Posts Tagged ‘Customer Support’

Black Friday Neon Sign

Exceptional Customer Service Knows No Holiday

The four-day Thanksgiving weekend is traditionally the start of the holiday shopping season, with Black Friday sales bolstering bottom lines and consumer spirits. Retailers, online and off, are expected to see another year of record-breaking holiday sales.

Live support when our customers need it most

Thanksgiving has been a source of controversy in the retail industry in recent years, with more companies opening their doors for blockbuster sales on Thanksgiving Day itself – and some companies vowing to stay closed through the holiday.

Our stance? When our customers are open, we’re open. During the busiest and most mission-critical times of the selling season, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s crucial that the businesses that support retail transactions are available if questions arise.

Our commitment to customer service excellence

Supporting our customers through the busiest time of the year is just one way that Service Objects is committed to customer service excellence. Our customers benefit from our sub-second response rates, 99.999% server uptime and dedicated 24/7/365 technical support. The entire Service Objects team takes pride in our customers’ success.

Record sales, record transactions

Loeb, Visa, and eMarketer predict retails sales will continue to grow, with holiday sales rising between 3.5-4.8% in 2018.

According to Geoff Grow, Chief Executive Officer at Service Objects, industry trends and forecasts predict that Service Objects will exceed transactions processed over the 2017 holiday, making Black Friday a prime day for a record number of transactions. He says, “Our services will continue to ensure that merchants can validate, clean and enhance their customer contact data in real time, backed by the support of our industry-leading technical team and extensive data sources.”

Services for busy retailers

While 2018’s projected growth presents an exciting opportunity for retailers, it is not without risk: with record sales come record opportunities for data entry mistakes and fraudulent orders.

Service Objects offers 24 different contact data APIs that validate a person’s name, global address, phone and email address against hundreds of authoritative data sources. Our tools can also append missing contact information or provide location intelligence about your contacts. We even have a service that provides sales and use tax rates based on a contact’s location. No matter what data quality challenge your business is facing, we have a solution that meets your needs.

If you have a question about how our data validation services can help your business, reach out to our team. If you’re a current customer with a support question, you can open a support ticket here.

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.

 

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.

Study after study has shown that investing in employee experience impacts the customer experience and can generate a high ROI for the company.

The Un-Ignorable Link Between Employee Experience And Customer Experience

Engaged employees lead to happy customers.

There is an undeniable link between employee experience and customer experience. Companies that lead in customer experience have 60% more engaged employees, and study after study has shown that investing in employee experience impacts the customer experience and can generate a high ROI for the company. Here are 10 companies that have seen the benefit of engaging their employees to build customer experience.

“Take care of associates and they’ll take care of your customers.” -J.W.Marriott

Marriott International founder J.W. Marriott said, “Take care of associates and they’ll take care of your customers.” It still holds true at the company—employees are valued, which makes them want to share that experience with guests. Marriott publicly rewards employees for a job well done, celebrates diversity and inclusion, values loyalty, and offers a wide variety of training programs. It has been regularly rated a top place to work and a top company for customer experience.

Chick-Fil-A Encourages Employees To Build Relationships With Customers

With its chicken and waffle fries, Chick-fil-A generates more revenue per restaurant than any other chain in the country. But it’s not just the food that sets the restaurant apart—it’s the employees. Franchise owners are given thorough training but also have bandwidth to explore creative ideas. Employees are encouraged to build relationships with customers because they have strong relationships with each other and with the company.

The Zappos Contact Center Calls Its Team Customer Loyalty Team Members

E-commerce site Zappos is known for connecting with its customers and for responding to issues quickly. That’s likely because the company also has a great reputation for connecting with its employees. Every employee plays a role in the company’s customer-first culture—even call center employees are referred to as customer loyalty team members. When employees feel connected to and valued by the brand, they want to bring customers into the circle.

Nordstrom Only Asks Employees To Use Their Best Judgement

Employees at Nordstrom are given just one rule in their employee handbook: “Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.” Instead of being bogged down with corporate guidance, empowered employees know they are trusted and valued. That translates to their interactions with customers and is a large reason why the “Nordstrom Way” of doing customer service is well respected.

Taco Bell Provides An Easy Way For Employees To Ask For Help

Fast food giant Taco Bell puts employees first by always providing them a way to contact management. The company has a network of 1-800 numbers to field complaints, answer questions, and alert management of potential red flags for its 175,000-plus employees. It also holds regular employee roundtable meetings and company-wide surveys to gage employee satisfaction. With their needs met and questions answered, employees can focus on helping customers.

Jet Blue Employees Are Allowed To Go The Extra Mile For Customers

Jet Blue is consistently rated one of the best airlines, and a large part of that is the great customer experience. Jet Blue’s employees are given the freedom to go the extra mile to help customers. Instead of being constrained by red tape and bureaucracy, employees have power to solve problems themselves, which means they often consider customers problems to be their own. Jet Blue also fosters a spirit of collaboration and teamwork with employees that extends to customers.

Starbucks Provides Extensive Training On How To Interact With Customers

Starbucks knows that happy employees lead to happy customers. The company is consistently at the top of every customer experience “best” list, and this recognition comes from taking care of its employees. Starbucks provides employees competitive wages, health benefits, and stock options. Each employee is trained not only on how to make the drinks but also how to interact with customers. The welcoming atmosphere of a Starbucks coffee shop is echoed in the company, where every employee knows they are welcomed and included.

Airbnb Helps Employees Focus On Personal Growth

Airbnb’s mission statement of “Belong Anywhere” extends beyond customers to also include employees. Airbnb is invested in every aspect of its employees’ lives, not just what they do at the office. The company works to create a culture that sets employees up for success in their personal and professional lives, from having a flexible, open office space to being transparent with the goals of the company. Employees can focus on their personal growth and the mission of the company, which allows them to create better customer experiences.

Adobe Ties Employee Compensation To Customer Experience

Instead of viewing customers and employees as separate entities, Adobe brings them together to drive positive, connected experiences. Employees are trained on customer experience metrics and how each person’s role impacts the overall customer experience. It also encourages employees to be advocates for customers’ needs and jump in when they see a problem instead of waiting for something to run its course. At Adobe, employee compensation is tied to customer experience. When employees are connected with customers and see the role they can each play individually, they want to create a better experience (disclosure: Adobe is a client).

GE Uses Root Cause Analysis To Improve Customer Satisfaction

It takes an innovative HR department to drive employee experience at General Electric. Employees are involved in the process to make sure they have the physical space and technological tools to do their best work and that training programs keep employees moving forward. When a division of GE saw it had low customer satisfaction scores, it worked to find the root cause and streamline internal processes. Cutting red tape keeps employees happier and allows them to be more productive, which helped the customer satisfaction score jump more than 40% in two years.

Your employees are your often your most untapped resource when it comes to building powerful customer experiences. I hope you are just as inspired by the companies highlighted here as I was.

The article above was first published on Forbes.com and reprinted with permission. View original post here.

About the author: Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist, author of More Is More, and keynote speaker. You can read more of Blake’s articles by visiting her website.

Troubleshooting API Connection Issues

You know what it is like when that new phone doesn’t get a dial tone, or your router isn’t getting an internet signal. In much the same way, connectivity issues are an annoying but common part of implementing web services in your applications software. Whether it is navigating your system’s firewalls, moving from development to production environments, or simply dealing with calling out to an API, few things are as frustrating as troubleshooting a piece of code that should be working but isn’t.

We are here to help. The Applications Engineering team here at Service Objects understands the full range of connection issues, and after 15-plus years in business we’ve seen it all. Between the sample code we’ve written and the support we provide our customers, chances are that we can help you get your application up and running as quickly as possible with the Service Objects’ API of your choice. But first let’s look at some of the most common issues we’ve seen, and how you can troubleshoot them.

Monitoring Tools

Tools like Wireshark and Fiddler can be invaluable when debugging a connection to a web service.  These tools allow you to see all the different network connections that your system is making, and can also allow you to view the information that is being sent to the service.  This can be helpful for cases where you want to see what exactly is being sent to our services. Often these tools can highlight malformed requests, blocks by your firewall or any other odd behavior that is getting in the way of receiving valuable data from one of our APIs.

Firewalls, IP Addresses and Connection Issues

Another issue we see quite frequently is a connection issue when moving a website or application from development to production.  If this happens, and you experience issues connecting to our services, a couple of quick checks can get you pointed in the right direction to debug your application.

First, check if your firewall needs to have IP addresses whitelisted. If it does, reach out to us at support@serviceobjects.com and we will be happy to provide the most up-to-date set of IP addresses that our services utilize. Still having a tough time connecting to our services? Check through a command prompt on the server in question to ensure you can ping our primary (ws.serviceobjects.com) and backup (wsbackup.serviceobjects.com) endpoints. After that, you can perform a trace route to our endpoints to determine if there is any packet loss between your system and ours.

Failover and Service Downtime

A frequent question that we receive about connectivity to our services is what to do if the Service Objects’ API is unreachable.

First, understand that this should normally be an extremely rare event. Our SLA guarantees “five 9” availability, meaning that our services will be available 99.999% of the time. The equates to less than 5 minutes service downtime per year or around 26 seconds of downtime per month. We have several data centers around the country to help provide redundancy to ensure that your data keeps on getting validated in the event that our primary servers are down.

In addition to this, we recommend that you implement a failover call to our web services. What this means is that if our primary endpoint at ws.serviceobjects.com is down or working unexpectedly, your application should call our backup endpoint at wsbackup.serviceobjects.com.  Below is an example of what failover configuration would look like while calling our AV3 service and using C# syntax.

Contacting Service Objects Tech Support

Finally, whether you are just beginning to troubleshoot or are at the end of your rope, don’t hesitate to reach out to us! We can assist you in tracking down issues you are encountering.  It always helps if you can provide any relevant information about the problem you are encountering, such as the error message received, inputs that are causing the error, or time that the issue started. This information will help us isolate whether your problem is an issue with our services or an issue on your end.

Whatever your connectivity issues are, Service Objects support is here to help you. We are always happy to speak with you by phone, do a live screen sharing session with you, share tips or troubleshooting steps by email, or help in any way we can. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us anytime, and best of success with your connections!

Why Our Customers Love Data Quality

Every year, February 14th is a time when our thoughts turn to things like true love, flowers, chocolates … and data quality.

In fact, there is more in common between these things than you might think. If you look at the history of Valentine’s Day, St. Valentine’s intention was to protect his fellow man. In ancient Rome, St. Valentine accomplished this by secretly marrying couples so that the husbands would not have to go to war. This is how his name became synonymous with love and marriage. Along those lines, Service Objects tries to also help our fellow man– admittedly less romantically – by ensuring your data accuracy, automating regulatory compliance, and protecting you from fraud.

