Posts Tagged ‘Data Quality’

Data Quality, AI, and the Future

What do you think of when you hear the term “artificial intelligence” (or AI for short)? For many people, it conjures up images of robots, science fiction, and movies like “2001 – A Space Odyssey,” where an evil computer wouldn’t let the hero back on his spaceship to preserve itself.

Real AI is a little less dramatic than that, but still pretty exciting. At its root, it involves using machine learning – often based on large samples of big data – to automate decision-making processes. Some of the more public examples of AI are when computers square off against human chess masters or diagnose complex problems with machinery. And you already use AI every time you ask your phone for directions or a spam filter keeps junk mail from reaching your in-box.

In the area of contact marketing and customer relationship management, some experts are now talking about using AI for applications such as predictive marketing, automated targeting, and personalized content creation. Many of these applications are still in the future, but product introductions aimed at early adopters are already making their way to the market.

Data Quality is Key in AI

One thing nearly everyone agrees on, however, is that data quality is a potential roadblock for AI. Even a small amount of bad data can easily steer a machine learning algorithm wrong. Imagine, for example, you are trying to do demographic targeting – but given the percentage of contact data that normally goes bad in the course of a year, your AI engine may soon be pitching winter coats to prospects in Miami.

Here are what some leadership voices in the industry are saying about the data quality problem in AI:

  • Speaking at a recent Salesforce conference, Leadspace CEO Doug Bewsher described data quality as “AI’s Achilles heel,” going on to note that its effectiveness is crippled if you try using it with static CRM contact data or purchased datasets.
  • Information Week columnist Jessica Davis states in an opinion piece that “Data quality is really the foundation of your data and analytics program, whether it’s being used for reports and business intelligence or for more advanced AI and related technologies.”
  • A recent Compliance Week article calls data quality “the fuel that makes AI run,” noting that centralized data management will increasingly become a key issue in preventing “silos” of incompatible information.

The ROI of Accurate and Up-to-Date Contact Data is Larger than Ever

Naturally, this issue lies right in our wheelhouse. For years, we have been preaching the importance of data quality and data governance for contact data – particularly given the costs of bad data in time, human effort, marketing effectiveness, and customer reputation. But in an era where automation continues to march on, the ROI of good contact data is now growing larger than ever.

We aren’t predicting a world where your marketing efforts will be taken over by a robot – not anytime soon, at least. But AI is a very real trend, one which deserves your attention from here. Some exciting developments are on the horizon in marketing automation, and we are looking forward to what evolves over the next few years.

Find out more about how data quality and contact validation can help your business by visiting the Solutions section of our website.

Marketing Strategies for the New Digital Privacy Era

In a world of big data, information for sale, and people oversharing on social media, this past decade has lulled many marketers into believing in a post-privacy era of virtually unfettered access to consumer and prospect data.

Even consumers themselves share this perception: according to an Accenture survey, 80% of consumers between the ages of 20 and 40 feel that total digital privacy is a thing of the past. But today this Wild West scenario is becoming increasingly regulated, with growing constraints on the acquisition and use of people’s personal data. Directives such as the European Union’s GDPR and ePrivacy regulations, along with other initiatives around the globe, are ushering in a new landscape of privacy protections.

Much has been written about how to comply with these new regulations and avoid penalties, on this blog and elsewhere. But this new environment is also a marketing opportunity for savvy organizations. Here, we examine some specific ways you can position yourself to grow in a changing world of privacy.

Leverage Data Quality With These Five Key Marketing Strategies

Be transparent. In their 2018 State of the Connected Customer survey, Salesforce.com found that 86% of customers would be more likely to trust companies with their information if they explain how it will provide them with a better experience.

Offer value. The Accenture survey mentioned above notes that over 60% of customers feel that getting relevant offers is more important than keeping their online activity private, with nearly half saying that they would not mind companies tracking their buying behavior if this led to more relevant offers.

Give customers what they want. According to European CRM firm SuperOffice, the post-GDPR world represents an opportunity to create segmented customer lists, through techniques such as separate website pop-ups for different areas of interest and content marketing via social media.

