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Thoughts on Data Quality and Contact Validation

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Posts Tagged ‘Contact Validation’

Service Objects Announces Record Breaking Number of Transactions Processed on Cyber Monday 2017

Cyber Monday 2017 was a busy day for many online retailers, including Service Objects. We were so busy, in fact, that we processed a record number of contact data validation transactions. Looking at the online shopping stats, we shouldn’t be surprised. According to numbers released by Adobe Insights, shoppers spent 16.8% more in 2017 than on Cyber Monday 2016, setting a new online record of $6.6 billion in sales.  The mobile sales record was also surpassed, reaching $2 billion over a 24-hour period.

So why did Service Objects’ break our own record? Because our contact validation services play a vital role in the online shopping process for many merchants.  We enable retailers to verify that an individual’s contact information is genuine, accurate and up-to-date. In addition, by validating a person’s name, address, phone number, email and device, businesses significantly increase package delivery rates and considerably increase their ability to detect fraudulent transactions.

In fact, some of the largest retailers in the world use Service Objects’ real-time contact validation services. While consumers were busy breaking sales number records on Cyber Monday, Service Objects’ customers processed over a million more transactions on that day than previous years, making it the largest day in our history.

And we see this trend continuing. As online shopping continues to capture a larger percentage of retailers’ overall sales every year, Service Objects will play a vital role in ecommerce by providing the ability for merchants to validate and clean their customer contact data against hundreds of authoritative data sources – all in a blink of an eye. It also doesn’t hurt that we have a 99.999% server uptime guarantee, unlimited no cost technical support and bank grade transaction security.

For more information or to test any one of Service Objects’ 23 contact validation solutions, please visit https://www.serviceobjects.com/products.

The Direct and Indirect Costs of Poor Data Quality

Imagine that your company runs an online ad for a product. But when your customer gets to your website, this product has actually been discontinued. And from thereon in, every time the customer surfs the web they are now constantly served with banner ads for this non-existent product.

This scenario really happens more often than you think. And it is a perfect example of marketing at its worst: spending your budget to lose customers, ruin your service reputation, and destroy your brand.

We often talk about data quality on this blog, but this time I would like to focus on the results of lack of data quality. In the case above, poor linkages between inventory data and marketing lead to a bad customer experience AND wasted marketing dollars. Much the same thing is true with our specialties of contact data and marketing leads: bad data leads to a wellspring of avoidable costs.

First there are tangible costs. Bad leads and incorrect customer addresses lead to specific, measurable outcomes. Wasting human effort. Throwing away precious marketing capital. Penalties for non-compliance with telephone and email contact laws. Re-shipment costs and inventory losses. According to one Harvard Business Review article, the real costs of poor data quality now exceed $3 trillion per year in the United States alone.

Then there is the part few people pay enough attention to: the indirect costs of poor data quality. In a recent piece for CustomerThink, data management expert Chirag Shivalker points to factors such as sales that never materialize, potential customers who turn away, and the subtle loss of repeat business. Whether it is a misdirected marketing piece, an unwanted pitch on someone’s cell phone, or a poor customer experience, some of the biggest consequences of poor data quality are never quantified – and, perhaps more importantly, never noticed.

Finally there is the fact that data, like your car, is a depreciating asset. Even the most skillfully crafted database will degrade over time. Contact information is particularly vulnerable to decay, with estimates showing that as much as 70% of it goes bad every year. A recent article from insideBIGDATA put the scope of this in very stark terms: each and every hour, over 500 business addresses, 800 phone numbers and 150 companies change – part of a growing ball of data that, per IDC, will swell to over 160 zettabytes (for the uninitiated, a zettabyte is one sextillion, or 10 to the 21st power, bytes). And the bill for validating and cleaning up this data can average $100-200K or more for the average organization. So an ongoing approach is needed to preserve the asset value of this data, as well as prevent the costs and negative consequences of simply letting it age.

A recent data brief from SiriusDecisions breaks down these costs of poor data quality into four key areas: hard costs, productivity costs, hidden costs, and opportunity costs. And it is not like these costs are exactly a surprise: according to Accenture, data inaccuracy and data inconsistency are the leading concerns of more than three-quarters of the executives they surveyed. Their solution? Better use of technology, combined with process improvements such as formal data governance efforts.