Nowadays, our customers love how our data quality solutions solve the following problems:

High quality contact data. When you communicate with your prospects or customers, the cost directly links to the accuracy and validity of your contact list. When you automate the quality of this contact data – often your biggest and most valuable data asset – the ROI will warm the hearts of the toughest CFOs.

Lead validation. Does she love me or does she not? Better to find out early in the relationship whether she gave you a fake email address, bad contact information, or is otherwise giving you the slip, with validation tools that check over 130 data points to give you a numerical rating of lead quality.

Delivery accuracy. Nothing will make your customers fall out of love with you quicker than misdirected deliveries – even though in the US alone, 40 million of them don’t help matters by changing their addresses every year, while many others mistype their address at the time they order. When you automatically verify these addresses against continually updated postal databases, you help ensure a good relationship.

Compliance strategies. When government regulators come calling, they aren’t bringing you flowers. New rules on consumer privacy in the US and Europe have changed the game of outbound marketing, including stiff financial penalties for non-compliance, and sales tax policies are constantly changing. Automated compliance verification tools can help prevent problems from happening in the first place, and also provide quantifiable proof of your efforts.

Fraud prevention. Cupid isn’t the only one aiming his arrows at you. Fraudsters are constantly trying to separate you from your inventory and money, particularly during your busiest periods. We can help with solutions ranging from address, BIN, email and IP validation to tools that provide you an overall order quality score, to help keep the bad guys out.

Finally, it turns out we have one other connection to St. Valentine. In Italy, he is still commemorated by a charm known as St. Valentine’s Key, which is supposed to unlock the hearts of lovers. We have a key for you as well: a free trial key to any of our API products, yours for the asking. Happy Valentine’s Day!

How to Convince Your Boss Your Business Needs a Data Quality Solution

Many developers come to Service Objects because they recognize their company has a need for a data quality solution. Maybe you were tasked by a manager to help find a solution, perhaps someone in Marketing mentioned one of their pain points, or maybe you just naturally saw opportunities for improvement. Whatever the reason was that got you looking for a data quality solution, you most likely need to get someone in management to sign off on your solution. Often, especially in larger organizations, this can be a challenge. So how are others accomplishing this?

Service Objects has been in business for over 16 years and in that time frame, we have helped potential customers just like you get sign off for our services. In addition to being armed with information from your Account Executive on how you can achieve ROI for the service you have chosen, the following recommendations are the ones we have found to be the most useful.

Test Out Our Services

If you haven’t already, get a free trial key for the service you are interested in.  We allow you to try out as many of our 23 data quality solutions as you would like.  My blog, Taking Service Objects for a Test Drive, can help you figure out which method of testing our services is best for you.

One of the values in testing our services is that it reinforces your own understanding of our products. Testing allows you to quickly visualize and show others in your organization the benefits of utilizing a data quality solution.  Showing your boss an actual test integration you did with our API is more powerful than just explaining how it works.  Or, if you decide to run a test batch with us, you will see first hand how we can improve your contact data.

You can also leverage our quick look up page and set up on a screen share with a larger team and run live examples for them.  Let your team choose some data to run live and see the results first hand.

Data Summaries

Data summaries are a great visual aid to take a look at how our services help.  Take a subset of any of your data sets and send them over for a batch test.  Each batch test contains a comprehensive summary, providing you with how we validated your data and what the results mean.  Your Account Executive can review this and guide you through the results. Having a detailed report that clearly shows the current state of your data is a great tool to have when you are ready to go forward with any type of presentation to your team. A recent blog shows what one of our reports includes.  All data has a story, and with our batch summaries we try to tell that story.

Integration Plan

Having an integration plan is an asset when getting sign off for our services.  You are bound to get some questions after showing your plan, such as “who?” “how?” and “how long?”.  It is a good idea to be prepared to answer these questions.

Integrating with us is not a complicated task and we have several resources to guide you.  Our sample code can quickly get you up and running and we can even customize it for your specific use case. We also have best practices available to help you with your integration. For instance, you may need to check if there are any network or firewall issues your IT team needs to complete. If you are switching from another solution or vendor, you may need to have your integration timeline in sync with turning off an old service and turning our service on.  And never forget about testing, which is one of the most important parts of any integration.  Finally, you may need to account for any training you want to provide to your team about how to work with our data or your new system.  Having answers to these questions can help arm you with everything you need to keep the ball rolling.

Customer Service and Support

Support.  It is just one word but it is key.  Sometimes even the most important word.  You can purchase a top-notch product or service, but if you can’t get adequate customer support when you need it, your purchase loses most of its value to you.  With Service Objects, this is never the case.  In fact, customer service is one of our core values. We care about your success and truly want you to be succeed.  If you want to get buy in from your team, then it is very important to discuss our customer service expertise. Having a dedicated customer support resource, comprised of engineers, will ease your transition to our offerings and in the end, will save your organization significant time and money.

Value Proposition

At Service Objects, our value proposition is very clear. Our data quality solutions ensure your data is as genuine, accurate and up-to-date as it can possibly be. A large percentage of our customers have been with us for many years, and this is due to the effort we put into the quality, accuracy, speed, reliability and expertise we deliver.

Getting Buy-In from Colleagues

It is always helpful to get people on your side when you want to present a new service to your company. Talking it over with colleagues and managers is great and many of the things written in this blog can help get them on your side to support your idea.  It also goes a long way in educating your team on the data quality issues you are facing and how a Service Objects’ solution can alleviate many of those problems.

I hope some of these ideas or tips can help you along the way in presenting our services to your team or manager.  The last thing you want to do is have a conversation with your boss without adequate preparation.  Your ideas are good, so take your time and plan the right action in getting them implemented.  In the end, the results our services will provide for your company will be impactful and worth your time.

Visit our product page to Get started testing any of our services.

Protecting Your Investment in Data Validation

Whenever I am in the process of making a new purchase, I do quite a bit of research before I buy. There are many reasons I do the research. I like to know all the technical details and features; satisfy my desire to be as frugal as possible; ensure my money is well spent; and know that I get the best product available at the best price. I know that many other consumers and businesses share the desire to maximize the value of their investment.

We all want to have confidence that we will benefit from our purchases. This is especially true for businesses that are considering purchasing data validation solutions. Throwing some money at cheap solutions or tools can save a business up front, but the direct and indirect costs will grow on an exponential basis when the inferior solution doesn’t work as intended, breaks down, can’t be fixed for a long while, or is unexpectedly unavailable.

Since 2001, Service Objects has prided ourselves on having the best solutions available that provide a full suite of features and benefits. We make sure that we protect your investment in data validation.  Below are just some of the reasons why we have the best service available.

Top Notch Availability

We stand by our commitment to have our services available whenever they are needed. That’s why we have implemented the industry’s only financially backed Service Level Agreement. That means that we promise to have our services provide an uptime of 99.999% availability.  We measure this percentage of availability on a monthly basis. Achieving 99.999% uptime over a month means that our services won’t be down for more than 30 seconds. We implement failovers, backups and many other things to help ensure that we meet this uptime availability.  If we do not, then our customers are eligible to receive service credit based on the unavailability provided.

Fanatic Customer Support

Customer support excellence is one our core values. We have a capable and eager team of people whose goal is to provide the best support available. Whether it’s a question about your account, maximizing the value of the results from our APIs, or any other customer service issues, we are standing by to help in any way that we can.

24/7 Emergency Support

We understand that when your business is experiencing technical issues it can impact your customers. So along with our traditional support, we also offer after hours support options for any issues that may occur during non-traditional office hours. No matter what time it is, we’ll assist with whatever issue you are encountering.  Simply call our office line and follow the prompts to the access the emergency support line.

Custom Solutions

One of the things that we pride ourselves on is the ability to be flexible with the solutions that we provide. On many occasions, we have implemented product improvements that have arisen when customers tell us what new features they are looking for. Service Objects prides ourselves on being flexible enough to pivot to the needs that our customers have. If you have some custom need, just ask! We’d be happy to look into the feasibility of your request.

To Be Customer-Centric, You Have To Be Data-Centric

In today’s fast-paced world, customers have become more demanding than ever before. Customer-centric organizations need to build their models after critically analyzing their customers, and this requires them to be data-centric.

Today, customers expect companies to be available 24/7 to solve their queries. They expect companies to provide them with seamless information about their products and services. Not getting such features can have a serious impact on their buying decision. Customer-centric organizations need to adopt a data-centric approach not just for targeted customer interactions, but also to survive competition from peers who are data-centric.

Customer-centric organizations need to go data-centric

Why?

Today, customers enquire a lot before making a decision. And social media enquiries are the most widely used by customers. A satisfactory experience is not limited to prompt answers to customer queries alone. Customers need a good experience before making the purchase, during the installment of product or deployment of service, and even after making the purchase. Thus, to retain a customer’s loyalty and to drive in regular profits, companies need to be customer-centric. And that can only happen if companies adopt a data-centric approach. Big data comes handy in developing a model that gives optimum customer experience. It helps build a profound understanding of the customer, such as what they like and value the most and the customer lifetime value to the company. Besides, every department in a data-centric organization can have the same view about its customer, which guarantees efficient customer interactions. Companies like Amazon and Zappos are the best examples of customer-centric organizations that heavily depend on data to provide a unique experience to their customers. This has clearly helped them come a long way.

How?

Companies can collect a lot of information that can help them become customer-centric. Here are some ways in which they can do so:

  • Keep a close eye on any kind of new data that could help them stay competitive, such as their product prices and the money they invest in logistics and in-product promotion. They need to constantly monitor the data that tells them about the drivers of these income sources.
  • Reach out to customers from different fields with varying skill sets to derive as many insights as possible so as to help make a better product.
  • Develop a full-scale data project that will help them collect data and apply it to make a good data strategy and develop a successful business case.

Today, there is no escaping customer expectations. Companies need to satisfy customers for repeat business. Customer satisfaction is the backbone of selling products and services, maintaining a steady flow of revenue, and for the certainty of business. And for all of that to happen, companies need to gather and democratize as much information about their customers as possible.

Reprinted with permission from the author. View original post here.

Author: Naveen Joshi, Founder and CEO of Allerin

The Difference Between Customer Experience And User Experience

There are a lot of buzzwords thrown around in the customer sphere, but two of the big ones relate to experiences—customer and user. Although CX and UX are different and unique, they must work together for a company to have success.

