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Thoughts on Data Quality and Contact Validation

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Posts Tagged ‘Data Quality’

Baseball and Data Quality: America’s National Pastimes

By the time October rolls around, the top Major League baseball teams in the country are locked in combat, in the playoffs and then the World Series. And as teams take the field and managers sit in the dugout, everyone has one thing on their mind.

Data.

Honestly, I am not just using a cheap sports analogy here. Many people don’t realize that before my current career in data quality, I was a young pitcher with a 90+ MPH fastball. I eventually made it as far as the Triple-A level of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. So I know a little bit about the game and how data plays into it. We really ARE thinking about data, almost every moment of the game.

One batter may have a history of struggling to hit a curve ball. Another has a good track record against left-handed pitching. Still another one tends to pull balls to the left when they are low in the strike zone. All of this has been captured as data. Have you noticed that position players shift their location for every new batter that comes to the plate? They are responding to data.

Long before there were even computers, baseball statisticians tracked everything about what happens in a game. Today, with real-time access to stats, and the ability to use data analytics tools against what is now a considerable pool of big data, baseball has become one of the world’s most data-driven sports. The game’s top managers are distinguished for what is on their laptops and tablets nowadays, every bit as much as for who is on their rosters.

And then there are the people watching the game who help pay for all of this – remember, baseball is fundamentally in the entertainment business. They are all about the data too.

A recent interview article with the CIO of the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs underscored how a successful baseball franchise leverages fan data at several levels: for example, tracking fan preferences for an optimal game experience, analyzing crowd flow to optimize the placement of concessions and restrooms, and preparing for a rush of merchandise orders in the wake of winning the World Series (although, as a lifelong Cubs fan, I realize that they’ve only had to do that once so far since 1908). For any major league team, every moment of the in-game experience – from how many hot dogs to prepare to the “walk up” music the organist plays when someone comes up to bat – is choreographed on the back of customer data.

Baseball has truly become a metaphor for how data has become one of the most valuable business assets for any organization – and for a competitive environment where data quality is now more important than ever. I couldn’t afford to pitch with bad data on opposing players, and you can’t afford to pursue bad marketing leads, ship products to wrong customer addresses, or accept fraudulent orders. Not if your competitors are paying closer attention to data quality than you are.

So, pun intended, here’s my pitch: look into the ROI of automating your own data quality, in areas such as marketing leads, contact data verification, fraud prevention, compliance, and more. Or better yet, leverage our demographic and contact enhancement databases for better and more profitable customer analytics. By engineering the best data quality tools right into your applications and processes, you can take your business results to a new level and knock it out of the park.

Testing Through Batches or Integration: At Service Objects, It’s Your Choice

More times than not, you have to buy something to really try it.  At Service Objects, we think it makes more sense to try before you buy.  We are confident that our service will exceed expectations and are happy to have prospects try our services before they spend any money on them.  We have been doing this from the day we opened our doors.  With Service Objects, you can sign up for a free trial key for any of our services and do all your testing before spending a single cent.  You can learn about the multiple ways to test drive our services from our blog, “Taking Service Objects for a Test Drive.” Today, however, I am focusing on batch testing and trial integration.

Having someone go through their best explanations to convey purpose or functionality can be worthwhile but, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.  If you want to know how our services work, the best way to see them is simply try them out for yourself.  With minimal effort, we can run a test batch for you and have it turned around within a couple hours…even less time in most cases.  Another way we encourage prospects to test is by directly integrating our API services into their systems.  That way you see exactly how the services behave and get a better feel for our sub-second response times.  The difference between a test batch and testing through direct integration is the test batch will show the results and the test through integration will demonstrate how the system behaved to deliver results.

TESTING THROUGH BATCHES

Test batches are great.  They give you an opportunity to see the results from the service first hand, including all the different fields we return.  Our Account Executives are happy to review the results in detail and you always have the support of the Applications Engineering team to help you along.  With test batches, you can quickly see that a lot of information is returned regardless of the service you are interested in.  Most find it is far more information than expected and often clients find that the additional information helps them solve other problems beyond their initial purpose.  Another aspect that becomes clearer is the meaning of the fields. You get to see the fields in their natural environment and obtain a better understanding than the strict academic definitions.  Lastly, it is important to see how your own data fairs through the service and far more powerful to show how your data can be improved rather than just discussing it conceptually.  That is where our clients get really excited about our services.