The people in our original example above probably had no idea what kind of lost business and negative brand image they were creating through poor data quality. And ironically, I would say let’s keep it that way. Why? Because it is a competitive advantage for people like you and me who pay attention to data quality – or better yet, build processes to automate it. If you are ready to get started, take a look at some of our solutions and let’s talk.

Service Objects Launches Newly Redesigned Website

Service Objects is excited to announce that we have launched a newly redesigned website, www.serviceobjects.com. The redesign effort was undertaken to enhance the user experience and features a new graphical feel, enhanced content and improved technical functionality. Visitors can now more quickly find information on how Service Objects’ contact validation solutions solve a variety of challenges in global address validation, phone validation, email validation, eCommerce and lead validation. Free trial keys for all 23 data quality services can also be readily accessed.

As part of the launch, Service Objects also made significant updates to its data quality and contact validation blog, which contains hundreds of posts on topics such as fraud protection, address validation and verification, data quality best practices, eCommerce, marketing automation, CRM integration and much more. New content is published weekly and visitors can subscribe to have new content and updates sent to them directly.

“The recent launch of DOTS Address Validation International and DOTS Lead Validation International has firmly established Service Objects as the leader in global intelligence,” said Geoff Grow, CEO and Founder, Service Objects. “We redesigned our website to more prominently communicate Service Objects’ expertise in the global intelligence marketplace and continue to reinforce what is most important to our customers: in-depth developer resources, guaranteed system availability, 24/7/365 customer support and bank grade security.”

New features also include three ways to connect with our services: API integration, Cloud Connectors or sending us a list.  We hope you will take a look at our new website and blog and send us your feedback at marketing@serviceobjects.com.

Bringing Dead Letters Back to Life

All right, we are finally going to admit it: there are some bad mailing addresses out there that even Service Objects can’t fix.

Of course, we’re talking about cases like illegible handwriting, physical damage, or the kid who addresses a Christmas letter to “Santa Claus, North Pole.” But even for them, there is hope – in the form of a nondescript building on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, Utah, known as the USPS Remote Encoding Center. Images of illegible mailing addresses are sent here online from all over the United States, in a last-ditch effort to get these pieces of mail where they are going.

Behind the walls of this beige, block-long building lies an optometrist’s dream: nearly 1700 employees working 24 hours a day, each scanning a new image every few seconds and matching it to addresses in the USPS database. (The same database we use to verify your contact address data, incidentally.) Most get linked to a verified address and are sent on their merry way; the truly illegible ones are forwarded to the USPS’s Dead Letter facility to be opened, and those letters to Santa get forwarded to a group of volunteers in Alaska to be answered.

According to the Smithsonian, there used to be more than 50 of these facilities all over the US. With time and improving automation, all of them have now been shuttered, with the exception of this lone center in Salt Lake City. To work there, you need to be fast, precise, and then go through more than a full week of training – and then you get put on one of 33 shifts, handling the roughly two percent of mail pieces that the Post Office’s computers cannot read automatically. That’s between five and eleven million pieces of mail per day on most days.

Of course, technology continues to improve, and USPS has become a world leader in optical character recognition for both handwritten and machine-addressed mailing pieces – even 98 percent of hand-addressed envelopes are processed by machine nowadays. In an interview with the New York Times, the center’s operations director acknowledges that computer processing could eventually put them out of business entirely. But for now, human intervention for illegible addresses hasn’t yet gone the way of the elevator operator.

Thankfully, your business correspondence probably isn’t hand-scrawled by your Aunt Mildred. And hopefully Santa Claus doesn’t show up very often in your prospect database (although fake names get entered for free marketing goodies more often than you think, and we can easily catch and fix these). So your chances of ending up on a computer screen in Salt Lake City are pretty slim – which means we can help you ensure clean contact data, and leverage this data for better marketing insight.

So for those of you who can’t spell, failed penmanship when you went to school, or have a habit of leaving your envelopes out too long in the rain, there is still hope. For the rest of you, there is Service Objects.

The Great Debate: When to Validate Your Contact Data

A famous beer commercial had people debating whether it tasted great or was less filling. A similar debate is brewing among data quality professionals: do you validate your contact data when you first add it to your marketing automation platform (MAP), or at the time you use it?

The answer to both debates is exactly the same: YES.

First, let’s look at the first argument. Validating contact data such as names, email and physical addresses and phone numbers before recording them to the MAP has several advantages up front:

Saving money.  Most of the platforms charge based on the number of contacts in your MAP.  By validating the lead ahead of time, you can avoid adding and paying for bad leads in your MAP.