User experience deals with customers’ interaction with a product, website, or app. It is measured in things like abandonment rate, error rate, and clicks to completion. Essentially, if a product or technology is difficult to use or navigate, it has a poor user experience.

Customer experience on the other hand focuses on the general experience a customer has with a company. It tends to exist higher in the clouds and can involve a number of interactions. It is measured by net promoter score, customer loyalty, and customer satisfaction.

Both customer experience and user experience are incredibly important and can’t truly exist and thrive without each other. If a website or mobile app has a bad layout and is cumbersome to navigate, it will be difficult for customers to find what they need and can lead to frustration. If customers can’t easily open the mobile app from an email on their phone, they likely won’t purchase your product. Likewise, if the product layout is clunky, customers likely won’t recommend it to a friend no matter how innovative it is. User experience is a huge part of customer experience and needs to play a major role when thinking like a customer.

Although UX and CX are different, they need to work closely together to truly be successful. Customer experience representatives should be working alongside product engineers to make sure everything works together. By taking themselves through the entire customer journey, they can see how each role plays into a customer’s overall satisfaction with the product and the company. The ultimate goal is a website or product that beautifully meshes the required elements of navigation and ease with the extra features that will help the brand stand out with customers.

When thinking about customer experience, user experience definitely shouldn’t be left behind. Make both unique features an essential part of your customer plan to build a brand that customers love all around.

Reprinted with permission from the author. View original post here.

Author Bio: Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist, author of More Is More, and keynote speaker.

Go farther and create knock your socks-off customer experiences in your organization by enrolling in her new Customer Experience School.

Leverage Service Objects’ Industry Expertise to Reach Your Data Quality Goals

At Service Objects, we are fully committed to our customers’ success, which is a main factor in why over 90% of our business is from repeat customers. And with over 16 years of experience in contact validation, we have accumulated a broad base of industry expertise, created numerous best practices and are considered thought leaders in global data validation.

It is because of this knowledge that some of our customers turn to us when they lack the internal resources to carry out their data quality project. Whether it is assistance in implementing a data quality initiative, asking for customization to our products to meet specific business needs or help integrating our solutions into Marketing or Sales Automation platforms, Service Objects’ Professional Services can assist your business in achieving optimal results on your project in a quick and efficient manner.

Here are just three of the ways we can help:

Integration Programming and Code Support

If your team is overwhelmed or lacks the technical resources to integrate data quality solutions into your existing systems, Service Objects can step in and quickly get your project moving. We provide your team with the technical knowledge, support, and best practices needed to implement your chosen solution in a timely fashion and within your budget.

CRM or Marketing Automation Platform Integration

We have created cloud connectors for the leading sales and marketing platforms and have developed extensive knowledge on how these systems work with our data quality solutions. We enable your organization to implement best practices, allowing your business to verify, correct and append contact data at the point of entry. The result is your contact database contains records that are as genuine, accurate and up-to-date as they can possibly be.

Custom Services

Our engineers have years of experience creating, implementing and supporting data quality services in many different programming languages. As a result, we can customize our existing services to solve a challenge that is specific to your business. Our proactive support services team will work with your technical team to refine, test and implement the custom service to work for your business’ specifications.

These are just some of the ways we can help. For more information about how you leverage our industry expertise and technical knowledge, contact us.

Three Things I am Thankful for This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in the United States is about much more than taking a couple of days off from work, eating too much turkey, or starting your holiday shopping. This holiday has always had a higher purpose: to reflect and give thanks every year. So what am I thankful for?

There are three things on my list. First and foremost, I am thankful for you, our customers. Obviously every CEO is thankful for paying customers, but I also mean it from a different perspective: you are a very diverse and talented group of people, and we enjoy working with you. Our customers run the whole gamut of applications: increasing museum attendance through demographic analysis, creating precise address lists to expand rural broadband coverage, geocoding maps of hurricane refugees, and much more. It is truly never boring to come to work here.

Which leads me to the next thing on my list: I am thankful that Service Objects is a great place to work. We began as a small startup in 2001, but today we are a growing organization whose management team has over a century of combined experience in our respective fields.  And we hire really cool people! We have a strong culture that emphasizes teamwork, healthy living and environmental awareness. And who wouldn’t be thankful for coming to work in sunny Santa Barbara, California every morning?

More important, everyone here is extremely good at what they do, whether it is technology, service, or operations. We operate in a very competitive space, and quite frankly the talent of our people – and the clear service culture people experience when they work with us – is our biggest competitive differentiator. If you look at the many customer success stories on our website, you will find clients raving about our technology AND our people, and I am very proud of that.

Finally, one of the biggest things I am thankful for is the chance to make a real difference in the environment we share on this planet. Many people know that I first started this company in response to the problem of excessive junk mail in the waste stream, developing mathematical models for ways to mitigate this massive waste of resources. Our focus on real-time contact validation, and all the products and services that follow from there always has had its roots in resource conservation.

Today, we are proud to have processed nearly three billion transactions. This translates directly to less waste and more efficient use of our precious resources, saving 23 million gallons of water and 11 thousand cubic yards of landfill space each and every year. Since Service Objects’ inception in 2001 this adds up to 12 million trees and 150 million pounds of paper saved – and counting. This is a legacy we frankly cherish as much as any quarterly sales figures.

SO what are you thankful for?

Hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving holiday!

No image, text reads Service Objects Tutorials

Introducing Service Objects New Open API

Service Objects is committed to constantly improving the experience our clients and prospective clients have with our data quality solutions. This desire to ensure a great experience has led us to revamp and redesign our lookup pages. These pages are easy to use and give all the information necessary for integrating and using our API in your application. This blog presents some of the key features.

Sample Inputs

One request we often receive is a quick sample lookup that will show our customers and prospects what to expect when calling our API. We are implementing just that in our new lookup pages.

In the example below, we are using our Lead Validation International lookup page. If the “Good Lead” or “Bad lead” link is selected, sample inputs will be filled into the appropriate fields. For this example we’ve selected, “Good Lead.”

We implemented this option so that users can get a quick idea of what types of inputs our services accept and what type of outputs the service will return. The form simply needs a license or trial key and it will return the validated data.

All Operations and Methods

Another benefit of these new pages is that they concisely and easily display all the methods available for an API along with all the potential HTTP methods that can be used to interact with the service.

If you want a JSON or XML response, select the appropriate GET operation and you will have everything you need to make a successful request to the service. If you want to make a POST request to the service, simply select the post operation and it will detail all that you need to have your data validated in your method of choice.

Detailed Requests and Responses

Arguably the most important pieces for a developer looking to integrate with an API would be to know how to make a request to the service, and what type of response to expect. These new lookup pages provide that information in a very easy way as shown below.

 

After making a sample request, you will see the URL used to fetch the validated data, the actual response from the web service, and the response headers that the service provides. These are all vital pieces of information that will have you up and running in no time. The new pages also list what type of response object will be returned from the service. This can be seen below the response body and headers.

Additional Resources

The page also offers up extra pieces of information that will assist with integration. The link to our developer guides, WSDL (for SOAP integrations) and host paths can be found on the page as well. These resources will help you have your application up and running as quickly as possible.

Feel free to sign up for a Service Objects trial key to test with our new look up pages!

What’s Your Data Story?

So many reports focus on spitting out data that they often overlook the importance of being able to quickly digest the information and present a clear action plan. At Service Objects, we want you spending your valuable time acting on the results – not trying to make a report readable and understandable. As a result, we have invested considerable resources into ensuring our Batch Summary reports – the ones we provide you after we run your list – not only look great, but are immediately accessible and actionable. Your account executive will review the results of the report with you and answer any questions you may have, but you will also have a link to the detailed report for your reference and to share with your team members.

So how we did we improve the reports? We focused on telling your business’ data story and showing how our services can help improve your data accuracy. We have started with a few services and operations, and in the coming months, we will continue to roll out more of them out as they are ready. Some of the ways we tell the story better is presenting easy to understand charts and data breakdowns so that you can focus on the parts of your data that you are most interested in.

The following link provides a sample of our DOTS Address Validation US – 3 batch summary report and I have detailed out the features of the report below.

The summary starts with a brief description of the service and operation followed by a section where we define the main output of the service. In this case, the report is focused on Delivery Point Validation or DPV.

We show how the DPV results break down across the varying DPV notes, corrections and Is Residential data points. So, at a glance, it is easy to decipher the balance between the various DPV values.

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout each report, when we see interesting data points, we shine a spotlight on them and add additional custom content to help highlight them.

 

 

The report also drills down on the geographic nature of the data, showing how your list of addresses are distributed across each state and the country. The values are plotted on a map to provide a strong visual representation and hovering over a particular location also displays the underlying values.

Included in this location distribution, is how the DPV values correlate to a location, where we overlay the pie chart breakdown of the actual DPV values.

The break downs are by county and congressional district so your analysis can be completed very quickly.

Clicking on the three bars in the top right of any chart or graph will allow you to either save or print that particular chart. These new batch reports will also allow you to view your details from anywhere, on any screen size. No need to mess with PDF or specific file types, you just need an internet connection and a link to the report.

Lastly, we take data security very seriously. The reports are all provided very securely, so no one can see anyone else’s reports and data is never shared. Our hope is to provide a clearer understanding of your data, making it fast to digest and act on. If you have any questions or would like to us to run a sample data set for you, please contact sales@serviceobjects.com.

Getting Started with Service Objects

Service Objects has worked hard to make testing our APIs as simple as possible, and this in-depth guide to getting started will have you prepped for whenever you are ready. To get the ball rolling, simply fill out the “Free API Trial Key” form for the service you are interested in testing. This form is located on the right side of each our product pages.

If you are an Engineer/Programmer and it’s your first time signing up, you will receive an email confirming your registration.  Shortly after, you will receive your Welcome email with the Trial Key and testing information. The Welcome email can be broken down into four main parts; the sample code downloads section, our detailed developer guides, sample input data downloads, and the service’s endpoint. All this information will help you get started testing quickly and smoothly.

Sample Code – We have made it our mission to provide sample code in a majority of the most widely used programming languages. This includes Ruby on Rails, Java, Python, NodeJS, C#, and many others. If your desired programming language is missing from our repository, please feel free to reach out to us. We are more than happy to provide integration advice and impart our best practices and procedures.

Within each set of sample code you will find our recommended methods of obfuscating your license key, setting request timeouts, response/error handling, and failover logic. Applying these methodologies to your code will help to ensure security and service up time.

