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Thoughts on Data Quality and Contact Validation

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Posts Tagged ‘Customer Support’

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!

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

Service Objects has verified over 2.8 billion contact records for clients from various industries including retail, technology, government, communications, leisure, utilities, and finance. Since 2001, thousands of businesses and developers have used our APIs to validate transactions to reduce fraud, increase conversions, and enhance incoming leads, Web orders, and customer lists. READ MORE