Look at the entire customer life cycle. Many firms offer a one-time free incentive, such as a report or webinar, in exchange for contact data and marketing permission. However, this can lead to fraudulent information being offered to get the goodie (we can help with that), or even a real but never-checked “wastebasket” email address. Instead, consider offering a regular stream of high-value information that keeps customers connected with your brand.

Change your perspective. This is perhaps the most important strategy of all: start looking at your customers as partners instead of prospects. Recent regulations are, at their root, a response to interruptive marketing strategies that revolve around bugging the many to sell to the few. Instead, focus on cultivating high-value client relationships with people who want products and services you offer.

More Consumer Privacy Can be a Good Thing

Whether businesses are ready or not, they are increasingly facing a world of marketing to smaller prospect lists of people who choose to hear from them for specific purposes, starting with Europe and spreading elsewhere. But this can be a good thing, and indeed a market opportunity. By changing your selling focus from a numbers game to one of deeper and mutually beneficial customer relationships, you can potentially gain more loyal customers and lower marketing expenses. In the process, this new era of consumer privacy could possibly end up being one of the best things that happen to your business.

Protecting your customers’ privacy and creating a mutually beneficial relationship starts with having the most genuine, accurate and up-to-date data for your contacts.  Download our white paper, Marketing with Bad Contact Data, to learn more about how quickly customer data ages and the impact on your business.

Customer Expectations are Getting…Younger

Being based in the college town of Santa Barbara, California, we notice something interesting: the students seem to get younger every year. Of course, it is actually our own ages that continue to change. But this illusion contains a valuable marketing lesson for all of us.

The Rise of the Generational Customer

According to the latest State of the Connected Customer survey from Salesforce.com, consumers really are getting younger, as markets shift over time from older customers such as Baby Boomers to Generations X/Y and the Millennials. In fact, this year marks the first time that adult consumers exist who have never lived in the 20th century.

This trend means a lot more than having customers who don’t remember the 9/11 attacks, or realize that Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings. Some of the key points from this survey include:

  • Millennials and Generation Z live in an omnichannel world, using an average of 11 digital channels versus nine for traditional/Baby Boomer customers.
  • Nearly twice as many Millennials prefer to use mobile channels versus traditional/Baby Boomer customers (61% versus 31%), with 90% of Millennials using this channel versus 72% of older customers.
  • Traditional and Baby Boomer customers use less technology than their younger counterparts, but they aren’t dead yet: over 70% of them use channels such as mobile, text/SMS, and online portals and knowledge bases. However, usage falls off sharply with age for newer channels such as social media and voice-activated personal assistants like Siri and Alexa.
  • Between 77% and 86% of survey respondents believe that technologies such as chatbots, voice-activated assistants, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will transform their expectations of companies. The most important ones? AI and cybersecurity, at 87% each.
  • Over two-thirds of all consumers surveyed (67%) prefer to purchase through digital channels.

Overall, one of the key takeaways from this survey was the growing importance of customer experience. Eighty percent of respondents stated that the experience provided by a company was every bit as important as its products and services. This in turn involves greater connectivity between companies and their customers, with 70% of customers noting that connected processes are very important to winning their business.

It All Comes Down to Data

What does this mean for the future of marketing? For one thing, it is clearly becoming more data-driven. While your oldest consumers still remember ordering from catalogs, your youngest ones expect to engage you on your tablets and smartphones, with little tolerance for error. This also means that both your marketing and your customer service are increasingly becoming electronic.

We welcome this trend at Service Objects: our company was originally founded in 2001 around reducing the waste stream from direct mail. But this trend also creates a mandate for us – and for you – to keep looking beyond simple contact data validation, into a world of data analyses that range from demographic screening to compliance with growing privacy laws. It is a major challenge, but also an opportunity for all of us – and frankly a big part of what keeps us young.

Thoughts on this Independence Day

If you live in the United States, you probably think that Independence Day is synonymous with the fourth of July. In reality, Independence Day holidays are celebrated around the world, commemorating freedom under a variety of dates and names. Whether it is our neighbor to the north’s Canada Day (July 1), Singapore’s National Day (August 9), Brazil’s Dia da Independência (September 7), or a host of similar holidays, much of the globe marks and cherishes the birth of their nation’s own self-determination.