Developer Guide – As the name implies, this is where developers (and others) can go to get into the nitty gritty of the service. This is where you can find detailed explanations for each of the inputs and outputs. The fastest way to understand the service outputs is to approach the developer guide with a clear understanding of your business logic. With your goal in mind you can make note of the various note codes, description codes, scores, and other outputs then handle the service response accordingly.

Sample Input Data – Need a data set to test with? We provide input files with records that match the operations input parameters. Running these records will result in varying service responses. These responses can be used to gain an understanding of what will be returned by the service and how the fields can be leveraged to fit your business’s needs.

Service Endpoint – The Service Objects DOTS web services allow you to make both GET and SOAP/POST requests. By clicking on the service path link in your welcome email you will be directed to the main service landing page for the particular service you signed up for. From there you can click on your preferred operation, plug in data, add your license key and click invoke. These service landing pages act as both a quick lookup tool as well as an informative page that shows the various methods of calling the service. The query string and path parameter endpoints are described on these pages.  If you prefer to consume a file and have all your classes and clients auto-generated we also provide a WSDL.

Additionally, if you prefer to have us run the results for you, you can also upload your list (up to 500 records) and we will send the results back to you.

Now that you’ve read how easy it is getting started with Service Objects’ APIs, we look forward to assisting with your data needs!

What Has Changed in Customer Service?

Every week, I’m asked, “What is changing in customer service?” The expected answer is that I’ll talk about all the new ways customer service and support is conducted – and I do. There’s self-service solutions that include robust frequently asked questions and video. There’s social media customer service with multiple channels like Facebook and Twitter. And, AI (Artificial Intelligence) that the experts – myself included – say will potentially change everything.Yes, there is a lot that is changing about how we deliver customer service, so I’m about to make a bold statement. If you look at what customer service is, it is the same as it was fifty years ago. And, it will be the same fifty years from now. Customer service is just a customer needing help, having a question answered or a problem resolved. And, in the end the customer is happy. That’s it. When it comes to the customer’s expectations, they are the same. In other words:

Nothing has changed in customer service!

Okay, maybe it’s better said a different way. When it comes to the outcome of a customer service experience, the customer’s expectations haven’t changed. They just want to be taken care of.

That said, there are different ways to reach the outcome. What has changed is the way we go about delivering service. We’ve figured out how to do it faster – and even better. Back “in the day,” which wasn’t that long ago – maybe just twenty or so years ago – there was typically just two ways that customer service was provided: in person and over the phone. Then technology kicked in and we started making service and support better and more efficient.

For example, for those choosing to focus on the phone for support, there is now a solution that lets customers know how long they have to wait on hold. And sometimes customers are given the option of being called back at a time that is more convenient if they don’t have time to wait. We now have many other channels our customers can connect with us. Beyond the phone, there is email, chat, social media channels and more.

So, as you are thinking about implementing a new customer service solution, adding AI to support your customers and agents, or deciding which tools you want to use, remember this:

The customer’s expectations haven’t changed. They just want to be taken care of, regardless of how you go about it. It starts with someone needing help, dealing with a problem, upset about something or just wanting to have a question answered. It ends with that person walking away knowing they made the right decision to do business with you. How you get from the beginning to the end is not nearly as important as how they feel when they walk away, hang up the phone or turn off their computer.

It’s really the same as it’s always been.

Reprinted from LinkedIn with permission from the author. View original post here.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact or www.hyken.com. For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to www.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

Lead Validation and Identifying Nonprofit Organizations

Service Objects, Inc. is fanatical about customer support, we love working with clients and prospects to build the kind of APIs that they want and need.  Some of our best ideas come from listening to our clients and prospects, discussing their problems and figuring out how we could help solve them.  Often, we do quite a bit of tailoring and will develop new features to help solve some of their challenging problems.  One of the recent additions to the Service Objects’ library is identifying nonprofit organizations, also known as not-for-profit, or Tax Exempt organizations within our DOTS Lead Validation service.

Why is it important to know if an organization is a nonprofit?

Nonprofits follow different rules than most organizations and a company’s interaction with a nonprofit may be completely different than it would be with a for-profit company. Knowing that you are engaging with a nonprofit beforehand allows you to be better prepared and make informed decisions moving forward.

As an example, we recently worked with one of our clients to enhance our Lead Validation service to identify non-profits in their prospect database.  This helps them determine the viability of the customer, their ability to transact large purchases, as well as the pricing they can offer.  In some cases, nonprofits may not need to pay sales tax on goods, which could be a factor in determining how much to charge them.  These are just a couple of examples of the value of knowing the type of organization you are working with.

What is a nonprofit and how do we identify them?

There are many types of nonprofits and most of us are familiar with the visible “public charities.” This is a narrow definition, as non-profits are generally defined as an organization that does not operate solely for gain and generally have special tax considerations.  With this broader definition, recognizing organizations can be tough.  They can be; human service organizations that help provide food, shelter and assistance in times of disaster, researching the next big cure, protecting the environment or animals, supporting civil rights groups, helping with international humanitarian needs, human rights or supporting various religious organizations.  The following graphic shows the distributions of current nonprofits:

Source: National Council of Nonprofits, What is a “Nonprofit”?, https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/what-is-a-nonprofit

For Service Objects, there are multiple ways we identify a company as a nonprofit, including by Tax number (EIN), address or location, business name and/or a combination of the above.  We continue to develop and improve this feature of our Lead Validation service and are happy to make it available to all of our customers.

At Service Objects, we are committed to meeting the needs of all our customers.  It is just a little more rewarding when we can contribute to doing good as well.

Why Providing Feedback is Important to Improving Software

Developing user-friendly software and an amazing user experience requires listening to users. As a software developer, we rely on user feedback to continuously improve our data validation APIs. As a user, you may not feel compelled to provide feedback to software developers, but if you value a great experience, your role is an essential one.

Examples of User Feedback Collection Mechanisms

You’ve likely encountered user feedback collection features in various forms. For example, Microsoft Office prompts you to click on a happy or sad face in order to express user suggestions. This simple menu is available from the File tab, allowing you to tell Microsoft what you like, what you dislike, and your suggestions.

You may also find that user feedback is naturally baked into installed software, accessible via the Help menu.

If you’re a .NET developer, you’re probably familiar with the Visual Studio Experience Improvement Program. The little helper icon in the top right of the program has become the ubiquitous symbol for feedback, client support, and general help desk tasks. With just a click of a button, users can instantly share their experiences with the software.

What about when an application crashes? You’ll often be prompted to send a crash/bug report to the developer. These reports may even contain hardware/software configurations, usage patterns, and diagnostic information helpful to developers — and all you need to do is click a button.

These are but a few of the many ways that modern applications send information back to the software company. Obtaining user feedback as well as any crash/bug report information is crucial to the development of a piece of software or service. This information helps software developers isolate where and why problems occurred, leading to product updates.

User Feedback Challenges: Privacy Concerns

But what about “Big Brother” or other potential snoops? With the various means of providing feedback and the different collection schemes (opt in / automatic), privacy concerns are valid. With these data collection tools baked into the software, it is hard to know how much information is actually being sent back to the company. It could range from the harmless crash/bug report from a software crash or diagnostic information to controversial GPS breadcrumb data.

However, many people don’t want other entities collecting data on them or analyzing their usage patterns. While not all software is intentionally spying on you, it would be nice to know what exactly is collected. More often than not, it’s unclear what’s collected and how it’s used. This lack of transparency concerning data collection inevitably leads to unease, which is why many users opt not to participate in “Experience Improvement Programs” and other data collection schemes.

 

Another challenge for developers is that not all companies have installed software on client’s devices, making data collection challenging, even when users are willing to opt in. For example, the normal avenues for collecting data, such as hardware/software configurations, from users are not seamlessly integrated with web-based technologies such as web services or certain SaaS. Many companies struggle with this and must use other means of getting user feedback.

 

Despite privacy concerns and a lack of openness, the bottom line is that user feedback is valuable. When utilized properly, the information can be used to fix existing problems in the software as well as lead to new features. The reason why subsequent versions of software are so much better than 1.0 is directly related to user feedback.

How Service Objects Gathers User Feedback

Service Objects does not collect data on clients, so the privacy concerns discussed above are irrelevant. Potentially sensitive data processed through our services is not monitored or collected. This is a highly sought after data validation “feature” for our clients, but at the same time, it presents a challenge for us to gather detailed user feedback.

We offer several ways for our customers to provide feedback: You can connect with us via phone (805-963-1700), email, and via support tickets.

Any user feedback we receive is taken very seriously and can lead to bug fixes, updates, and even new services/operations. A great example of this is the FindAddressLines operation in DOTS Address Validation 3. The operation was initially born to help a particular client and has been utilized to great effect to clean up messy address data.

If you have any feedback you would like to share to help us improve our data validation services, we encourage you to reach out to us at anytime.

Best Practices for List Processing

List processing is one of the many options Service Objects offers for validating your data. This option is ideal for validating large sets of existing data when you’d rather not set up an API call or would simply prefer us to process the data quickly and securely. There is good reason to have us process your list: we have high standards for security and will treat a file with the utmost care.

As part of our list processing service, we offer PGP encryption for files, SFTP file transfers, and encryption to keep your data private and secure. We also have internal applications that allow us to process large lists of data quickly and easily. We have processed lists ranging from tens of thousands of records to upwards of 15 million records. Simply put, we consider ourselves experts at processing lists, and we’ll help ensure that your data gets the best possible return available from our services.

That said, a few steps can help guarantee that your data is processed efficiently. For the best list processing experience – and the best data available, we recommend following these best practices for list processing.

CSV Preparation

Our system processes CSV files. We will convert any file to the CSV format prior to list processing. If you want to deliver a CSV file to us directly, keep the following CSV preparation best practices in mind:

Processing international data – If you have a list of international data that needs to be processed, make sure the file has the right encoding. For example, if the original set of data is in an Excel spreadsheet, converting it to a CSV format can destroy foreign characters that may be in your file. When processing a list of US addresses, this may not be an issue but if you are processing an International set of addresses through our DOTS Address Validation International service, then something like this could highly impact your file. One workaround is to save the file as Unicode text through Excel and then set the encoding to UTF-8 with BOM through a text editor. Another option is to send us the Excel file with the foreign characters preserved and we will convert it to CSV with the proper encoding.

Preventing commas from creating unwanted columns – Encapsulating a field containing commas inside quotation marks will prevent any stray commas from offsetting the columns in your CSV file. This ensures that the right data is processed when our applications parse through the CSV file.

Use Multiple Files for Large Lists

When processing a list with multiple millions of records, breaking the file into multiple files of about 1 million records each helps our system more easily process the list while also allowing for a faster review of the results.

