I recall discussing customer data quality with a print/mail service provider sales rep. "It's not our problem," he explained. "We print what they send. If the data is bad, that's their problem."

Of course, customers don't want service providers messing with their data – unless data modifications will make their communications more effective. That's when adding some simple, and possibly billable, data quality steps to the document production process can receive wholehearted client support.

In my service bureau days, I worked with customer-supplied data all the time. Some of it was well-defined and consistently formatted. Much of it was not.

It’s Not All about Mail Anymore

Back then, we concerned ourselves with only one communications channel. As long as we composed and produced messages to achieve successful postal mail delivery, we satisfied our clients. Even then, I often scanned customer data files for anomalies like name and address fields too long to fit the envelope windows, improper casing, or data that didn’t match the field definitions. We fixed these items, making the documents we produced more personal and effective.

Today, bad data effects are magnified. The same data files used to create static paper documents may also drive electronic communications, personalized web pages, and variables like images and offers. Improving data quality gives mail service providers a way to enhance client relationships. Improved data quality can make entire campaigns more profitable – even the parts unconnected with the print/mail service provider’s efforts.

Address correction and standardization are common operations we apply to mailing lists to achieve lower postage rates and meet postal regulations, but postal processing is only the beginning. Print/mail service providers have access to tools to enhance data beyond these basic steps. Once they start thinking about their client’s objectives and visualize projects beyond the mechanics of getting items into the mail, other opportunities become apparent.

Suggest Suppression Lists

Will client-provided mailing lists likely contain the names of their existing customers? If so, request a current customer list and filter existing customers from customer acquisition campaigns. Better yet, suggest alternative content targeting current customers and create a separate segment for them. Geolocation is another way to trim likely unresponsive names from mailing lists. If studies show customers won’t drive more than 15 minutes to visit a physical location, remove those distant addresses from the database.


Gender identification is useful for selecting appropriate variable content. Instead of generating messages containing general text and images that don’t connect with either sex particularly well, use the power of variable data. Improve campaign ROI by composing one set of documents for men and another for women.

Fix Salutations

Print/mail service providers can immediately derail the best personalization efforts if the first line of a communication refers to customers improperly. Addressing a letter as “Dear Robert Smith, Sarah Smith, Richard Smith, Amy Smith,” makes it obvious to recipients the message isn’t likely to be personal at all. A real person would never refer to customers in this manner. A letter beginning with “Dear Smith Family,” has a better chance of achieving the campaign objective.

Correct Casing

Communications important to John McMurphy at ABC Company might not be opened if the mailer addresses the outside envelope to “John Mcmurphy, Abc Company.” Case conversion was a big issue when many computer files stored data in all uppercase. Receiving data in mixed case is more common now, but that doesn’t mean the information is 100% correct.

Enhanced data helps clients achieve their goals for improving customer experience, creating a single customer view, or upselling current customers. Integrating print/mail services more deeply into client operations by improving the data their clients use in their daily business allows service providers to forge more lucrative relationships and move away from commodity pricing.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants works with in-plant operations and print/mail service providers to help them transition to a new way of thinking about the production and distribution of customer communications.. Connect with Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com or follow @PMCmike on Twitter. Mike invites readers to visit www.printmailconsultants.com and sign up for Practical Stuff – the free newsletter dedicated to information important to document operations professionals.