brush marketing, invasive spam, and unwanted telemarketing. When you build your own marketing strategy around better targeting, curated customer relationships, and respect for the consumer, your focus can shift from avoiding penalties to growing your brand and market share faster.

We can help with both of these objectives. For starters, we now offer our Country Detective service, which can process up to 500 contact records and append correct countries to them to help guide your compliance efforts. And for the longer term we offer a free Global Data Assessment, where our team will consult with you at no charge about strategies for data quality in today’s new regulatory and market environment. Interested? Contact us to get the ball rolling, and take the next step in your global market growth.

Delivering excellent and responsive customer service is a top priority for Service Objects, from assigning a dedicated Customer Success Specialist to proactive monitoring and analysis of every account, the Service Objects team ensures maximum uptime while also providing fast and responsive service.

Service Objects Proves Customer Service Reigns Supreme with NPS Score of 65

Hitting a new all-time high for customer service, Service Objects recently earned a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 65, placing the company shoulder-to-shoulder with other tech industry leaders. With a score seven points higher than the industry average, this current achievement marks the fifth consecutive year Service Objects has attained a “best in class ranking.”

“We are proud to hit high marks for the fifth consecutive year, but we won’t rest on our laurels,” said Service Objects Founder and CEO Geoff Grow. “Addressing our customers’ needs and wants will always be a top priority, and we look forward to helping our clients grow and thrive in all their future endeavors.”

Best in Class for 5th Year

The Net Promoter Score measures customer feedback to create a numeric value representing brand loyalty. Difficult to achieve, a top NPS score means a company is held in high regard by clients and usually indicates a strong commitment to customer satisfaction and proactive, solution-focused service.

NPS measures customer satisfaction based on a 200-point scale ranging between -100 and +100, with scores over 50 considered “best in class.” Service Objects has maintained its outstanding rating for the past five years because of its continued commitment to 24/7/365 support, 99.999% server uptime, experience in validating over 3 billion contact records, and in-depth knowledge of the contact validation industry.

NPS and Customer Service: A Powerful Combination

In 2014, Service Objects launched its Customer Success Program with the goal of establishing a set of benchmarks and strategies designed to make sure clients get answers quickly and maximize their investment. Featuring intensive customer support, the Customer Success Program allows customers to become acquainted with their services and get up and running quickly.

From assigning a dedicated Customer Success Specialist to scheduling regular check-ins and initiating proactive monitoring and analysis of every account, Service Objects can ensure maximum uptime while also providing fast and responsive service. From day one, customers have access to ongoing customer support that includes quarterly check-ins, 24/7/365 emergency response, courtesy testing keys, and more.

Client Satisfaction a Top Priority

Service Objects continually measures its NPS score to gain a better understanding of the current level of satisfaction amongst its client base. With a 2018 NPS score of 65, the company has achieved a score higher than the industry average of 58. This latest NPS ranking once again places Service Objects in the top tier of the technology industry, above other well-known companies including Intel (52), Cisco (38), and Spotify (24).

“Delivering excellent and responsive customer service is a top priority for Service Objects,” Grow said. “We instill this belief into every customer touch point. It is rewarding to see our hard work pay off with continued positive customer feedback and a five-year streak of NPS scores that place us amongst the best in the industry.”

 

Instead of focusing on “cleaning dirty customer data,” organizations should focus on the connection between investments in data quality and customer service metrics.

Data Quality and Customer Experience

Once upon a time, customer service and support operations were viewed as the “complaint department” – a back-office function, a necessary evil, and above all a cost center whose role should be reduced as much as possible. These days, it has become increasingly clear that businesses must prioritize data quality. As Thomas Redman advised is a recent guest post, “Getting in front on data quality presents a terrific opportunity to improve business performance.”

While some organizations still have a break/fix mentality about customer support, the very best organizations now view their customer contact operations as the strategic voice of the customer – and leverage customer engagement as a strategic asset. Thanks to tools ranging from CRM and social media, many businesses manage their customer experience as closely as they manage their products and services.

The Strategic Role of Data Quality

This leads us to an important analogy about data quality. Like the “complaint department” days of customer service, many organizations still view data quality as little more than catching and fixing bad contact data. In reality, our experience with a base of nearly 2500 customers has taught that data quality plays a very strategic role in areas like cost control, marketing reach, and brand reputation in the marketplace.