Including a unique ID for each of the records in your list helps when updating your business application with the validated data.

Configure the Inputs for the Service of Choice

Matching your input data to ours can speed up list processing time. For example, some lists parse address line 1 data into separate fields (i.e., 123 N Main St W would have separate columns for 123, N, Main, St, and W). DOTS Address Validation 3 currently has inputs for BusinessName, Address1, Address2, City, State and Zip.  While we can certainly manipulate the data as needed, preformatting the data for our validation service can improve both list processing time and the turnaround time for updating your system with freshly validated data.

These best practices will help ensure a fast and smooth list processing experience. If you have a file you need cleansed, validated or enhanced, feel free to upload it here.

How Constantly Changing Sales and Use Tax Rates Can Impact Customer Satisfaction

For businesses engaged in commerce, it is a real challenge to stay on top of ever changing sales and use tax rates. One minor tax rate change can have a direct impact on your customers, costing your business significant time, money and resources.

In addition, the complexity of tax laws continue to increase every year, with constant changes in tax rates, and tax jurisdictions that often go beyond simple measures such as ZIP codes or municipality. And the risks to businesses for non-compliance are potentially severe.

The result from charging customers the wrong rate can have a significant impact on a business. Unhappy customers cause customer service issues, can have a negative impact on employee morale and have a substantial financial impact from processing refunds or collecting outstanding money owed.

All this means that maintaining tax compliance – particularly in today’s business environment, with everything from multiple distribution channels to e-commerce – requires planning and processes to become a smooth-running, cost effective part of your business.

Learn more about this important topic. Register for our upcoming webinar on May 23, 2017 and hear Geoff Grow, CEO and Founder of Service Objects, as he discusses:

  • What sales and use taxes are and how they are calculated
  • The concept of Nexus and when an out-of-state business is liable for collecting sales or use taxes
  • What the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement is and why it doesn’t work
  • Recent legal rulings that can affect your business
  • The important role geo-location plays in calculating rates
  • The impact on your business when your customers are charged the wrong rate
  • The benefits of leveraging a third party data provider who is an expert in providing the most accurate and up-to-date rates in the US and Canada
Service Objects integrations can help improve your contact data quality, help with data validation, and enhance your business operations.

Taking Service Objects for a Test Drive

You’ve found Service Objects, you’ve read about our services so now you want to test drive. Well, there are several ways to do just that and as I go through the options you will also get a pretty good picture about how you can integrate our services into your applications or processes. Testing can be a tedious task, delving into the unknown of a third party process, but we make it easy for you to jump right in by giving you several ways to test such as our Quick Lookup Tool, DataTumbler, Batch Processing and our real-time API services.

Quick Lookup Tool
The Quick Lookup tool is used to test one off examples on our website.  It is as simple as navigating to the Quick Lookup page, selecting the particular service you are interested in, filling out the fields and clicking submit. You’ll receive a real time response from the service containing the results of your test.

Since our services often offer multiple operations the Quick Lookup pages will inform you which operation is being used for the particular service in the form. If there are other operations you are interested in testing then we have you covered there as well with links to the other operations.

DataTumbler
The DataTumbler is a PC-based desktop application you can download from our site to run tests on multiple records. If you have ever used Excel then this application will be easy for you to drive. It works like a spreadsheet where you can paste multiple records for processing, in real-time.


Here are the basic steps: Choose your service, choose your operation, drop your data in and click validate. Choosing the service and desired operation is important because often it will change the input columns needed for the records to process properly. In the screenshot above you can see that there are 5 input columns designated by the yellowish cell background. Here we have inputs for Address, Address2, City, State and Zip. If your particular purposes do not require Address2, for instance, then that column can be removed by simply clicking on the “Customize Input Columns” button and removing it from the input.  You can do the same thing for the output columns as well but in that case you would need to access the “Customize Output Columns” popup.  The output columns are designated by the cells with the greenish background.

You can also add additional columns that are not predefined by the application by right clicking a column and selecting “Insert Column”.  This is handy for situations where you want additional data to stay together with your test like a unique identifier or other data unrelated to testing the service.

Once one of the validation buttons at the bottom is pressed, the DataTumbler will make requests to our services in real-time and populate the output columns as the data is being processed.

To get the application please call Customer Support at 1.800.694.6269 or access Live Chat and we will get you started.

Batch Processing
Batch processing is another way you can test drive our services.  When you have a file ready to go for testing you can simply hand it over to us.  We will process it and send back the results to you along with a summary.

This is one of the more preferred ways to test drive our services for several reasons:

  • We can see the data you send us first hand and give you feedback about what the file looks like with respect to items like formatting.
  • By seeing all the fields of data we can quickly recommend the most beneficial service.
  • It gives us an opportunity to see the results with you and go over any interesting data points from a data validation/cleansing expert point of view.

All that is needed for this is a test file containing the records you want to try out. The file can come in several formats including txt, csv and xls to name a few. You can send us the file directly to an email or for a more secure means we can provide you a secure ftp for the file transfer. We can also handle working with encrypted data when an extra security layer is needed. An additional way to get us your test file is through our web site itself. You can drag and drop a file and be on your way. Once we have the file we will process it against the service you are testing and return the results along with a summary breakdown of the processing.

If your test run is a success and you’re ready to move forward with a larger file, we can also run one-time paid batch. Clients often use a this as an initial data scrub before a switching to our real time API or automated batch system which will run batches virtually on demand.

Integrating the API
The last way you can test our services is by implementing our API in your code. Most clients use the API when they integrate with us so testing this way gives you the closest representation of how your production process will work with our services.

When it comes to doing a direct software integration test we have you covered. We make it easy to integrate and get testing quickly by means of sample code, code snippets, step-by-step integration walk-through blogs, developer guides and NuGet for Visual Studio.

We have sample code for C#, Java, PHP, Rails, Python, NodeJS, VB.Net, Classic ASP, Microsoft SQL Server, APEX and Cold Fusion.  This list does not mean that we stop there.  Additional sample code can be requested and our team will review to find the best solution for you.  When applicable, our sample code will be available in both REST and SOAP.  All of our examples will implement best practices and demonstrate failover.

If you are a C# developer and use Visual Studio you will have us at the hands of your finger tips.  Using the NuGet Manager in Visual Studio you can have our API injected into your code and ready to go.

All of our walk-through tutorial blogs and documentation are presented in a straight forward and easy to understand format and as always the Service Objects team is here to assist with any questions or help you may need.

When it comes to test driving our services we give you options to make it easy. A trial key will give you access to all the options I mentioned. Going through these options also gave me a chance to show you how you can integrate with our services.  The beauty behind the way we set this system up is that you can become fully integrated and tested before you even purchase a live production key.  In all of these cases, usually only two things need to be updated when switching from trial testing to live production use.  In the Quick Lookup Tool you will need to switch the “Select Key Type” to “Customer Production Key” and then use your live production key instead of your trial key.  In the DataTumbler you will be similarly swapping those fields out as well.  When it comes to doing a code integration you just need to update your endpoints from trial.serviceobjects.com to ws.serviceobjects.com and the trial key for a live production key.

Whenever you want to test one or two records or a whole file, simply put, our team has you covered.

We’ve Raised the Bar to a 99.999% Uptime Guarantee

For many years, we’ve provided a Service Level Agreement with 99.995% availability guaranteed. This equates to less than 26 minutes of downtime annually, or less than 2 minutes and 11 seconds monthly. We’ve consistently achieved and exceeded this promise to our customers year after year, but wanted to take this commitment up a notch…

We’re excited to announce that we increased our Service Level Agreement to a 99.999% uptime guarantee, equating to less than 5 minutes of service downtime annually, or less than 26 seconds monthly!

What is a Service Level Agreement (SLA)

SLAs make use of the knowledge of enterprise capacity demands, peak periods, and standard usage baselines to compose the enforceable and measurable outsourcing agreement between vendor and client. As such, an effective SLA will reflect goals for greater performance and capacity; productivity; flexibility and availability; and standardization.

At the same time, an SLA should set the stage for meeting or surpassing business and technology service levels, while identifying any gaps currently being experienced in the achievement of service levels.

SLAs capture the business objectives and define how success will be measured, and are ideally structured to evolve with the customer’s foreseeable needs. The right approach to SLAs result in agreements that are distinguished by clear, simple language, a tight focus on business objectives, and ones that consider the dynamic nature of business to ensure evolving needs will be met.

How We Do It

Redundancy
Multiple data centers provide redundancy by using redundant components, systems, subsystems, or facilities to counter inevitable failures or disruptions. Our servers operate in a virtualized environment, each utilizing multiple power supplies and redundant storage-arrays. Our firewalls and load-balancing appliances are configured in pairs, leveraging proven high-availability protocols, allowing for instantaneous fail-over.

Compliance
Compliance is an important benefit of professional data centers. In today’s business climate, data often falls under government or industry protection and retention regulations such as SSAE 16 standards, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. Compliance is challenging without dedicated staff and resources. With the third party data center model, you can take advantage of the data center’s existing compliance and audit capabilities without having to invest in technology, dedicated staff, or training.

Data Security & Management
We’ve invested in “bank grade” security. Several of our data centers are guarded by five layers of security, including retinal scanners. All systems are constantly monitored and actively managed by our data center providers — both from a data security and a performance perspective. In addition, we operate our own in-house alerting and monitoring suites.

Geographic Load Balancing
Another key factor for ensuring uptime has to do with geographic load balancing and fail-over design. Geographic load balancing involves directing web traffic to different servers or data centers based on users’ geographic locations. This can optimize performance, allow for the delivery of custom content to users in a specific region, or provide additional fail-over capabilities.

Ensuring a high level of uptime comes down to: redundancy and resiliency, compliance, geographic load balancing, great data security, and 24/7 monitoring. All of these factors are equally important and contribute to our 99.999% uptime results — guaranteed!

We Won’t Let Storm Stella Affect Your Data Quality

A macro-scale cyclone referred to as a Nor’easter is forecasted to develop along the East Coast starting tonight and estimated to continue throughout Tuesday. In addition to typical storm preparations, have you ensured your data is also ready for Storm Stella?

Although we cannot assist you directly with storm preparations (water bottles, canned foods, batteries, candles, backup generators, blankets…etc) we will always ensure the integrity and reliability of our Web services. Since 2001, we’ve been committed to providing a high level of uptime during all types of conditions including storms, even Nor’easters. All of which comes down to: redundancy, resiliency, compliance, geographic load balancing, great data security, and 24/7 monitoring, contributing to our 99.999% availability of service offerings with one of the industry’s only financially backed service level agreement.  We take great pride in our system performance and are the only public web-service provider confident enough to openly publish our performance reports.

