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Thoughts on Data Quality and Contact Validation

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Posts Tagged ‘Contact Validation’

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.

How Much Is Bad Contact Data Costing Your Organization?

Collecting visitor and customer data through a variety of channels allows you to quickly grow your contact list. When contact information comes in, your company is provided many new opportunities to expand your business. However, receiving high-quality data isn’t necessarily a given. After all, some visitors will enter bad contact data, such as bogus phone numbers, in an attempt to limit telemarketing calls; others may think they’re being funny by entering fake names such as Donald Duck or Homer Simpson; others might accidentally misspell a street name. Even autocorrect may change a legitimate entry, and some visitors may intentionally enter a bad address in an attempt to commit fraud.

Managing the effects of bad contact data is a surprisingly large cost for many organizations, involving a great deal of human intervention as well as diluted contact effectiveness. This is one area where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – particularly in today’s era of automated contact verification tools. Whatever your touch points are with customers or prospects – including customer data, contest entry forms, phone surveys, lead generation and point of sale interactions – some data will be inaccurate, incomplete, or fraudulent.

Why Data Quality Matters

Do you really need to worry about a few Donald Ducks or Homer Simpsons in your contact database? Yes, you do! Poor data quality translates into wasted time, resources, and money. For example, if you have a mailing list of 10,000 addresses, and 10 percent of those are inaccurate, you will waste 1,000 pieces of mail — plus the cost of product and postage – not to mention the human resources involved in processing incorrect outgoing and returned mail.

Data quality from a customer service perspective is another big concern. Suppose that a customer orders an expensive product from your website, and accidentally enters their address as “2134 Main Street” instead of the correct address of “1234 Main Street”? First of all, you would ship the package to the wrong address. Not your fault, but it doesn’t matter: delivery will be delayed, the customer will have a poor experience, and you will incur re-shipping costs. You may even not get the original shipment back. It’s a lose-lose situation.

The problem is compounded when it comes to getting these customers in the first place: an estimated 25% percent of marketing contact data is bad. And according to the Data Warehouse Institute, this ocean of bad data costs businesses over US $600 billion per year. At the level of the individual company, this means that over a quarter of your sales and marketing resources are lost to bad prospects, for reasons that range from intentional fake contact data to the natural contact record aging process. In fact, Salesforce.com reports that after just one year, nearly 70% of contact data goes bad in some form as people change jobs, phone numbers and email addresses.

So how can your company avoid the challenges associated with bad data? Start by assessing what areas of your company need better data quality control. Whether you identify a single area or several areas that could benefit from improved data quality, realigning your data quality goals to hit the data trifecta can improve your bottom line, optimize your human capital and even help the environment.

To read more about this topic, download our white paper Hitting the Data Trifecta – Three Secrets of Achieving Data Quality Excellence.

What’s Dragging Your Marketing Campaigns Down?

Savvy marketers know just how important it is to capitalize on every customer lead. And as technology advances and our customer lists expand, so does the need to streamline our marketing campaigns and processes. But so many businesses are missing the boat when it comes to keeping their contact records accurate, genuine, and up to date. The reason? Poor contact record data quality.

Let’s face it, marketing platforms can only take your campaigns so far. The reality is—they are only as good as the contact records within them, leaving a lot of room for error. Yes, it is humans entering their data and we know that humans make mistakes. From something as simple as duplicate records, falsifying info, simple data entry mistakes, to aging, out of date, or lost contact records, these components contribute to the erosion of your company’s contact records.

To give you some perspective, SeriusDecisions reports that 25% of customer data is inaccurate, containing critical errors. CRITICAL! That means that you’re missing out on converting 25% of your leads into customers. That works out to be 1 out of 4 of your contact records are corrupt. The sooner you can acknowledge that contact data quality issues exist in your company, the sooner you can move towards a solution.

The Lead Form - by the Numbers
Bad Data Equates to Negative Impacts

The first step in fixing the problems is to locate the areas being impacted by bad contact record data and then pinpoint those areas within your marketing platform that need correcting. Quite simply, there are some soft and hard costs associated with poor data quality. These are the areas where you will may see and feel the effects initially (soft costs):

  • Decreased productivity from your sales teams
  • Increased costs for Lead & Customer Acquisition, Marketing Automation,
    and CRM fees.
  • Misspent marketing labor costs
  • Increased risk of regulatory fines (e.g., Do Not Call compliance, SPAM traps).
  • Increase in Customer Care efforts (resulting from unhappy customers)

Over time, these build up and begin to cause larger problems (hard costs). The major impacts being realized through increased costs and lost revenues. Perhaps you’re experiencing a high employee turnover rate or realizing that customers are walking? These consequences could be happening as a result of poor quality data.

The point is, you need to enact some cost effective measures that will identify where the bad data resides and then correct it. Once you’re back on track, you’ll want a maintenance and management system in place to keep your campaigns moving along smoothly and productively, i.e., via a data governance policy. Long story short, bad data is in your contact records and it is dragging down your marketing campaigns. But…it CAN be prevented!

Hungry for more? You can get the full picture about the impacts of poor data quality and how to prevent/improve it by downloading our white paper, “Marketing with Bad Contact Data: A Recipe for Disaster

What is a Data Quality Scan and How Can it Help You?

Marketing Automation and Your Contact Records: A Five Part Series That Every Marketer Can’t Miss (Part 5)

Putting Your Contact Records to the Test!

Now that you’ve read our series on how the quality of contact record data impacts the performance of your marketing automation efforts, we are hopeful that you better understand the importance of correcting and cleaning up these records. The next step is learning how your contact records measure up. To help, Service Objects offers a complimentary Data Quality Scan, providing a snapshot of where your data stands in real time and where improvements can be made.

DQS-ScreenHow does the Data Quality Scan work? It’s simple: we use a small sample of your data (up to 500 records), to not only find out where your data is “good”, but more to the point, what percentage of your data is bad and/or correctable. You’ll receive a data quality score for each of the five critical lead quality components.

  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Name
  • Mailing address
  • Device

Check out a sample Data Quality Scan to see how each of these components are scored and the detailed information provided.

Once you get your results, you will have an opportunity to work with a Data Quality expert (yes, a real, live person) who will help you in deciding how best to correct and improve your contact records. From start to finish,think of them as your personal guide to improving your contact record data quality.

Leave Your Worries Behind

All in all, the Data Quality Scan is here to help marketers expose data quality problems within their companies, and we know that percentage is likely to be around 25%. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to give it a try and see for yourself, right? At the very least, ongoing data validation and correction services should become a priority within your marketing automation best practices.

And finally, before we sign off on this series, I wanted to leave you with this thought: When it comes to marketing, you have plenty to worry about. Constantly verifying and updating your marketing automation contact records should NOT be one of those worries. Implementing a data governance strategy around your contact records will ensure your records are always accurate, genuine, and up to date!

If you’re new to this series, start from the beginning! Read Part 1: Make Marketing Automation Work for You

 

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

Service Objects has verified over 2.8 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