TESTING THROUGH INTEGRATION

Testing through integration is a solid way to gain an understanding of how the service behaves and its results.  It is a great way to get a feel for the responses that come back and how long it takes.  More importantly, you can identify and fix issues in your process long before you start paying for the service.  Plus, our support team is here to assist you through any part of the integration process.  Our services are built to be straightforward and simple to integrate, with most developers completing them in a short period of time.  Regardless, we are always here to help.  Although we highly recommend prospects run their own records through the service, we also provide sample data to help you get started.  The important part is you have a chance to try the service in its environment before making a commitment.

Going forward with either of these approaches will quickly demonstrate how valuable our services are. Even more powerful is when you combine the two testing procedures with your own data for the best understanding of how they will behave together.

With all that said, if you’re still unsure how to best begin, just give us a call at 805-963-1700 or sign up for a free trial key and we’ll help you get started.

CASS and DPV: A Higher Standard for Address Accuracy

If you market to or serve people by mail, there are two acronyms you should get to know: CASS and DPV. Here is a quick summary of both of them:

  • CASS stands for the Coding Accuracy Support System™. As the name implies, its function is to support address verification software vendors with a measurable standard for accuracy. It also represents a very high bar set by the US Postal Service to ensure that address verification meets very strict quality standards.
  • DPV stands for Delivery Point Validation™. This is a further capability supported under CASS, making sure that an address is deliverable.

You may ask, “If an address is accurate, why do we have to check to make sure it is also deliverable?” The answer lies in the broader definition of what an address is – a placeholder for a residence or business that could receive mail. Not every address is, in fact, deliverable: for example, 45 Elm Street might be someone’s residence, while 47 Elm Street might currently be a vacant lot – or not exist at all. Another example is multi-unit dwellings that share an address: 100 State Street, Apartment 4 may be deliverable, while 100 State Street, Apartment 5 may not exist. So you want to ensure addressability AND deliverability for every address within your contact database.

Now, here is why you need to care about CASS and DPV in particular:

Rigorous. CASS certification is truly the data quality equivalent of Navy SEAL training. The first step is an optional (Stage I) test that lets developers run a sample address file for testing and debugging purposes. Next is Stage II, a blind 150,000-address test that only returns scores from USPS, not results. To obtain CASS certification, these scores must meet strict passing criteria ranging between 98.5% and 100% in specific categories.

Recurring. CASS certification is not a lifetime badge of honor. The USPS requires software providers to renew their certification every year, with a fresh round of testing required. Service Objects has not only been continuously CASS-certified for much of the past decade, but has also forged a unique partnership with USPS to update and refresh its CASS-certified address data every two weeks.

Reliable. DPV capabilities are based on the master list of delivery points registered with the USPS, which stores actual deliverable addresses in the form of an 11-digit code, incorporating data such as address, unit, and ZIP+4 codes. While the codes themselves can (and do) change frequently, the real key in address deliverability is having up-to-date access to current USPS data. Service Objects licenses DPV tools as an integral part of its address validation capabilities.

Our CASS-certified address engine and continuously updated USPS address data are two of the critical components behind our proprietary address database. Whether you run your addresses through our USPS address validation API in your application or use a convenient batch process, those addresses are instantly compared, validated, corrected, and/or appended to provide accurate results.

If you’ve read this far, it is probably clear that CASS certification and DPV capabilities are critically important for managing your contact data quality. So be sure to partner with a vendor that maintains continuous CASS certification with full support of DPV. Like Service Objects, of course. Contact us to learn what we can do for your contact addresses and marketing leads today!

Getting the Most Out of Data-Driven Marketing

How well do you know your prospects and customers?

This question lies at the heart of what we call data-driven marketing. Because the more you know about the people you contact, the better you can target your offerings. Nowadays smart marketers are increasingly taking advantage of data to get the most bang from their marketing budgets.