To ensure you are fully prepared for this storm in particular, it is important to note that our primary and backup data centers are in separate geographic locations. If an emergency occurs, you can re-point your application from our production data center to our backup data center.

The failover data center is designed to increase the availability of our web services in the event of a network or routing issue. Our primary data center hostname is: ws.serviceobjects.com and our backup data center hostname is wsbackup.serviceobjects.com.

You can also abstract the actual hostname into a configuration file, in order to simplify the process of changing hostnames in an emergency. Even in the case where your application handles failover logic properly, an easy-to-change hostname would allow your application to bypass a downed data center completely, and process transactions more quickly.

For most clients, simply updating their application to use our backup data center hostname should immediately restore connectivity. Your existing DOTS license key is already permitted to use our backup data center and no further actions should be needed.

Many of our clients with mission critical business applications take this action of configuring for failover in their application. We are available 24/7 to help with best practices and recommendations if you need any assistance before, during or after the storm!

Tech Support in the Age of Instant Gratification

We live in an age where an overabundance of information and resources are just a few clicks away. Even physical goods can be delivered to your front door the very same day you order.  People want and expect to have the similar convenience and response times when they need technical support.

Us tech support experts here at Service Objects completely understand that. One of our core values is to offer outstanding Customer Support to our clients. We have a good day at the office when we can quickly and effectively answer questions about our services, resolve issues and get the data hungry masses up and running with their validation service of choice.  To help ensure that our customers can get back to using their validation service for their business we have several avenues where people can seek support.

24/7 Phone Support

Do you have a pressing issue after hours?  We understand that this can be exceedingly stressful and frustrating.  We want help you get it resolved as quickly as possible.  If you do ever run into an after hours support issue call our office phone number (1.805.963.1700) and follow the prompts. Once directed leaved a message with a detailed description of the issue you are encountering and the best way to contact you and a member of our team will typically contact you within 20 minutes.

LiveChat Through our Website

Have a quick question that you want answered right away? Like: what URL you should be using? What does this particular response mean from the service? Is this an expected response from the service? Are there any current issues occurring with the service?  Is there a different endpoint I should hit for a different operation? Questions like this are examples of ones we would be happy to answer in our LiveChat on our website. Simply navigate to our website during business hours and someone will be able to start a LiveChat with you once you are available.  Once they do, simply state the question or issue you are experiencing, along with pertinent account information and we will happily assist in any way we can.

Support Tickets

The primary method to address and keep track of all our support inquiries is through our support ticketing system.  Whether you call in, use LiveChat or send us an email, most technical support issues will get sent to our ticketing system and we’ll use it to quickly and effectively address any issues or questions you may have.  To create a ticket, simply email support@serviceobjects.com or click here and you can fill out the form to get a ticket created. Feel free to use any of the above channels to contact us and we’ll be glad to offer any support that we can!

A Commitment to Fanatical Customer Service Leads to “FindAddressLines”

Service Objects runs an agile Engineering team that likes to be ready to run with a great new idea at any given moment. We view it as one of the cornerstones of our fanatical customer service plan.

As soon as we learn about a challenge that a prospect or client is experiencing we’re excited to find a customized solution. A recent example of this is the release of a new operation for our Address Validation-US service called FindAddressLines.

DOTS Address Validation-US is one of our core services which takes as input, two address lines, city,  state, as well as postal code and does an excellent job of cleaning and standardizing even grossly misspelled addresses. In a perfect world, data is collected and properly placed where it needs to be to facilitate the validation. But we know the world isn’t perfect and one particular client had lists of addresses in which there were extra Address lines (sometimes up to 5) or even key pieces of data entered into the wrong columns altogether. FindAddressLines was born initially to help this client, and many others moving forward, clean up these types of problematic issues.

Let’s take a look at how it works:

In the example above, the first three rows work as expected using Address1 and Address2 as the inputs. However, on row 5, the address returns a missing secondary number because the suite number fell into Address3.  When you get to row 6 there is nothing to go on unless you are looking at Address4 and Address5 specifically.  Our FindAddressLines operation allows you to submit up to 10 lines (columns) including a city, state and zip and we do the work to make sure the right data makes it into the right locations.

Here’s an even messier example:

As we can see in row 4, the data was pushed out past the zip column. This can easily happen when importing data from a database to a spreadsheet if care isn’t taken for potential delimiters like commas.  With FindAddressLines, we are able to assign the extra columns as inputs and let the service figure it out.  The example in row 5 has a completely jumbled address that might have occurred from a corrupted database or just extremely messy data collection.  Again, we can use FindAddressLines to solve this one as well.

We enjoy talking to both current clients and prospects alike to determine what their needs are and what new features and services we can put together to help them improve their unique processes.  Our team is 100% committed to our customers’ success and can often rapidly put together a new solution to solve almost any problem you’re experiencing.

No image, text reads Service Objects Tutorials

Ruby on Rails Integration Tutorial

Ruby on Rails (or more colloquially, “Rails”) is a server-side web application framework that provides its users a powerful arsenal to create web pages, web services and database structures. Rails utilizes a model-view-controller (or MVC for short) framework that provides an easy way to separate the user interface, database model and controller.

One of Service Objects highest priorities is getting our clients up and running with our DOTS Validation web service(s) as quickly as possible.  One way we do this is by providing sample code and occasionally, step by step instructions.  So if you are partial to using Rails, this tutorial will provide everything needed to get up and running.

What You will need

  • A DOTS license key, click here for a free trial key. We’re using DOTS Email Validation 3 for this tutorial.
  • Your Favorite Text Editor (Sublime, Notepad++ etc)
  • Ruby On Rails installed on your test machine.
  • Familiarity with the Command Line

Creating a Default Project

First navigate to the directory via command line in which you would like the project created.  Once the command line is in the desired directory, run the command “rails new EV3Tutorial.” You may call the project whatever you prefer, but this will be the name of our tutorial.

After the project creation is finished you should have a brand new Ruby on Rails project.  You can launch the server by simply being in the project directory and entering “rails server” into the command line.  The default port number the project runs on is 3000. We’ll be using port 3001 for this project; the port number can be specified by entering the following command to launch the server: “rails server –p 3001”.

If you run the server and navigate to the applicable localhost URL where it has been launched, you’ll see the following page:

Ruby on Rails Tutorial Image One

This page is the default page for any new Rails project. From here, you find more documentation about working with Rails.

Generating a Model and Controller

We’ll need a controller to make the actual call to the DOTS web service and a model to pass information to our controller.  Simply type “rails generate controller request new show” and the necessary controller and views will be created. This command will also create two new views; one titled “new.html.erb” and the other called “show.html.erb”.  The command line should look similar to the following.

Ruby on Rails Tutorial Image 1

After this command is run, the controller folder and the views folder will have some new files created. It should look like the following:

The “new.html.erb” file will be our default page, so to make the application load it automatically open the routes.rb file in the config folder of the project and make the routes page look like the following.

For this example, we’re using the “ValidateEmailAddress” operation which has 4 separate inputs. EmailAddress, AllowCorrections, Timeout, and LicenseKey.   These in turn, will be part of our model that will pass values from the view to the controller.  So before we fill in the html page, we’ll create the model and include these values in its definition.

Enter the command “rails generate model request” in the command line. The values in the model can be specified via the command line, but it is usually easier to enter it in the model file. Locate the model schema in the following folder:

To add values to the model, make the model schema on your file look like the following.

In order to use the model it will need to be migrated. To do this enter “rake db:migrate” into the command line to commit the model.

Creating the Views           

Now that our model has been created and committed to the database, we can pass values from the view to controller. To do this, we’re going to create a simple web form with the inputs to send to the DOTS Email Validation service. To do this, add the following code to the “new.html.erb” file.

Now that our input page is set, we’ll make sure our “show.html.erb” file is ready to display some output values from the service. We will include a brief if statement in the show that will determine whether or not an error object is present in the response from the service. If one is present we’ll display that if not, we’ll display the valid results. Make your show.html.erb file look like the following.

These output fields haven’t been instantiated or set to any values yet but that will happen in our controller.

Integrating Logic into the Controller

Now that our views are set up, we’ll need to put some code in the controller to make the actual web service call to the Service Objects web service. To make this call, we’re going to use the gem “httparty” which will allow us to make a RESTful web service call. Be sure to place this gem in your projects gem folder and run a “bundle install” in the command line.

We won’t go over all the elements of the controller file in this tutorial, but rather just touch on some important parts of the logic to be integrated.  The screen shot below highlights some important aspects of calling the webservice.

The code above has a primary and backup URL.  Currently they both point to the Service Objects trial environment. In the event that a production key is purchased, the primary URL should be set to ws.serviceobjects.com and the backup URL should be set to wsbackup.serviceobjects.com. These two URLS along with the accompanying logic that checks for a fatal error (TypeCode 3 for DOTS EV3) will ensure that your application continues to run in the event that the primary Service Objects data center is offline or experiencing issues.  If you have any questions about the failover logic, please don’t hesitate to contact Service Objects and we will be glad to assist further.

The code above calls an internal function, “processresults,” to display the values to the user. Here is the accompanying screen shot illustrating some of the logic of this function.

Depending on what response comes back from the service, this code will display the values to the user.  For your application, you will likely want to create a class that will automatically serialize the response from the service into something a bit easier to use; but we are showing the above logic as an example of how to parse the values from the service. Note: the @ev3response, @ev3info and @everror are present to help parse the response hash that httparty automatically creates for the response.

Final Steps and Testing

Our project is ready to test out. For this example, we’ll use the email support@serviceobjects.com to get a valid response from the service.

Entering these values in to the text boxes, along with a valid license key, should result in the following output.

That completes our Ruby on Rails tutorial.  If you have any questions about this, any other tutorials or sample code please don’t hesitate to contact us! We would love to help you get up and running with a Service Objects web service(s).

3 Things to Consider When Signing a Cloud Computing Contract

Business man signing a contract

Cloud computing entails a paradigm shift from in-house processing and storage of data to a model where data travels over the Internet to and from one or more externally located and managed data centers.

It is typically recommended that a Cloud Computing Contract:

  • Codifies the specific parameters and minimum levels required for each element of the service you are signing up for, as well as remedies for failure to meet those requirements.
  • Affirms your institution’s ownership of its data stored on the service provider’s system, and specifies your rights to get it back.
  • Details the system infrastructure and security standards to be maintained by the service provider, along with your rights to audit their compliance.
  • Specifies your rights and cost to continue and discontinue using the service.