Declaring our independence – from waste

At Service Objects, our own Independence Day dates back to 2001. That was the year our founder Geoff Grow – a mathematician and an environmentalist – looked at this nation’s flood of wasted and misdirected junk mail, along with its cost to the environment, and realized that he didn’t have to just sit back passively and accept it. This led to the beginnings of our flagship Address Validation service, a first step in helping clients deliver to valid addresses every time.

Of course, we have grown substantially since then: not just in a revenue sense, but in the breadth of products we offer. Nowadays our solutions encompass areas that include fraud prevention, regulatory compliance, marketing optimization and customer insight. But they all tie back to one core concept: automated tools for data quality. And in turn, a concern for the environment.

Nowadays we are proud of serving over 2,500 customers and processing over three billion transactions. But we are also proud of serving the environment as well as our great clients. You’ll see this in a company where most people ride bikes to work, recycling is a fact of life, and our products continue to reduce the waste stream in this country – on the order of over a million trees and nearly half a billion gallons of water saved. And to this day, we still plant ten trees for every new customer we serve.

Declaring your independence – from bad data

Naturally, we enjoy having the opportunity to serve you too. And this Independence Day, we invite you to look at some of the data quality problems you can break free from, including:

Whatever stands between you and leveraging the full power of your contact data assets, we probably have a solution for it, ranging from worldwide address validation to US tax rates. Whether it is a specific data quality problem, or a planned strategy for effective data hygiene, we have cost-effective solutions to make your life easier.

We also can set you free from implementation worries. Our services can be integrated directly with your CRM, marketing automation or other systems, using real-time API integration or cloud connectors. We can also provide convenient batch list processing for your databases, without the need for systems integration. And you can try out our products for free, with either real-time output right on our website and/or free API keys.

Whatever is holding your business back, we’re glad to help get your Independence Day party started – just contact us for a free consultation, with no sales pressure. (Just remember that we’re closed on July 4th! Except for our 24/7 support, of course.) We look forward to helping you declare your own independence from data quality problems.

data privacy laws

A New Data Privacy Challenge for Europe – and Beyond

New privacy regulations in Europe have recently become a very hot topic again within the business community. And no, we aren’t talking about the recent GDPR law.

A new privacy initiative, known as the ePrivacy Regulation, deals with electronic communications. Technically a revision to the EU’s existing ePrivacy Directive or “cookie law,” and pending review by the European Union’s member states, it could go into effect as early as this year. And according the New York Times, it is facing strong opposition from many technology giants including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others.

Data privacy meets the app generation

Among other things, the new ePrivacy Regulation requires explicit permission from consumers for applications to use tracking codes or collect data about their private communications, particularly through messaging services such as Skype, iMessage, games and dating apps.  Companies will have to disclose up front how they plan to use this personal data, and perhaps more importantly, must offer the same access to services whether permission is granted or not.

Ironically this new law will also remove the previous directive’s need for the incessant “cookie notices” consumers now receive, by using browser tracking settings, while tightening the use of private data. This will be a mixed blessing for online services, because a simple default browser setting can now lock out the use of tracking cookies that many consumers routinely approved under the old pop-up notices. As part of its opposition to these new rules, trade groups are painting a picture of slashed revenues, fewer free services and curbs on innovation for trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT).

A longstanding saying about online services is that “when something is free, you are the product,” and this new initiative is one of the more visible efforts for consumers to push back and take control of the use of their information. And Europe isn’t alone in this kind of initiative – for example, the new California Consumer Privacy Act, slated for the late 2018 ballot, will also require companies to provide clear opt-out instructions for consumers who do not wish their data to be shared or sold.

The future: more than just European privacy laws

So what does this mean for you and your business? No one can precisely foretell the future of these regulations and others, but the trend over time is clear: consumer privacy legislation will continue to get tighter and tighter. And the days of unfettered access to the personal data of your customers and prospects are increasingly coming to an end. This means that data quality standards will continue to loom larger than ever for businesses, ranging from stricter process controls to maintaining accurate consumer contact information.