This worldview is still evolving slowly. For example, according to a 2017 CIO survey by Talend, data quality and data governance remain the biggest concerns of IT departments, at 33 and 37 percent respectively – and yet their top priorities reflect more trendy objectives such as big data and real-time analytics. And back in 2012 Forrester vice president Kate Leggett observed that data quality often remains the domain of the IT department, and data projects for customer service rarely get funded.

Meanwhile, data quality has also become an important component of customer experience. Leggett notes that instead of an IT-driven process of “cleaning dirty customer data,” organizations should reframe the conversation towards the impact of data quality on customer-facing functions, and understand the connection between investments in data quality and customer service metrics.

Here at Service Objects, we see three key areas in the link between data quality and customer experience:

Customer Engagement

When you have good data integrated with effective CRM, you have the ability to market appropriately and serve customers responsively. You can target your messages to the right people, react responsively in real time to customer needs, and create systems that satisfy and delight the people you serve.

Service Failures

Mis-deliver a package because of a bad address, and you make a customer very unhappy. Do things like this even a small percentage of the time, and you gain a reputation as a company that doesn’t execute. Keep doing it and even many customers who haven’t been wronged yet will seek other options where possible, because of the “herd mentality” that builds around those who do complain publicly and on social media.

Strategic Visibility

Your customer data is an important asset that gives you the ability to analyze numerous aspects of your customer relationships and react appropriately. It holds the knowledge of everything from demographics to purchasing patterns, as well as their direct feedback through service and support. Having accurate customer data is central to leveraging this data strategically.

One heartening trend is that more organizations than ever now see the connection between data quality and their customer relationships. For example, one 2017 article in PharmExec.com cited a European customer data survey showing that nearly three-quarters of life sciences respondents feel that having a complete and real-time view of customers is a top priority – while only 40% are satisfied with how well they are doing this. We are seeing similar figures across other industries nowadays, and view this as a good sign that we are moving over time towards a smoother, more data-driven relationship between organizations and their customers.

Recognizing the vital role contact data quality plays in GDPR compliance, Service Objects is offering affected businesses a free data quality assessment.

Free Data Quality Assessment Helps Businesses Gauge GDPR Compliance Ahead of May Deadline

As the May 25, 2018, deadline looms, Service Objects, the leading provider of real-time global contact validation solutions, is offering a GDPR Data Quality Assessment to help companies evaluate their if they are prepared for the new set of privacy rules and regulations.

“Our goal is to help you get a better understanding of the role your client data plays in GDPR compliance,” says Geoff Grow, CEO and Founder, Service Objects. “With our free GDPR Data Quality Assessment, companies will receive an honest, third-party analysis of the accuracy of their contact records and customer database.”

Under the GDPR, personal data includes any information related to a natural person or ‘Data Subject’ that can be used to identify the person directly or indirectly. It can be anything from a name, a photo, an email address, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information, or a computer IP address.

Even if an organization is not based in the EU, it may still need to observe the rules and regulations of GDPR. That’s because the GDPR not only applies to businesses located in the EU but to any companies offering goods or services within the European Union. In addition, if a business monitors the behavior of any EU data subjects, including the processing and holding of personal data, the GDPR applies.

Recognizing the vital role contact data quality plays in GDPR compliance, Service Objects decided to offer a free data quality assessment to help those industries affected by the regulation measure the accuracy of their contact records and prepare for the May 2018 deadline.

The evaluation will include an analysis of up to 500 records, testing for accuracy across a set of inputs including name, phone, address, email, IP, and country. After the assessment is complete, a composite score will be provided, giving businesses an understanding of the how close they are to being compliant with GDPR’s Article 5.

Article 5 of the GDPR requires organizations collecting and processing personal information of individuals within the European Union (EU) to ensuring all current and future customer information is accurate and up-to-date. Not adhering to the rules and regulations of the GDPR can result in a fine of up to 4% of annual global turnover or €20 Million (whichever is greater).

“To avoid the significant fines and penalties associated with the GDPR, businesses are required to make every effort to keep their contact data is accurate and up-to-date,” Grow added. “Service Objects’ data quality solutions enable global businesses to fulfill the regulatory requirements of Article 5 and establish a basis for data quality best practices as part of a broader operational strategy.”

 

For more information on how to get started with your free GDPR Data Quality Assessment, please visit our website today.