In addition to the basic elements of the Contract listed above, here are three important points to consider before signing your Cloud Computing Contract.

1. Infrastructure & Security

The virtual nature of cloud computing makes it easy to forget that the service is dependent upon a physical data center. All cloud computing vendors are not created equal. You should verify the specific infrastructure and security obligations and practices (business continuity, encryption, firewalls, physical security, etc.) that a vendor claims to have in place and codify them in the contract.

2. Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity

To protect your institution, the contract should state the provider’s minimum disaster recovery and business continuity mechanisms, processes, and responsibilities to provide the ongoing level of uninterrupted service required.

3. Data Processing & Storage

  • Ownership of data: Since an institution’s data will reside on a cloud computing company’s infrastructure, it is important that the contract clearly affirm the institution’s ownership of that data.
  • Disposition of data: To avoid vendor lock-in, it is important for an institution to know in advance how it will switch to a different solution once the relationship with the existing cloud computing service provider ends.
  • Data breaches: The contract should cover the cloud service provider’s obligations in the event that the institution’s data is accessed inappropriately. The repercussions of such a data breach vary according to the type of data, so know what type of data you’ll be storing in the cloud before negotiating this clause. Of equal importance to the breach notification process, the service provider should be contractually obligated to provide indemnification should the institution’s data be accessed inappropriately.
  • Location of data: A variety of legal issues can arise if an institution’s data resides in a cloud computing provider’s data center in another country. Different countries, and in some cases even different states, have different laws pertaining to data. One of the key questions with cloud computing is, which law applies to my institution’s data, the law where I’m located, or the law where my data’s located.
  • Legal/Government requests for access to data: The contract should specify the cloud provider’s obligations to an institution should any of the institution’s data become the subject of a subpoena or other legal or governmental request for access.

The Cloud Computing Contract is for the benefit of both the consumer and the provider. While it can be highly technical and digitalized, the Contract will ultimately establish the partnership between the parties, and following these steps should help mitigate any potential problems.

Five Elements of a Customer Success Program

Why focus on customer success? Retaining customers, maintaining customer loyalty, and getting new customers requires a holistic approach that goes beyond the basics of providing service, ensuring satisfaction, and resolving problems.

According to the Customer Success Association, “…it’s about customer relationship retention and optimization. And the most effective way to keep your customers is to make them as successful as possible in using your technology product.”

Customers who feel engaged and heard and who have experienced a real value in doing business with you are your true success stories. Their interactions at each point have been positive, both in terms of personal interactions with your team and in using your products or services. These are the customers who will remember your brand, who will tell their friends how wonderful your company is, and who will absolutely return because the relationship and the value they receive are both so strong.

Having a Customer Success Program clearly communicates to customers and prospects what they can expect if they buy your company’s product or service. Below are five key elements to consider when developing your Customer Success Program:

1. Commitment to customer service — Demonstrate that your company is deeply committed to customer service. While your marketing materials may tout your commitment, this is one area where actions speak louder than words. Include specific metrics – e.g. we will respond to support requests within 30 minutes, we have 24/7 support – and make sure they are adhered to and backed by a Service Level Agreement (SLA).

2. Company wide buy-in — Customer service is no longer the realm of front office staff or the support center. Get buy-in from all departments in the company so that the customer has a positive experience whether they are talking to operations, engineering, IT, sales, accounting, etc. Having a centralized CRM database is important so each department can clearly see what is being communicated to the customer.

3. Assign a single point of contact — Establish a dedicated account manager to proactively communicate product updates, important features the customer may not be effectively utilizing, and serve as the main conduit of information for the customer regarding their account.

4. Proactive monitoring — Proactively monitor the customer’s account and alert them to any unusual activity to ward off potential complaints or unexpected account usage surprises. This is a great way to cultivate a “we are looking out for you” feeling.

5. Solicit feedback — Soliciting feedback — and responding to it — shows your customers that you value their insights and are listening. Make soliciting customer feedback a regular task, and respond promptly. It’s crucial to thank them for their feedback and address concerns. Have a regularly scheduled check-in call to address any issues or concerns that may have recently come up.

At Service Objects, our philosophy is customer service above all, and our Customer Success Program reflects this core value. Below are just some of the features our program includes:

  • 24/7 critical emergency support
  • Direct access to Product Engineers to discuss Best Practices
  • Guaranteed response times and server uptimes backed by a money back guarantee
  • Dedicated Account Manager
  • Priority customer support across our customer contact channels (phone, email, chat)

Use the Net Promoter Score to Ensure You Get a Good Customer Experience

Before you buy a product or service from a company – particularly one you may need customer support from – be sure to do some research and find out their Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS is a metric that captures a company’s customer feedback and provides a numeric value of its brand loyalty. A high score is not easy to achieve, so if a company has a great score, they will be letting the world know about it!

NPS is calculated by soliciting feedback from customers about their experience with the company. Specifically, customers are asked the question “how likely is it that you would recommend a brand/product/service to a friend or colleague?” The answers are based on a scale from 0 – 10. Those that give a company a score of 0-6 are considered Detractors, those who give a score of 7-8 are considered Passives, and those that rate a company with a high score of 9-10 are considered Promoters. The final NPS score is calculated by deducting the percentage of customers who are Detractors from the percentage of customers who are Promoters (passives are not included in the calculation). Good Net Promoter scores vary by industry, but a score of 50 to 80 is typically considered “good”.

Customers are also given the opportunity to provide feedback to the question “what is the most important reason for your score?” Companies can use this specific feedback to continue and reinforce best customer service practices, stop or improve upon procedures that are causing customer dissatisfaction, and provide employees with feedback directly from the customer.Promoters are the people companies want to go after for testimonials, while Detractors can be the ones who post negative feedback or complaints on social media channels. Proactively following up with Detractors can potentially stop a negative experience from going viral.

Promoters are the people companies want to go after for testimonials, while Detractors can be the ones who post negative feedback or complaints on social media channels. Proactively following up with Detractors can potentially stop a negative experience from going viral.Capturing NPS can also serve as an eye-opener for those companies who assume that since they have not received a large number of complaints, customers are satisfied. They can often be surprised what customers are truly thinking when they are given a chance to have their voice heard.

Capturing NPS can also serve as an eye-opener for those companies who assume that since they have not received a large number of complaints, customers are satisfied.

They can often be surprised what customers are truly thinking when they are given a chance to have their voice heard.Relatively easy to use and deploy, companies who use NPS send existing and potential customers a signal that they are strongly committed to customer satisfaction and proactively acting on their feedback. Customers who see a company with a high NPS score know that the company is focused on customer loyalty and retention, and makes customer service a priority.

Relatively easy to use and deploy, companies who use NPS send existing and potential customers a signal that they are strongly committed to customer satisfaction and proactively acting on their feedback. Customers who see a company with a high NPS score know that the company is focused on customer loyalty and retention, and makes customer service a priority.

At Service Objects, one of our Core Values is “customer service above all”. We strive to achieve the highest level of customer satisfaction and regularly survey our customers for their feedback. The result of this commitment is that for the past three years, we have maintained a score 8 times higher than the technology services industry average! Our score of 64 is well above other well-known technology companies such as Oracle (21), MailChimp (20) and Constant Contact (20) and even above other customer service leaders such as Zappos.com (57), Netflix (52) and American Express (45), as rated by NPS Benchmarks.

Find out more information about Service Objects’ Customer Success Program here.

In Customer Service Chat, You Have to do More Than Answer

Customer service chat is popular with companies and customers alike. It’s easy, it’s quick, and it works well on mobile devices. But easy and popular doesn’t always equal good. Read this chat with customer service agent “Jack” at Vizio. It is a set of customer service blunders, large and small.

Here’s the chat transcript

Visitor: Hi I just bought a 50″ M501d-A2R tv. i am trying to set it up. I can’t put in the password to my wifi because my password is longer than the number of characters allowed. I don’t want to reset my password on my Cisco cable router. Can you help?

Jack: Here at VIZIO we pride ourselves in providing best in class U.S. based support. I’m happy to assist you today. How many digits is your wireless password?

Visitor: 26 digits

Jack: The TV will support up to 22 digits. Unfortunately the password would need to be shortened to work with our TVs.

Visitor: Hmm i am not glad to hear that

Jack: I apologize for the inconvenience.

Visitor: Ok. Please email me a transcript of this chat. Thank you.

Jack: You’re welcome! You will receive a copy of this chat transcript as soon as the chat window has closed. Thank you for chatting with VIZIO today. If you have any questions feel free to contact our support team at 1-877-878-4946, online at chat.vizio.com, or email us at techsupp@vizio.com! We would also like you to join VIZIO Fandemonium today to earn points and win prizes only at VIZIOfanzone.com Thanks again, and have a great day.

Here’s how this chat needs to be improved:

Stop the chest-thumping about being US-based. This should NOT be the first thing Jack says to the customer. In fact, Jack shouldn’t say this at all. It doesn’t matter whether Vizio’s support is based in the US. The customer wants a high-quality chat. He wants a quick, correct, complete answer. Jack’s first statement really causes problems because the support he provides isn’t worth the company’s pride and it isn’t best-in-class. The cultural elitism of this statement is really unattractive, especially given the poor quality of the chat.

Use the customer’s name. The impersonal use of “Visitor” rather than the customer’s name clashes with the parts of the chat that are quite good. Some of Jack’s replies are specific and personal. For example, when he asks, “How many digits is your wireless password?”, it is clear he’s read what Visitor has written. The chat system should be configured to use the customer’s name. Why would any customer service organization want to refer to a customer by an anonymous term?

Be sincere. I was really sad when Jack laid down the classic customer service trope: “I apologize for the inconvenience.” In this case, this statement is insincere and unnecessary. There’s no need for an apology because neither Jack nor Vizio has done anything wrong. And it’s a true service failure to simply apologize when the customer needs help solving the problem.

Help the customer. Don’t merely answer the customer’s question. Visitor got an answer to his question about the length of his password. His is four digits too long. But Jack never helped him. Even if Jack can’t actually help Visitor reset the password on the Cisco router, he should have written something like, “Refer to the user guide that came with your Cisco router to find instructions on how to reset and shorten your password…”

Omit the marketing. Vizio clearly thinks, “We’ve got Visitor’s attention, so let’s pitch him Fandemonium.” But this pitch doesn’t belong in this chat, especially given the poor service Vizio has provided. And it’s not good marketing copy, either. Points? For what? Prizes? What kind? What’s In It For Me?

Reprinted from LinkedIn with permission from the author. View original post here.