Suppose that you offer a deal on a new razor, and limit the audience to adult men. Or take people who already eat fish at your restaurant on Tuesdays, and promote a Friday fish fry. Or laser-target a new lifestyle product to the exact demographic group that is most likely to purchase it. All of these are examples where a little bit of data analytics can make a big difference in the success and response rate of a marketing campaign.

According to UK data marketing firm Jaywing, 95% of marketers surveyed personalize their offerings based on data, although less than half currently measure the ROI of these efforts, and less than 10% take advantage of full one-to-one cross-channel personalization. But these efforts are poised to keep growing, notes their Data Management Practice Director Inderjit Mund: “Data availability is growing exponentially. Adopting best practice data management is the only way marketers can maintain a competitive advantage.”

Of course, data-driven marketing can also go sideways. For example, bestselling business author and television host Carol Roth once found herself peppered with offers for baby merchandise – including an unsolicited package of baby formula – even though she is not the least bit pregnant. Her suspicion? Purchasing baby oil regularly from a major chain store, which she uses in the shower, made their data wonks mistakenly think that she was a new mother. Worse yet, this kind of targeted marketing also led the same chain to unwittingly tip off a father that his daughter was pregnant.

This really sums up the promise, and the peril, of using data to guide your marketing efforts. Do it wrong, and you not only waste marketing resources – you risk appearing inept, or worse, offending a poorly targeted segment of your market base. But when you do it right, you can dramatically improve the reach and efficiency of your marketing for a minimal cost.

This aligns very closely with our view of a marketing environment that is increasingly fueled by data. Among the best practices recommended by Jaywing for data-driven marketing, data quality is front and center with guidelines such as focusing on data management, having the right technology in place, and partnering with data experts. And they are not alone: according to a recent KPMG CEO survey, nearly half of respondents are concerned about the integrity of the data on which they base decisions.

There is a clear consensus nowadays that powering your marketing with data is no longer just an option. This starts with ensuring clean contact data, at the time of data entry and the time of use. Beyond that, smart firms leverage this contact data to gain customer insight in demographic areas such as location, census and socioeconomic data, to add fuel to their address or email-based marketing. With cost-effective tools that automate these processes inside or outside of your applications, the days of scattershot, data-blind marketing efforts are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

The Power of DOTS FastTax

What is DOTS FastTax?

DOTS FastTax web service provides sales and use tax rate information for all US areas based on several different inputs. The operations that are offered within FastTax take input parameters such as address, city, state, postal code. The service also provides an operation that will take your Canadian province and will return the proper Canadian tax rate information.

How can it be used?

At its core, FastTax is an address to tax rate lookup system. You provide the service with a location and it will return the tax rate or rates for the given area. From there you can use this data in conjunction with your own business logic to easily determine the proper tax rate you should be charging. A common use case is for online retail companies that need to determine the rate to charge for an order. Rates vary greatly depending on where the client is located and if the company has a sales tax nexus in that state.  Nexus, also known as sufficient physical presence, is a legal term that refers to the requirement for companies doing business in a state to collect and pay tax on sales in that state. Calculating the proper rate is as easy as determining where your company has nexuses and then performing a tax rate look up via the FastTax web service. These two steps can be done programmatically, thus streamlining your business workflow.

What makes FastTax so powerful?

It may seem like a simple task to take an address and perform a lookup on a tax rate database. In theory it is just identifying a location and then finding the relevant tax rates for it. However, in reality there are many more factors that need to be accounted for to ensure the tax rate being returned is accurate, up to date, and truly relevant for the input address. It is in these aspects where Service Objects’ FastTax goes above and beyond. On top of our tax rate databases that are actively maintained to provide the latest and most accurate tax rate data, our operations benefit from the other services we specialize in. Namely, our address validation and address geocoding services.

How does FastTax go above and beyond?