We frankly have always seen this trend as an opportunity. As with GDPR, regulations such as these have sprung from past excesses the lie at the intersection of interruptive marketing, big data and the loss of consumer privacy. Consumers are tired of endless spam and corporations knowing their every move, and legislators are responding. But more important, we believe these moves will ultimately lead businesses to offer more value and authenticity to their customers in return for a marketing relationship.

Freshly Squeezed…Never Frozen

Data gets stale over time. You rely on us to keep this data fresh, and we in turn rely on a host of others – including you! The information we serve you is the product of partnerships at many levels, and any data we mine or get from third party providers needs to be up-to-date.

This means that we rely on other organizations to keep their data current, but when you use our products, it is still our name on the door. Here at Service Objects, we use a three-step process to do our part in providing you with fresh data:

Who: We don’t make partnerships with just anyone.  Before we take on a new vendor, we fully vet them to be sure this partnership will meet our standards, now and in the future. To paraphrase the late President Reagan, we take a “trust but verify” approach to every organization we team up with.

What: We run tests to make sure that data is in fact how we expect it to be. This runs the gamut from simple format tests to ensuring that results are accurate and appropriate.

When: Some of the data we work with is updated in real time, while other data is updated daily, weekly, or monthly.  Depending on what type of data it is, we set up the most appropriate update schedule for the data we use.

At the same time, we realize this is a partnership between us and you – so to get the most out of our data, and for you to have the best results, we always suggest that you make sure to re-check some of your data points periodically, regardless of whether you are using our API or our batch processing system. Some of the more obvious reasons for this are that people move, phone numbers change, emails change, areas get redistricted, and so on. To maintain your data and keep it current, we recommend periodically revalidating it against our services.

Often business will implement our services to check data at the point of entry into their system, and also to perform a one-time cleanse to create a sort of baseline. This is all a good thing, especially when you make sure that data is going into your systems properly and is as clean as possible. However, it is important to remember that in 6-12 months some of this data will no longer be current.  Going the extra step to create a periodic review of your data is a best practice and is strongly recommended.

We also suggest keeping some sort of time stamp associated with when a record was validated, so that when you have events such as a new email campaign and some records have not been validated for a long time – for example, 12 months or more – you can re-run those records through our service.  This way you will ensure that you are getting the most out of your campaign, and at the same time protect your reputation by reducing bounces.

Finally, here is a pro tip to reduce your shipping costs: in our Address Validation service, we return an IsResidential indicator that identifies an address as being residential or not.  If this indicator changes, having the most recent results will help your business make the most cost-effective shipping decisions.

For both us and you, keeping your data fresh helps you get the most out of these powerful automation tools. In the end there is no specific time span we can recommend for verification that will suit every business across the board, and there will be cases where it isn’t always necessary to keep revalidating your data: the intervals you decide to use for your application will depend mostly on your application. But this is still an important factor to keep in mind as you design and evaluate your data quality process.

To learn more about how our data quality solutions can help your business, visit the Solutions section of our website.

Around the World with Data Privacy Laws

If you work with data, you have certainly heard by now about GDPR: the new European Union laws surrounding consumer data privacy that went into effect May 25, 2018. But how about PIPEDA, NDB, APPI, CCPA, and SHIELD?

These acronyms represent data privacy regulations in other countries (in these cases for Canada, Australia, Japan, California and New York respectively). Many are new or recently expanded, and all are examples of how your legal responsibilities to customers don’t stop with GDPR. More importantly, they represent an opportunity for you and your business to use data quality and 21st century marketing practices to differentiate yourself from your competition.

Data Protection and Privacy Laws Are Becoming Increasingly Popular

Let’s discuss some of these new regulations. According to authentication vendor Auth0, there are a wide range of reasons for their recent proliferation. First, the rollout of GDPR has implications for other countries, including whether their personal data can flow into the EU – meaning that their data quality and protection regulations must align sufficiently with EU rules to be “whitelisted” by them. New laws now being adopted by other countries address issues such as breach notification, the use of genetic and biometric data, and the rights of individuals to stop their data from being sold.

