A Cure for the Business Data Blues

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If your business is like many in the United States, the contact data that you capture may be in sad condition. Botched address lines, partial ZIP codes, misspelled cities, wrong phone numbers and chunks of missing information contribute to the business data blues.


This illness is estimated to cost U.S. businesses $600 billion a year, according to a landmark study released last year from The Data Warehouse Institute. Why is data so messed up? It's because bad data is not recognized during the collection process. When data is cleansed at the point of entry, however, you protect your most valuable asset -- your customer database -- from errors that can jeopardize marketing performance.


The source of bad data. Address and phone data usually enters a database from three sources: the Internet, the phone or a reply card. Regardless of its source, the chance for error is high.


Data processors often make mistakes when interpreting handwriting on reply cards. Our nation is a melting pot, and many dialects are hard to understand over the phone. Internet users can be careless when inputting data on a Web form. In some cases people may not give their correct ZIP code, and they rarely know the right ZIP+4 code.


This adds up to a database filled with errors, resulting in misdirected parcels, undelivered mail and trashed catalogs. To envision the size of the problem, the U.S. Postal Service says that 5.4 billion pieces of mail have address errors. Of that, 1.3 billion are returned to sender and 2 billion are treated as waste. The USPS forwards the rest.


With the ever-rising cost of postage and package delivery, never has data quality been as critical for direct marketers. And never has the technology to achieve data quality been as versatile and easy to implement.


A front-end solution to data problems. Real-time address verification is a simple and affordable way to guarantee data integrity. Addresses and phone numbers are validated and corrected at the source of entry so that quality issues are prevented down the road.


The benefits of real-time address verification are numerous. You can instantly correct and standardize new address data, add ZIP+4s, update split or missing telephone area codes, append demographic data to records, reduce data-entry keystrokes and produce CASS-certified mailing lists. You also can parse names, apply gender and detect vulgar words.


Finally, you can detect fraudulent information by calculating the distance between an area code and a ZIP code. These benefits can be measured in lower production costs, more efficient mailing systems and happier customers.


Applications tell the story. There are many examples of how businesses and organizations now use front-facing address correction. A specialty cataloger verifies addresses before it ships perishable foods. A university asks students to update their address records while registering online. A book publisher cuts back UPS processing penalties.


Two technology options. Your system developers can build their own real-time data verification routines using components for PC or Web applications, or they can rely on a hosted service to do the cleanup work.


The software components let your company match input data against the USPS' database of 140 million deliverable addresses. The components integrate with most Windows programming languages such as Visual Basic, FoxPro, SQL Server, Oracle Forms and Access. Solutions also are available for open source platforms such as Unix.


For companies that prefer not to load the USPS database onto their server or conduct the recommended bimonthly updates, there's another solution -- a hosted Web service. With a hosted Web service from an application service provider, there's no software to install and no data to update or maintain. The input data to be validated is passed through an XML Web service, verified and corrected, and then returned to its source ... all in a split second. Be sure to work with an ASP whose address-matching engine is CASS-certified by the USPS.


Front-end address validation is fast and efficient and can reduce the cost of doing business by improving the accuracy of your data. When buyers press the submit-order button on your e-commerce site or hang up the phone to your contact center, you can be assured they'll get on-time delivery of their purchases.


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