Through the use of our address validation engine we are able to take an input address and determine its correctness as well as standardize it into its most useable form. Having an address corrected and standardized allows us to more accurately match the location with its corresponding tax rate. On top of address validation, our use of geocoordinates and spatial data allow us to identify boundaries between areas. This could be the difference between charging the proper rate for an area or misidentifying it and missing rates such as county, country district, city district, or even special district rates. Another extremely important distinction that geocoordinates allow us to make is for areas that are unincorporated. FastTax provides an “IsUnincorporated” flag when an address is in an unincorporated area. This allows for your business logic to correctly tax this address by removing any city or city district rates.

FastTax in action

To see the power of FastTax in action it helps to take a look at Google Maps. Let’s take the city of Littleton, Colorado. In fig.1 the city perimeter is outlined in red and its contents shaded in. The Google Maps result shows the officially recognized city limits. Comparing that to the pin shown in fig.2 it is clear that the address in this example falls beyond the city limits. Technically it is identified as part of the city of Littleton but is part of an unincorporated area. Tax rates for this address need to properly account for this geospatial and city boundary information. FastTax excels in identifying these areas and can provide the “IsUnidentified” flag to indicate this address falls into its own special case. With the indicator flag in hand you can properly account for the difference in tax rates.

See how FastTax can help your business. Sign up for your free trial key or send us a list and test up to 500 transactions.

How Millennials Will Impact Your Data Quality Strategy

The so-called Millennial generation now represents the single largest population group in the United States. If they don’t already, they will soon represent your largest base of customers, and a majority of the work force. What does that mean for the rest of us?

It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to start playing Adele on your hold music, or offering free-range organic lattes in the company cafeteria. What it does mean, according to numerous social observers, is that expectations of quality are changing radically.

The Baby Boomer generation, now dethroned as the largest population group, grew up in a world of amazing technological and social change – but also a world where wrong numbers and shoddy products were an annoying but inevitable part of life. Generation X and Y never completely escaped this either:  ask anyone who ever drove a Yugo or sat on an airport tarmac for hours. But there is growing evidence that millennials, who came of age in a world where consumer choices are as close as their smartphones, are much more likely to abandon your brand if you don’t deliver.

This demographic change also means you can no longer depend on your father’s enterprise data strategy, with its focus on things like security and privacy. For one thing, according to USA Today, millennials could care less about privacy. The generation that grew up oversharing on Instagram and Facebook understands that in a world where information is free, they – and others – are the product. Everyone agrees, however, that what they do care about is access to quality data.

This also extends to how you manage a changing workforce. According to this article, which notes that millennials will make up three quarters of the workforce by 2020, dirty data will become a business liability that can’t be trusted for strategic purposes, whether it is being used to address revenues, costs or risk. Which makes them much more likely to demand automated strategies for data quality and data governance, and push to engineer these capabilities into the enterprise.

Here’s our take: more than ever, the next generation of both consumers and employees will expect data to simply work. There will be less tolerance than ever for bad addresses, mis-delivered orders and unwanted telemarketing. And when young professionals are launching a marketing campaign, serving their customers, or rolling out a new technology, working with a database riddled with bad contacts or missing information will feel like having one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake.

We are already a couple of steps ahead of the millennials – our focus is on API-based tools that are built right into your applications, linking them in real time to authoritative data sources like the USPS as well as a host of proprietary databases. They help ensure clean data at the point of entry AND at the time of use, for everything from contact data to scoring the quality of a marketing lead. These tools can also fuel their e-commerce capabilities by automating sales and use tax calculations, or ensure regulatory compliance with telephone consumer protection regulations.

In a world where an increasing number of both our customers and employees will have been born in the 21st century, and big data becomes a fact of modern life, change is inevitable in the way we do business. We like this trend, and feel it points the way towards a world where automated data quality finally becomes a reality for most of us.

Making an (email) list and checking it twice: Best practices for email validation

For most organizations, one of the most critical assets of their marketing operations is their email contact database. Email is still the lingua franca of business: according to the Radicati Group, over a quarter of a trillion email messages are sent every business day, and the number of email users is expected to top 4 billion by 2021 – roughly half of the world’s population. This article will explore current best practices for protecting the ROI and integrity of this asset, by validating its data quality.

