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June 9 2011 02:42 PM

What do you suppose is an acceptable level of document quality and accuracy? 95%, 99%, 100%? The answer may depend on who you ask. But the number is going up. At least it should be.

Different people, within your organization and without, will have varying areas of focus and concern when it comes to quality. This disparity can lead to problems that are difficult to identify, and even harder to correct. Document workflows consist of numerous interrelated steps and involve a lot of people at variable skill levels. Letting an error or two slip through during a certain step may seem insignificant - until it manifests itself further downstream. Then it can have a huge impact on the overall project or the customer relationship.

The impact of small mistakes - an illustration

· Initial data acquisition

· Data import, reformatting, appending, merge/purge, deduping

· Segmentation

· Variable data print layout

· Duplex printing

· Variable page count inserting

· Selective inserting

Small mistakes made at these points in the production process are often undetected - until after the documents have been distributed!

Let's consider data acquisition, which is a relatively simple step in the overall workflow. Suppose a contracted outbound telemarketing company making cold calls connects with a qualified individual who is genuinely interested in the product being sold - a hot prospect has been identified! The name, postal address and email address of the prospect are captured and the information gets passed along to the company selling the product. Mission accomplished! On they go to the next call.

If the phone solicitor has transcribed the wrong apartment number, misunderstood the words of the prospect on the phone, transposed house number digits or made some other clerical error, the telemarketing company probably won't know it. But when the catalogs or other marketing materials eventually get sent via Standard Mail, they won't get delivered. And if the email address is invalid then electronic communications get bounced also - sometimes unbeknownst to the mailer.

No big deal - or is it?
From the telemarketing vendor's point of view, missing some bit of information here and there probably doesn't seem like a huge issue. They are focused on making as many calls per hour as they can, at the lowest cost. And gathering data verbally over the phone introduces plenty of opportunities to enter data that is inaccurate from the very beginning. Taking time on every call to read back the information captured or spelling out the words adds to the overall cost of the process and lowers productivity. To guarantee perfect data recording, telemarketers may have to raise prices - a competitive disadvantage.

After newly-acquired prospects are passed off to the marketing company, a problem with missing or inaccurate delivery data probably won't be noticed until after they spend the money to produce mail. In fact, multiple mailpieces doomed for non-delivery to the same incorrect address are likely to be generated before the problem is noticed and corrective action is taken.

There is no easy or inexpensive way to correct some of these errors. In a lot of operations, individual manual research may be the only method of dealing with undeliverables. Most of the shops I know have a backlog of this work that grows larger every month. If the information in a mailing file can't be corrected, then the data record will eventually be deleted. From the IT department's perspective it doesn't make much sense to keep undeliverable addresses in a mailing database. So much for that hot prospect!

To the marketer of the product, the delivery data is one of the most important details! If they can't communicate with customers on a regular basis, their chances of building a lasting relationship and securing repeat business diminish dramatically. An error affecting a single customer can result in substantial amounts of lost revenue when the lifetime value of an account is computed.

Data acquisition is just one place that delivery information can be corrupted. There are plenty of other details that can make a mailing piece or an emailed marketing message ineffective, confusing, or even offensive to customers and prospects. Extra attention is warranted from the beginning to the end of document processes.

As companies strive to squeeze more value from their mailings, each piece becomes more important than ever before. It's not just a numbers game anymore. There can be a great deal of effort and investment involved by the time a data record is matched with personalized and relevant content and is selected for output to an appropriate channel. 95% accuracy won't cut it. Inaccuracies and poor quality make it tougher to justify the higher cost of direct mail when compared to electronic delivery strategies. We've got to get a lot closer to 100% - at every step in the workflow.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants; a consulting firm that helps companies get the most out of their document operations. He welcomes your comments and questions. Visit or email Mike directly at