Identifying Data Validation Solutions: A Case Study

I have a superpower that most people don’t have. In my position here at Service Objects, I have had the privilege of being a fly on the wall with many companies while helping them create clean and validated data. So I know, perhaps better than most people, what businesses go through as they wrestle with how to improve their data quality and ROI.

In this article, I would like to take you inside the mind of a typical business as they look at their data challenges, and what happens when they decide to work with us. You probably know what *we* think about our products, of course – but the only opinions that really matter are those of our customers. So let’s look at a hypothetical case study of a typical business, based on my many actual interactions with prospects and clients.

Discovering your data quality issues

I was a new hire at my company when it all started. We were a large manufacturing firm serving the business-to-business market, and things were ramping up. We had a website where people could make orders and sign up for a catalog, as well as opt-in for email alerts when special items would go on sale or we had an email campaign.

My job was ensuring that the data we were collecting was accurate and up-to-date. And I found that this data was a mess! For one thing, we had lots of inconsistencies in our contact data. Sometimes street suffixes and street prefixes were abbreviated, and sometimes they weren’t. Sometimes they were in all upper case, or all lower case, or sometimes mixed case. The same things were also true for the state field. One of the complaints from management was that the shipping labels on our catalogs looked very bad.

More importantly – particularly from a financial standpoint – the team was getting frustrated with the amount of “return to sender” items we were receiving. This gave us a few problems to solve. First, I knew that our data input forms would need to be updated, but I also quickly realized that somehow forcing our users to always provide good consistent data was a pipe dream. Standardizing the data alone wouldn’t fix the problem of returned catalogs, so I knew that this really came down to getting our existing data standardized and validated, as well as making sure new addresses coming into the system were also high quality and valid. Address validation was the key to solving this.

Finding an address validation solution

Now a decision needed to be made: do we get our software engineers involved and build it ourselves, or do we get something off the shelf? I had faced this dilemma before in previous positions. For small tasks, building solutions from scratch is OK and can save money in the long run. But I have found that when trying to implement solutions for larger projects, finding products off the shelf can have a much greater impact.

You see, the problem really wasn’t that we couldn’t update our forms to help standardize the inputs. It was a small job to switch data entry fields from open text fields to dropdown selectable options. The tough part was the address validation component. We were experts with our products, but it really didn’t make sense to try to be experts with address validation. Address validation is no simple task, and I knew the right solution would be finding a company that had a lot of experience with it.

Naturally, like everyone else, I did a Google search for “Address Validation”. I was looking for three main things for our solution. First, they had to be experts. Second, they had to have integration options, because I knew I wanted a solution that integrated with the forms we had on the website. I also didn’t want to have to build out a process to clean the existing addresses: I wanted to simply send the data over in a file have it cleansed and returned to me to repopulate our database. And third, I wanted service. I wanted a company that was available to talk when I needed to talk, and would respond quickly to my email questions.

It turned out that Service Objects had all of this and more. I had access to experts with solutions to my problems – not just people selling solutions, but also the people building and integrating these solutions. And it turned out that our team didn’t really need much help integrating the Service Objects’ Address Validation solution into our website. The documentation and sample code were clear, and with just a free trial key we were able to get up and running. Then all we needed to do was switch to a live production key, and we were done! I really like it when things are that easy.

When it came to validating the existing addresses, we wanted a solution where we could upload our data and get it cleansed and returned to us, like I mentioned earlier. After talking it through with a Service Objects representative I realized that we just didn’t have one data set to cleanse. In addition to our direct data set needing to be validated, we would also be importing address data from other divisions of the company on a periodic basis.

Here it would be nice to set up a process where we could regularly deliver a file and have it processed. After talking it over some more, Service Objects told us that they did do one-time processing, But also offered an automated batch service where we could upload a file that would get processed and returned to us automatically. This was exactly what we needed.

Moving on to email validation

So we integrated address validation into our system and got the automated batch process going, and everything was running like a well-oiled machine. Address data was coming into the system as clean as it could be, and the issue with returned catalogs disappeared. Next, I wanted to tackle the issue we were having with our email alerts that visitors could sign up for.

It was being reported that we were getting a lot of bounces on the email offers we were sending. When I examined the email data, some of the reasons were obvious. I was finding things like emails that appeared to have been entered by the user mashing a bunch of random keys on their keyboard. But the problem was larger than that – we were also getting bounces from emails that appeared legitimate.

I recalled from my conversations with Service Objects that they were experts in several types of data validation. Besides address validation, for which they had Canada and international products as well, they also had phone validation services, geocoding services, lead and ecommerce services, demographics services and more. But most importantly, for my purposes, Service Objects had a solution for real-time email validation.

The solution I was looking for would be one where we could validate an email at the point of entry into our system, and also one where we could send automated batches to get validated before we do an email campaign. The automated batches would also help us with the multiple email lists that we purchased or rented. The Service Objects’ Email Validation service was perfect for this, and was just as easy to integrate as the address validation service was.

Lessons learned

This case study tried to identify a few phases companies go through when they try to validate their data. They involve identifying what the problems are, and sometimes these problems are not always obvious. Moreover, validating your data once does not mean that you are done. For starters, email addresses change and people move. Also, if your records are of people in the European Union then personal data needs to be as accurate and current as possible, particularly in light of their new GDPR regulations.

Stale or incorrect data is your enemy, and we have the services you need to keep it valid. After identifying the problem, most companies look next at how and who should solve the problem. As I mentioned in the case study, there are reasons to build out solutions in-house, but when you get into the realm of data validation it is really best left to the experts.

There are additional benefits to buying off the shelf with us besides our capabilities and expert support. You also benefit by always having the latest and greatest versions of our products. When we update our services, these updates are often injected into the operations you are already using and can provide for faster response times as well. Also, nearly every customer goes through a discovery phase where they are learning about a service and all the different data points that it can return. There are a lot of terms involved, and unless you are an expert some of them can be confusing. In cases like these, our assistance can make a big difference.

We’re here to help

Above all, we are there with our customers every step of the way. And there are often times when some expert advice can help you get more out of our services.
For example:

  • For email validation, you may want to know what greylisting is or what catchall means, and how knowing these data points can help you.
  • For address validation, it may be very helpful to know when an address is classified as residential, so you can better define shipping costs.
  • You may not be aware how some of our capabilities could directly profit your specific operations, such as demographic analysis or lead validation.

We are always here to help you understand our capabilities, as well as helping you through the integration process. Integration is usually the last main phase in the process. We do find that most organizations have few real issues when it comes to integration, but there are unique cases that we work through together. We have lots of documentation and sample code to help with integration, and you can count on us as a resource for help.

This hypothetical case study has a lot in common with our real-life experience with customers: they come to us with data quality issues that are costing them money, hurting their productivity or damaging their brand image. And then we collaboratively help them find solutions to these problems, and make it look easy. We would love to help you too!

Contact us any time for a no-obligation discussion on what we can do for you.

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