The title of this article is not just a cute play on words – and it has nothing to do with Santa. Rather, it describes an important principle for your game plan for email data quality. By implementing a strong two-step email validation process, as we describe here, you will dramatically reduce deliverability problems, fraud and blacklisting from your email marketing and communications efforts.

The main reason we recommend checking emails in two stages revolves around the time these checks take: many checks can be performed live using a real-time API, particularly as email addresses are entered by users, but server validation in particular may require a longer processing time and interfere with user experience. Here are 3 of the most important checks that are part of the email validation process:

• Syntax (FAST): This check determines if an email address has the correct syntax and physical properties of an email address.

• DNS (FAST): We can quickly check the DNS record to ensure the validity of the email domain (MX record) for the email address. (There are some exceptions to this – for example, where the DNS record is with a shoddy or poor registry and the results take longer to come back.)

• Email Server (VARIABLE, and not within the email validation tool’s control): Although this check can take from milliseconds to minutes, it is one of the most important checks you can make – it ensures that you have a deliverable address. This response time is dependent on the email server provider (ESP) and can vary widely: large ESPs like Gmail or MSN normally respond quickly, while corporate or other domains may take longer.

There are many more checks in Service Objects’ Email Validation tool, including areas such as malicious activity, data integrity, and much more – over 50 verification tests in all! We auto-correct addresses for common spelling and syntax errors, flag bogus or vulgar address entries, and calculate an overall quality score you can use to accept or reject the email address. (For a deeper dive, take a look at this article to see many of the features of an advanced EV tool.)

Here are the two stages we recommend for your email validation process:

Stage 1: At point of entry. Here, you validate emails in real-time, as they are captured. This provides the opportunity for the user to correct mistakes in the moment such as typos or data entry errors. Here you can use our EV software to check for issues like syntax, DNS and the email server – however we recommend setting the API configuration settings to no more than a wait of a couple of seconds, for the sake of customer experience. At this stage either the user or validation software has a chance to update bad addresses.

Stage 2 – Before sending a campaign. Validate the emails in your database – using the API – after the email has been captured and the user is no longer available in real-time to make corrections. In this stage, you have more flexibility to wait for responses from the ESPs, providing more confidence in your list.

It is estimated that 10-15% of emails entered are not usable, for reasons ranging from data entry errors to fraud, and 30% of email addresses change each year. Together these two steps ensure that you are using clean and up-to-date email data every time – and the benefit to you will be fewer rejected addresses, a better sender reputation, and a greater overall ROI from your email contact data.

The Top 7 Skills of Successful Marketing Professionals

Good marketing is the bedrock of most business’ revenue pipelines; their number one job in many instances is to generate high quality leads through a variety of channels that can be converted into sales. Add to that the responsibility for creating, managing and communicating the entire organization’s brand, and the importance of marketing’s role becomes clear.

So what are some of the ingredients of a successful marketing professional? Here are some of the key traits of the very best ones:

Creativity. We put this first for a reason. More than anything, marketing creates “a-ha” moments by framing what businesses do in a new light. Where did Apple’s call to “think different,” Progressive Insurance’s Flo, or Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man in the World come from? From the minds of people who thought far beyond MP3 players, insurance policies, or beer.

Communication. Marketing inherently tells a story. And whether that story involves quality, productivity, or success, good marketers place customers in the middle of a credible narrative that improves their lives. When you searched on Google, purchased a book or a dust mop on Amazon, or drove off in a new Tesla, you bought into a story that promised to tangibly make your life better.

Project Management. When you watch a football game or a musical performance, you are seeing a team executing specific roles under the direction of a good coach or bandleader. Marketing is also a thoughtfully composed performance, led by people who can get stakeholders like product developers, data analysts, sales managers and operations staff to all play in harmony.

Flexibility. Marketing is the polar opposite of the person who makes the same widget for 20 years. Markets change, opportunities develop, and competition never stops. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said that the best players don’t skate to where the puck is, but to where the puck is going – and in much the same way, good marketing professionals are always thinking three steps ahead.

Results. Professional comedians make their craft look easy on stage, but in reality, their acts are refined from months or years of experience about what works best with their audience. Likewise, good brands are fueled by information, market research, and outcomes evaluation.