Moreover, data privacy and security doesn’t stop with Europe and GDPR. Other countries are now starting to explore the rights of consumers in this new era of online information gathering and big data. For example, Japan and other countries now have additional regulations surrounding the use of personal information codes to identify data records, and there is increasing scrutiny on personal data that is gathered through means such as social media.

Contact Data Plays a Key Role in Compliance

Now, let’s talk about your contact data. It often isn’t ready for global data regulations, through actions such as not gathering country information at the point of data entry, or having onerous location data entry requirements (like putting “United States” at the end of a long pull-down menu of countries) that encourage false responses. Worse, existing contact data often has serious information gaps or incorrect information, and it goes bad very quickly: for example, nearly 20% of phone numbers and 35% of email addresses change every year.

Finally, let’s talk about you. In the face of a growing list of data privacy and security regulations, your job isn’t just to become GDPR-compliant. It is to build and maintain a best-practices approach to data quality, which in turn keeps you up to date with both today’s consumer data laws and tomorrow’s.

Data Quality Best Practices Are a Competitive Differentiator

Taking a step back from this flood of new regulations, we would also suggest that an ideal goal isn’t just compliance – it is to leverage today’s data quality environment as a competitive opportunity. Why do these new laws exist? Because of consumer demand. People are tired of interruptive broad-brush marketing, invasive spam, and unwanted telemarketing. When you build your own marketing strategy around better targeting, curated customer relationships, and respect for the consumer, your focus can shift from avoiding penalties to growing your brand and market share faster.

We can help with both of these objectives. For starters, we now offer our Country Detective service, which can process up to 500 contact records and append correct countries to them to help guide your compliance efforts. And for the longer term we offer a free Global Data Assessment, where our team will consult with you at no charge about strategies for data quality in today’s new regulatory and market environment. Interested? Contact us to get the ball rolling, and take the next step in your global market growth.

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.

Recognizing the vital role contact data quality plays in GDPR compliance, Service Objects is offering affected businesses a free data quality assessment.

Free Data Quality Assessment Helps Businesses Gauge GDPR Compliance Ahead of May Deadline

As the May 25, 2018, deadline looms, Service Objects, the leading provider of real-time global contact validation solutions, is offering a GDPR Data Quality Assessment to help companies evaluate their if they are prepared for the new set of privacy rules and regulations.

“Our goal is to help you get a better understanding of the role your client data plays in GDPR compliance,” says Geoff Grow, CEO and Founder, Service Objects. “With our free GDPR Data Quality Assessment, companies will receive an honest, third-party analysis of the accuracy of their contact records and customer database.”

Under the GDPR, personal data includes any information related to a natural person or ‘Data Subject’ that can be used to identify the person directly or indirectly. It can be anything from a name, a photo, an email address, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information, or a computer IP address.

Even if an organization is not based in the EU, it may still need to observe the rules and regulations of GDPR. That’s because the GDPR not only applies to businesses located in the EU but to any companies offering goods or services within the European Union. In addition, if a business monitors the behavior of any EU data subjects, including the processing and holding of personal data, the GDPR applies.

Recognizing the vital role contact data quality plays in GDPR compliance, Service Objects decided to offer a free data quality assessment to help those industries affected by the regulation measure the accuracy of their contact records and prepare for the May 2018 deadline.

The evaluation will include an analysis of up to 500 records, testing for accuracy across a set of inputs including name, phone, address, email, IP, and country. After the assessment is complete, a composite score will be provided, giving businesses an understanding of the how close they are to being compliant with GDPR’s Article 5.

Article 5 of the GDPR requires organizations collecting and processing personal information of individuals within the European Union (EU) to ensuring all current and future customer information is accurate and up-to-date. Not adhering to the rules and regulations of the GDPR can result in a fine of up to 4% of annual global turnover or €20 Million (whichever is greater).

“To avoid the significant fines and penalties associated with the GDPR, businesses are required to make every effort to keep their contact data is accurate and up-to-date,” Grow added. “Service Objects’ data quality solutions enable global businesses to fulfill the regulatory requirements of Article 5 and establish a basis for data quality best practices as part of a broader operational strategy.”

 

For more information on how to get started with your free GDPR Data Quality Assessment, please visit our website today.