Garbage in, garbage out. Putting dirty data into your marketing database skews whatever metrics or analyses you might do beyond marketing campaigns, including the all-important conversion rate. And catching bad contact information in real-time, lets you message the user at time of entry so they can correct it, preserving valuable leads and preventing possible customer service issues.

Detecting bogus names and fraudulent leads. What good is a database full of Donald Ducks and Ninja Turtles, who faked you out to get a free report? Tools such as name validation can programmatically catch and keep fraudulent contact information out of your MAP in the first place.

Avoiding penalties. Saving the wrong contact data can cost you – big time – if it violates regulations such as the TCPA and Do Not Call lists for phone numbers, or CAN-SPAM compliance and ‘spam traps’ for email addresses. Automated validation tools let you flag high risk contacts before you save them.

Finally, there is the broader question of lead quality. MAPs provide lead scoring based on how the user used the site, but may not protect you from fraudulent or bad data. Contact-level lead validation adds a quantitative value of lead quality, based on over 130 criteria, that lets you decide to fast-track a lead, put them in your drip campaign to see how they respond, or even discard the lead.

Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin. Validating lead data regularly, particularly at the time you use it, has several advantages as well.

Coping with change. Over 70% of contact data will go bad in the course of just a year. Lead validation tools can check your existing leads and then correct, update, or remove them based on the results. This saves you money by only keeping and paying for viable leads, allowing marketing to identify sources of high and low quality leads, and providing more accurate reporting.

Avoiding penalties, part 2. You logged a phone number in your MAP last year. You used it in a marketing campaign this year. What is the difference? Up to $14K in TCPA fines, if this number changed from being a landline to someone else’s cell number. Always validate phone numbers and email addresses before every campaign, to ensure TCPA, Do Not Call and CAN-SPAM compliance.

Taking care of your customers. By triggering emails or other contacts to customers who appear to have changed their addresses, using tools such as our national change-of-address (NCOA Live) capabilities, you provide better service and pro-actively avoid future service or delivery failures.

Making your IT department happy. Lead and contact validation tools are easily automated within most MAP systems – for example, Service Objects’ contact validation tools have webhooks and API interfaces you can use with platforms including Marketo, Eloqua, Hubspot, Pardot, Ontraport and others.

Incidentally, that beer company never did resolve the “tastes great/less filling” controversy. Likewise, we’re going to play both sides of this debate – because it is easy and inexpensive to validate your lead and contact data every time you enter or use it. With the right automation partner, data quality can simply become one less thing to worry about in your marketing efforts.

What Does API Really Mean?

API stands for Application Program Interface. It is a way for software to communicate with each other based on specific inputs and outputs. API’s are everywhere, nearly any application in existence can use them. One API can even utilize one or more other API’s as well. What an API is has been defined and explained in any number of Google search results. What I want to talk about is what an API really is.

It is a way to reuse existing code. Writing reusable code is often a high consideration when developers write code. If you are going to need a specific functionality over and over again, why recreate the wheel? Well, that is just what APIs help developers avoid, as well as making code more understandable and enabling them to be more productive, resulting in saved time and money.

The interchangeable nature of API’s makes switching one API out for another relatively simple. The cost of improving complex segments of code is almost as simple as unplugging a broken toaster and plugging in a new one.

The beauty of APIs is that they allow your organization’s developers to do what they do best. They don’t need to be an expert in everything. Often organizations can be sent on wild goose chases trying to figure out solutions that they are not experts in. At Service Objects, we want your business to continue being an expert at what you do and let us be your expert in the field of contact validation. Why attempt to do the heavy lifting of trying to solve a problem that is not in your wheel house? Without spending an enormous amount of time and money, there is little chance that you will be able to reproduce the code that another API can give you out of the box.

At Service Objects, we have been developing our services since 2001, so when someone is purchasing any of our 23 APIs, they are using over 16 years of cumulative knowledge and expertise. And on top of that, we are going to keep learning and improving on our services so that our customers don’t have to. What this means is that your organization can be using the best code available in your applications and leverage the best practices we have developed without being an expert in the field of data validation.

For more information, or to obtain a free trial key for any of Service Objects’ Data Validation APIs, click here.