 

Editor’s Note: Service Objects prides itself on customer service and tech support for effective resolutions to all questions, issues and inquiries. We’re always striving to improve our customer support, and have found chat to be an integral part of our everyday communication with those who visit our site seeking answers to their data validation problems.

Author’s Bio: Leslie O’Flahavan, Principal, E-WRITE

As E-WRITE owner since 1996, Leslie has been writing content and teaching customized writing courses for Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Leslie is a frequent and sought-after conference presenter, a faculty member at DigitalGov University, and the co-author of Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents. Leslie can help the most stubborn, inexperienced, or word-phobic employees at your organization improve their writing skills.

 

Service as a Differentiator

Service quality is one of the most misused concepts in business. You can’t see it or smell it. It is hard to quantify except in hindsight, even though there are real live academic journals about it. If you look at company websites, they will all tell you that theirs is great, of course – often replete with pictures of smiling attractive people with headsets. But in real life, it is often one of the greatest differentiators between companies.

Here is a personal example. Once I purchased a laptop computer, in part because its manufacturer touted its service and replacement policies. This was important to me, given my frequent travel. But in reality, any service issues I had were met by indifference, bad answers, and “Sorry, the part’s out of stock. Dunno when it will be in.”

So in one of the great ironies of my career, I later visited a consulting client on the West Coast – an organization with an excellent service reputation – and discovered that they shared a parking lot with this laptop maker. And one morning I made it a point to come in early and watch everyone come in to work. My client’s employees were engaged and chipper, while the other company’s employees trudged in with their heads down like they were marching off to jail.

Now, back to my original point about service quality. This laptop maker had the same support automation tools as most people. They clearly had CRM systems and interactive voice response queues. And their support policies, at least on paper, were a cut above their competitors. But they couldn’t deliver what they promised. Clearly, at this company, support was a cost to be reduced as much as possible. And soon after they reduced their costs to zero, because they lost market share and exited the market.

So what really creates good service quality? A marriage of the right policies AND the right systems. When I managed a 24/7 tech support center, here were some of the factors that led us to have both near-perfect customer satisfaction scores and near-zero turnover:

  • Our team constantly educated itself. We devoted an average of over three weeks per year to product and skills training, versus an industry average of less than one week.
  • We constantly benchmarked customer experience. From the way people were greeted to the oversight we gave to inbound cases, we were constantly aware and constantly improving.
  • We measured quality first and productivity second. Did you know that service metrics often kill service quality? When an agent is measured for how quickly they resolve call, they will be quick, by golly – even if you get sent packing with bad answers. Our agents were rewarded for keeping customers happy and working as a team, and only coached for performance when it varied far from the norm.
  • We had service standards that met the needs of our customer base. From personal assigned support representatives to 24/7 access, we delivered what a high-end audience in a mission-critical environment needed.
  • We realized that service was delivered by human beings. Which meant that we went out of our way to keep employees happy, whether it was plenty of individual recognition and professional development, or a team hiring strategy that let people have a say in who joined “the club,” or annual best practices workshops where team input led to real policy change.

All of these mechanics – most of which never show up on a company’s website – are why service leaders like Disney, Southwest Airlines or my former employer deliver a very different service experience from their competitors. Making it happen requires planning, execution, and a mindset that steers people away from whatever is cheapest or most expedient in the moment. Above all, it is one of the most powerful and cost-effective business strategies an organization can adopt.

 

Editor’s Note: Service Objects was founded around many of this author’s service principles. From the expertise of our staff, to our fanaticism to 99.995% uptime, to our 24/7 customer service, we invest in strategies that lead to a tangible difference in customer experience.

Author’s Bio: Rich Gallagher is a former customer support executive and practicing psychotherapist who heads Point of Contact Group, a training and development firm based in Ithaca, NY. He is the author of nine books including two #1 customer service bestsellers, What to Say to a Porcupine and The Customer Service Survival Kit. Visit him at www.pointofcontactgroup.com.

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Path and Query String Parameter Calls to a RESTful Web Service

It’s important to remember that REST is an architectural style and that it does not have an official standard. As such, the question on how to call a REStful web service will often arise. If the service you are calling supports more than one way of being called, then which way should you choose? The short answer is the one that works best for you, and by works best for you I don’t simply mean the one that you feel most comfortable using (although that is an important factor). For the purpose of this article, we will focus on path parameter calls and how they compare to query string parameter calls, two deceptively similar styles. There are inherent differences between path parameters and query string parameters that you should consider before choosing one over the other.

A RESTful web service should behave the same regardless of how it is called, and as long as the same input values are provided the service will return the same result values every time. So why choose one format over another?

If you are unfamiliar with path parameters, then simply put, a path parameter template is one where the parameter values are embedded in the URL path.

Path Parameter Example:

http://domain/resource/verb/value1/value2/value3

Query String Parameter Example:

http://domain/resource/verb?key1=value1&key2=value2&key3=value3

The above examples are rough, but they get the point across. Notice that in the path parameter example the variable values are embedded in the URL path, whereas in the query string parameter example the variable values are provided in the query string.

Path parameters have gained popularity as being more human readable and easier to understand as the path template lends itself to a natural progression of drilling into data resources. Some services offer path parameters specifically for this reason. The user experience can be likened to having a direct connection to the data resource and it is often useful for simple lookup services where no data transformation/refinement occurs, or is needed. Path parameters can enable a service to be called in a distinctive style and, depending on the functionality of the service being called, the path template can take on many forms.

Here are some common examples:

http://domain/resource/format/noun/verb/value

http://domain/resource/noun/value1/value2

http://domain/resource/noun/verb/value1?format=formatvalue

The above examples add the noun and format values, where the noun can help make the service request more descriptive, intuitive and easier to understand. The format value, when available, is commonly used to tell the service what type of response format to return, typically either json or xml.

This is not to say that a service that is called on using query string parameters cannot be designed to be as descriptive and intuitive as a path parameter service.

Caveats to look out for when using path parameters:

  • Order matters: Unlike query string parameters, the order in which the path parameter values are given must correspond to the format dictated by the URL path. For example, if the service path dictates “/resource/format/noun/verb/value” then you cannot interchange it with “/resource/verb/format/value/noun/”.
  • Path parameter values cannot be omitted: Unlike query string parameters you cannot omit a value in path parameters because doing so would mean changing the URL path. The only exception is the final parameter value in the URL path. If the path format is “/resource/verb/value1/value2/value3”, and you want to omit value1 then “/resource/verb//value2/value3” will not work because it is the same as “/resource/verb/value1/value2/”. In which case, you have inadvertently omitted value3. If you omit enough values then you will end up with a malformed URL.
  • Reserved HTTP characters: such as “:”, “/”, “?”, “#”, “[“, “]” and “@” – These characters and others are “reserved” in the HTTP protocol to have “special” meaning in the implementation syntax so that they are distinguishable to other data in the URL. If a variable value within the path contains one or more of these reserved characters then it will break the path and generate a malformed request. You can workaround reserved characters in query string parameters by URL encoding them or sometimes by double escaping them, but you cannot in path parameters.

These are just some simple examples of how a path parameter URL request can differ from a query string parameter request. Overall, it is important to note that regardless of where the parameter variable values are placed, either in the path or in the query string, both styles must conform to the HTTP protocol. For some services, path parameters offer a more descriptive and distinct style that enforce a specific way of querying resources, whereas old-fashioned query string parameters offer greater flexibility and ease of use at the cost of being potentially less descriptive and intuitive.

Natural Disasters – Service Objects Is Ready!

As Hurricane Joaquin works its way toward the United States’ East Coast, Service Objects has made every effort to ensure its services will remain available and performance will not be affected.

Our newly launched East Coast data center in New Jersey has activated standard contingency controls as a precautionary measure. Support resources have been placed in neighboring facilities. Facility staff will be available and onsite for the duration of the storm. Precautionary backup generators have been put in place that can run for over 72 hours in case of power outages and fuel trucks on are on site as a standby.

In the slight case that our East Coast data center is affected by the storm, Service Objects has three other data centers located in the United States; in Southern California, Northern California, and in the Midwest. These data centers are live and ready to provide any additional resources required to ensure our customers experience no interruption in service.

As always, security, uptime and data integrity are our highest priority and that’s why we offer a 99.995% server uptime guarantee with multiple, redundant datacenters that ensure your service is never compromised.

Using Data to Improve Customer Support

Many people dread the prospect of calling customer support. For starters, there could be an annoying auto-attendant feature to deal with before reaching a live agent. After pressing 1 for English, listening to a lengthy menu of choices, pressing a few more buttons, entering your account number when prompted, and waiting for what feels like an eternity to be transferred, you finally reach a customer service representative who has no idea who you are or why you may be calling.

Grateful to have reached a real person, you attempt to explain your issue. The CSR can’t proceed until she has first gathered some information. She asks for your account number — you know, the one you just entered when navigating the automated system. Taking a deep breath, you find and relay your account number. She then asks you to confirm your phone number and address, so you do. Next, the CSR asks for the invoice number of the product in question. You don’t know the invoice number, all you know is that you ordered a red sweater and it never arrived. 

“Ah,” the CSR says. “You’ll need to speak to someone in our shipping department.” 

Before you know it, your call is being transferred and, once again, you’ve been asked to press 1 for English. You can bet that you’ll need to repeat the entire story and provide the new CSR with all of your contact information once again.

Is This the Customer Support Experience You Want for Your Customers?

The scenario above plays out countless times each day, but it doesn’t have to be this way. While data validation APIs won’t necessarily solve every problem outlined above, our contact validation APIs can help to improve your customer support operations.

For example, let’s start with the original transaction. Using our address validation API can improve deliveries by immediately validating, standardizing, and correcting your customers’ addresses. Ship your products with confidence that they’re properly addressed.

Next, let’s tackle that dreaded phone call to customer support. Integrating DOTS Geo Phone Plus into your telephony system allows you to perform real-time reverse phone lookups to find out exactly who’s calling and from where. If a given phone number is associated with a contact record in your software, your customer service representatives would have the customer’s account information at their fingertips without having to prompt the customer for account numbers or other information. You could also use DOTS Geo Phone Plus in conjunction with your phone system’s routing capabilities to route individual callers to specific CSRs based on the caller’s location. 

Improving customer support is a top priority, and improving the quality of your data plays an important role in the process. Use our contact validation APIs to instantly validate, correct, and standardize contact information. This one enhancement to your process alone can prevent common shipping delays, missing shipments, embarrassing name and addressing errors, and more. Not only will your customer support center have fewer unhappy customers to deal with, your company will operate more efficiently.