Your data contains nuggets of gold buried inside; the important part is knowing how to look for it, find it, and use it. Your data may be able to reveal critical business insights, such as how to cut costs and reduce expenses, find new customers, increase revenue, increase customer retention, or determine the lifetime value of each customer. These insights are highly valuable when planning the marketing of products and services.
Over 95% of executives believe data is integral to business strategy — unfortunately, they also believe that 33% or more of their customer and prospect data is inaccurate. This undermines a business’s ability to provide excellent customer service and expand their sales and marketing efforts.
To reach customers and prospects, accurate contact data is essential, from name and address to phone and email. When contact data is badly managed, marketing programs are wasted, results are poor, customer relationships are damaged, and it reflects badly on the image of your company.
Many organizations are finally understanding and addressing this need (pardon our pun). Data quality is now top of mind, and marketers are focusing on contact management.
Sound business practices require executives to find the root cause of the issue. In most cases, data quality issues begin with human error.
Despite advances in automation, data is still manually typed into computers, user interfaces, and web applications every day. Sometimes it’s entered internally by sales or customer service, and other times directly from your customer. Whatever the case, these inaccuracies are from people who simply make a mistake – they mistype or misspell. When on the phone, these errors may even come from a misunderstanding of key words. Other times, transposed characters and digits (especially in a house number or ZIP Code) can be entered incorrectly; something like a number or address component is left out, or the right value is entered, but in the wrong space.
Some data is intentionally entered incorrectly. How often do people give incomplete or inaccurate information to safeguard their privacy, or simply to get something free? You’d be surprised how often that theme park character from Orlando appears in web-based requests and forms.
Most companies that have enjoyed an increase in sales and profits manage their data quality strategy centrally, by a single director. We call them a “data steward”. These data stewards are empowered to oversee the systems and standards for data collection — from providing input on the layout and design of the entry forms to the format of the captured data. They play an integral role in the selection and use of software tools. They also take the lead in the development and governance of rules and standards, and provide training to all internal teams. (We endorse the use of USPS Pub. 28 for address collection and input standards.) Finally, they often work with outside experts such as mail service providers (MSPs) who support your address data quality with software and solutions tailored to your application.
Impacting Quality Prior to Mailing
There are a multitude of sources to assist your data quality after collection, as well as prior to using it, to market your products and services to customers and prospects. It can come from software you can acquire or assistance from industry experts.
The process starts with properly mapping and converting data to a standard. If you are utilizing an MSP, it’s important that whether you provide a single source file or multiple files from various departments (accounting, CRM, sales, rented lists, etc.), all information is consolidated into a common format that contains all of the contact data necessary for your marketing campaign: company name, contact name, title, multiple address lines (with primary and secondary addresses), ZIP Code, email address, and phone.
The USPS CASS and DPV tools are used to validate each address down to the house number when assigning a ZIP+4, while also standardizing all of your address elements to USPS standards (i.e., correcting street name formats and spelling). If a ZIP+4 code can’t be assigned, then something is wrong with your address, and it probably shouldn’t be mailed.
SuiteLink and Apartment Append are database tools that enhance your addresses to correct or append key secondary information to your addresses. These ensure improved delivery and better matching during NCOA and merge/purge processing.
NCOA is a file of individuals, families, and business that have recently moved. The USPS requires that you use a Move Update tool within 95 days of your mailing, and the most common of these is NCOA. While this can be a quarterly process for database hygiene, we recommend it prior to every mail marketing campaign. More importantly, ask your MSP for a file of match movers, and be sure to apply these as an update to your database. Many businesses fail to complete this critical process.
Proprietary COA databases also enhance your databases. These are change-of-address files compiled from catalogers, magazines, and financial institutions that increase the level of COA match by two to five percent beyond NCOA.
Merge/purge is a process to identify duplicates within your database, either by individual name or by family last name, depending on the type of mailing. Advanced matching logic identifies nicknames (such as William and Bill) and names with dual addresses (such as someone with both a P.O. Box and a conventional address), which prevents wasted expense and tarnishing your image by sending multiples to the same person.
While we’re on the topic of your reputation as a mailer, sending mail to someone who is recently deceased is painful for the actual receiver. Sending to someone long deceased is detrimental to your reputation. Be a compassionate mailer! We also recommend periodic use of deceased coding to remove these records from your marketing database.
There will still be remaining data quality issues – people move and don’t tell the USPS, they change jobs, and you never truly can fix the fact that people will still continue to make mistakes entering data. A data quality initiative takes time and diligence – but the payoff can be as good as gold. Start by assigning a data steward, seek expertise from fellow industry experts, and get going. While these tools aren’t the end-all, be-all to impacting your data quality, they’ll add much more value to your business intelligence.
Gary A Seitz is Vice President of C.TRAC Direct in Cleveland, OH and has been a frequent presenter on UAA mail at the NPF and PCCs around the country for more than 35 years. Gary can be reached at GSeitz@ctracdirect.com or by calling 216.251.2500 x 4985.
This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2019 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.