Launching a New Ecommerce Site? Don’t Forget Data Quality Tools

Online commerce is huge nowadays – to the tune of over $400 billion dollars a year in the United States alone in 2017, at a growth rate up to three times that of retail in general. Barriers to entry are lower than ever, ecommerce platforms have become simpler to use and less expensive than ever, and the convenience of e-commerce has grown to encompass businesses of every size. Above all, purchasing goods online has become ubiquitous among today’s consumers.

Whether you are looking to launch a simple shopping cart using platforms like WordPress’ WooCommerce, Shopify or Magento, or an enterprise solution like Microsoft’s Commerce Server or IBM’s WebSphere Commerce, it can still be a minefield for the uninitiated. Here are some of the risks that every online seller takes every day:

Fraud. Filling orders from fraudulent sources costs you both revenue and time – and according to Javelin Research, identity fraud alone totals over $18 billion per year in the US. And the bad guys particularly love to target novice sellers.

Fulfillment. Every online order starts a chain of activities – from billing to shipment – that depend on the quality of your contact data. Credit card processing often requires accurate address data, and one misdirected shipment can wipe out the profit margin of many other sales – not to mention the reputational damage it can do.

Marketing. According to the Harvard Business Review, the cost of acquiring a new customer ranges from 5 to 25 times the cost of selling to an existing customer. This means that your contact database is the key to follow-on sales, brand awareness and long-term profitability. Which also means that bad contact data – and the rate at which this contact data decays– cuts straight to your bottom line.

Tax issues. Did you know that tax rates can vary from one side of a street to the other? Or that some states have passed or are considering an “internet tax” out-of-state sellers? Tax compliance, and avoiding the penalties that come with incorrect sales tax rates, is a fact of life for any online business.

The common denominator between each of these issues? Data quality. And thankfully, these problems can all be mitigated inexpensively nowadays, with tools that fit right in with your current contact management strategy. Some of the solutions available today from Service Objects include:

  • A suite of tools for fraud prevention, including address, email and telephone verification, lead validation that scores prospects on a scale of 0-100, credit card validation, and IP address validation – so you know when an order for a customer in Utah is placed from Uzbekistan.
  • Shipping address validation tools that verify addresses against up-to-date real-time data from the USPS and Canada Post, to make sure your products go to the right place every time.
  • Email verification capabilities that perform over 50 tests, including auto-correcting common domain errors and yielding an overall quality score – improving your marketing effectiveness AND preventing your mail servers from being blacklisted.
  • Real-time tax rate assessment that validates your addresses, and then provides accurate sales and use tax rates at any jurisdictional level.

Each of these capabilities are available in several convenient formats, ranging from APIs for your applications to batch processing of contact lists. Whichever form you choose, automated data tools can quickly make the most common problems of online commerce a thing of the past.

The Letter that Continues to Arrive

Before moving to my current home, making sure I completed a change of address form with the Post Office was on the top of my “to do” list.  Although most mail received these days is typically coupons and business advertisements, I looked forward to receiving the first piece of mail with my name and new address on the envelope. What can I say… I appreciate the little things in life.

Well, the first time I checked the mail I found a letter addressed to the prior resident. As I had recently filled out my own change of address form at the post office I understood it would take some time for each other’s information to be updated and anticipated this would continue happening for a bit. As expected, I began receiving mail addressed with my name soon after. However, years later I’m still getting the same letter from one particular storage company for the prior resident.

Cost of Just One Letter 3

At first, I tried writing “Not at This Address,” “Moved, Left No Forwarding Address” and “Return to Sender” on the letters. After a couple months I realized this did not work. The next thing I tried was calling the storage company. I thought the human element of speaking to someone over the phone and explaining the situation would resolve the case of this never ending letter. This also did not work and actually seemed to make it worse.

As I mentioned previously, the bulk of my mail (like many other people) consists of coupons and advertisements addressed to “current resident” which are seemingly impossible to stop. Along with these, the never ending letter from this storage center started taking the excitement out of checking my mail. For a few years, checking the mail monthly instead of every few days became the routine. Every month, my mailbox was filled to max capacity with mainly junk and of course a letter (or two or three) from the storage center. Unfortunately there are some draw backs to checking your mail so infrequently. I eventually learned that if the mail does not fit in your box it is sent back to the post office which is how I missed a wedding invitation and a few birthday cards. Needless to say I went back to checking my mail more frequently and simply continued sending back the storage company letter hoping they’d eventually run their customer database through a National Change of Address (NCOA) service.