Market savvy. Whether it is a manufacturer selling airplanes to airlines, or a hipster hoping their product video goes viral, every market has its culture and norms. Good marketing professionals “get” things like what strategies work with what market segments, what the size and potential of their market are, and what their competitive landscape looks like.

Data savvy. We saved the best for last. Marketers from a generation ago would never recognize how much data drives the revenue stream of today’s businesses. Smart marketers recognize that they need tools to help them make better decisions about the customers they serve. In addition, to maximize the value of lead data and be effective in communicating with customers and prospects, marketer’s need to have data quality tools in place to be sure their contact information in their database in genuine, accurate and up-to-date.

This is where we come in. Service Objects came into being nearly a generation ago – and nearly 3 billion contact records ago – to do something about the estimated 1 in 4 contact records that are inaccurate, incomplete, fraudulent, or out-of-date. Our proprietary tools, which combine up-to-date USPS, phone and demographic databases with sophisticated capabilities for lead validation and customer insight, add power (and revenue) to your marketing efforts. We can validate contact information, append missing information, and even score leads for quality, across a suite of products that plug in to your application or data processing. Visit www.serviceobjects.com for more information.

Why Data Quality is Key to the Sales and Marketing Relationship

History is full of famous “frenemies,” from opposing politicians to the latest Hollywood gossip – people who work closely together but get under each other’s skin. But in your workplace, one of the most common frenemy relationships is between sales and marketing.

On paper, of course, both teams drive the revenue side of their organization. Their functions are critical to each other, and they support each other’s efforts. But scratch the surface, and you’ll often find some built-in sources of conflict:

“Marketing doesn’t give us enough good leads.”

“Sales piddles around and then blames us for not closing the deal.”

“Marketing doesn’t listen to our needs.”

“Sales is always making unrealistic demands about lead quality.”

In reality, both teams are linked to a common shared goal, and often frustrate each other when these goals don’t happen as planned. And very often, the culprit is data quality.

The problem in most organizations is that data quality is nobody’s job. Marketing is focused on lead acquisition, and sales is focused on closing contracts. Making sure that contact data is accurate, names aren’t fraudulent, or leads are qualified all take time away from people’s daily workflow. And over time, more than 70% of this data becomes even more incorrect as changes happen. Unfortunately, the result is that bad data is accepted as part of the status quo – or worse, leads to fingerpointing.

The solution to this problem is obvious: automate the process of data quality. Thankfully, solutions exist nowadays for turning your raw contact data into a stronger revenue generation engine. Here are some of the capabilities you can build right into your contact intake and marketing process:

  • Lead Validation can verify contact addresses against real-time USPS and Canada Post databases, cross-validate these addresses with phone, email and IP address data, and then return a lead quality of 1-100 from an analysis of over 130 data points.
  • Phone Append can take your contact data and find corresponding phone numbers, using a proprietary database of over 800 million consumer, business and government phone number listings, with up to 75% accuracy.
  • GeoPhone capabilities can produce latitude and longitude data from your phone contact data for geographically-based marketing efforts – or even find corresponding mailing and SMS/MMS addresses, for over 400 million available phone numbers in North America.
  • For outbound telemarketing campaigns, Phone Exchange can verify the accuracy and type of your phone contact records. In addition to lead accuracy, this can help you discover numbers that have changed hands since your last campaign, particularly wireless numbers – and help keep you from running afoul of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), where fines for unwanted calls can run as high as $1500 per violation.

Capabilities like these yield an immediate ROI for the effectiveness of your sales and marketing efforts, which are fueled by the quality of your contact data. In addition, as prospects turn into customers, they can play a key role in preventing fraud and maintaining customer satisfaction.

This is a situation where a little technology can make a real difference in the dynamics of your sales and marketing teams. Here is an analogy: with real life “frenemies,” family therapists generally try to find solutions that help both sides feel like they are winning. Data quality tools are like family therapy for your sales and marketing team: they take their most common points of conflict and turn them into revenue-building solutions that everyone can be happy with.

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