While this situation was obviously annoying, I also wondered how much this letter alone must be costing the storage center. At this point, I estimate receiving about 100 copies of the same letter equating to:

  • $46 in just postage, each has a $0.46 First-Class stamp
  • 100 wasted envelopes
  • 100 wasted pieces of paper
  • Ink for each letter
  • Wasted time/salary of the person(s) at the storage center responsible for mailing
  • Wasted time for the mail sorter(s)
  • Wasted gas and time of the mail carrier(s)
  • A big Headache for me over the last few years
  • Possible frustration for the last tenant who still hasn’t received this letter (I’m assuming it’s a bill which is even worse if they are incurring additional costs all this time)

Ultimately, this also damaged the reputation of the storage company. This mail discrepancy gave me a glimpse into their lack of customer service, organization and concern for our environment. By simply implementing an address validation check in their processes this entire scenario could be avoided. What’s worse is imagining how many other letters they are sending to the wrong address.

After further research, I found out anyone can submit a change of address form at the post office for prior tenants by making a note that they did not provide a forwarding address (the online form requires a forwarding address to submit). I’ll be heading to the post office today to fill one out. If that doesn’t resolve this, I also learned storage centers eventually auction off your items if you don’t pay your bills. Although I don’t want the prior tenant to lose their personal items, I’ll be glad to stop receiving these notices.

Until then…

If your business needs help avoiding unnecessary costs, resources and headaches associated with outdated customer information including name, address, phone, email and more contact us!

People, Process, and Technology: The Three Pillars of Data Quality

For many people, managing data quality seems like a daunting task. They may realize that it is an important issue with financial consequences for their organization, but they don’t know how to proceed in managing it. With the right strategy, however, any organization can reap the benefits of consistent data quality, by focusing on three core principles: People, Process, and Technology.

Taken together, these three areas serve as the cornerstones of a structured approach to data quality that you can implement and manage. And more important, a framework that lets you track the ROI of successful data quality. Let’s look at each of these in detail:

People

This is frankly where most organizations fail at the data quality game: not allocating dedicated gatekeepers for the health of their data. It is a very easy mistake to make when budgets are tight, resources are focused on revenue-generating functions like sales or product development, and the business case for data quality gets lost amidst a host of competing priorities.

The single biggest thing an organization can do for data quality is to devote dedicated resources to it. This becomes an easier sell once you look at the real costs of bad data: for example, research shows that 25% of all contact records contain bad data, a third of marketing leads use fake names, and half of all phone numbers provided won’t connect. Run these numbers across the direct costs of customer acquisition, add in missed sales opportunities, increased customer care costs, and even potential compliance fines, and you often have the financial justification for a data quality gatekeeper.

Process

How much control do you have over data entry points, data accuracy, and verification? For too many organizations, the answer is none – with resulting costs due to factors such as duplicate data entry, human error, or lack of verification. And who is responsible for maintaining the integrity of your business data? Too often, the answer is “no one,” in a world where data rarely ages well. An average of 70% of contact data goes bad in some form each year, which ushers in yet another level of direct and indirect costs.

One of the more important roles of a data gatekeeper is to have processes in place to manage the touch points for your data, engineer data quality in on the front end of customer and lead acquisition, and maintain this data over the course of its life cycle. Having the right policies and procedures in place gives you control over your data, and can make the mechanics of data quality frictionless and cost-effective. Or as your teachers used to put it, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Technology

Data quality solutions range from simply scanning spreadsheets for duplicates and mistakes, all the way to automated tools for tasks such as address validation, lead validation, and verification of email or phone contact information. And far too often, the solution of choice for an organization is to do nothing at all.

Ironically, using the best available automated tools for data quality is often a surprisingly cost-effective strategy, and can yield your best ROI. Automated tools can be as simple as verifying an address, or as sophisticated as creating a statistical ranking value for the quality of a lead or contact record. Used properly, these tools can put much of the hard work of data quality on autopilot for you and your organization.

Ensuring your organization’s data quality can seem like an overwhelming task. But broken into its component parts – your people, your process, and your technology – this task can turn into logical steps that pay themselves back very quickly. It is a simple and profitable three-step strategy for any organization that runs on data.

Service Objects is the industry leader in real-time contact validation services.

Service Objects has verified over 3 billion contact records for clients from various industries including retail, technology, government, communications, leisure, utilities, and finance. Since 2001, thousands of businesses and developers have used our APIs to validate transactions to reduce fraud, increase conversions, and enhance incoming leads, Web orders, and customer lists. READ MORE