Mail service providers and data houses deal with thousands of customers and their databases each year. They find that many businesses are a little scared of their own data – and we understand why. When working with an account, they often begin by asking questions that cover spooky topics such as data collection methods, the sources of their data, and how data quality is (or is not) managed.

Data management can be scary. Whether you have employees input your data or it’s collected on your website, dirty data can easily run rampant in your systems and create chaos.

Simple Mistakes That Kill Communication Efforts

When keying in data, people can make small mistakes that cause monstrous problems, such as:

  • Adding too many digits to the address
  • Transposing numbers or characters
  • Misunderstanding street names that are phonetically entered
  • Using abbreviations that aren’t standard to mailing software

Data collected from a website can be much worse as customers don’t adhere to field formats (such as putting delivery directions in the address field, or entering city-state-zip in the city field), leaving businesses with information they can’t merge into an existing database or use for future communications with their customers.

Multiple Silos Make Marketing a Nightmare

Digital marketers, CRM managers, and database managers shudder when asked about multiple silos of data. More often than not, CRMs are full of data cobwebs — such as incorrect segmentation — or duplicates no one can figure out how to merge, and (the one EVERYONE has) secret lists that sales representatives, client service reps, HR departments, and even financial divisions maintain on their own and send over when they want to get “their list” included. These home-grown databases of names and prospects arrive unformatted — and rarely don’t follow business rules. It can take hours to sort out. You never know how “well-maintained” these are and you run the risk of overwriting existing records with bad data — a nightmare on Elm Street!

Data Quality

The mere mention of data quality updates can send data managers screaming. Many technical staff members have had terrifying experiences of overwriting existing contact data with “updated data” with bad results. They may become frightened of doing regular data hygiene and maintenance.

Regular data hygiene updates include simple processes (including field reformatting, standardizing addresses, phone and email data, and applying NCOA updates) that are required, but may give your team the shivers. Managers hear comments like, “We tried it once and it didn’t work,” or “Someone made a mistake last time, so why risk it?” This means your data ages and you are effectively not updating records and contacts. While the consequences of a mistake in updating is serious, so is the potential damage done to sales when you lose touch with your customers.

One of the most common assumptions people have about data quality is there is a permanent “fix” to your data once it’s implemented — a solution that doesn’t require repetitive work. Data maintenance is like car maintenance — if you don’t change the oil in your car regularly, you can expect trouble with the engine! Data hygiene is an on-going process — once you stop, your data will begin to decay within a month. Simply a scary thought.

Skeletons in the Closet!

If you’re cringing right now, here’s a spooky but true tale. A business met with their mail service provider (MSP) to discuss their data and its impact on their returned mail. Upon asking to review some of their mail, they took them to a back area of their office and opened a door. There, literally in the closet, were stacks of postal trays filled with yellow-stickered returned mail.

Why in the closet? “Because we don’t want the management to see it,” they explained. “They get all wired up when they see this much mail coming back. So, we hide it in the closet. When we get a chance, we key it into the system and suppress those people from mailing again.” They went on to say that if they were really busy, they just threw it out, further compounding the loss.

This business, similar to many, had “dirty data” secrets. By failing to ask for data hygiene services BEFORE they mailed, or electronic updates to apply after a data scrub, they didn’t have good records to send and paid (literally) for the mistakes to come back. They missed the opportunity to market to all those contacts and they were “suppressing” the records (or just tossing them out) rather than updating them for future marketing opportunities. Of course this was a compounded loss including the missed opportunities, postage, and marketing budget wasted on bad data.

Here’s How They Fixed It

Their MSP exorcised the closet of their trays of mail (while management was out) and key entered the data for them within a few days. Rather than suppress them from future mailings, they ran a Return Mail Service, which matches these records against a multitude of Change-of-Address (COA) databases, including USPS NCOA-48 and proprietary industry mailing files to locate the latest address. The processes included a deeper layer of address correction and deceased coding. On average, 45% of the returned records were corrected or updated with new address data to ensure these valuable customers were not lost. The MSP then worked with the marketing and IT staffs to ensure the data was updated accurately without fear.

Put Your Fears to Rest

An atmosphere of “data fear” has a profound impact. It prevents people from trying out new ideas, hampers productivity, and actually increases costs. You don’t need to be scared of your data any longer! Many organizations do well cleaning up their data in-house. And if you elect to go the MSP route, they can help you with:

  • Data hygiene
  • Support services to enter data
  • Data management solutions to help you create, update or merge databases
  • Returned mail solutions to cut down on returns

Gary A Seitz is Vice President, CTRAC Direct, A Midwest Direct Company. Visit for more information, or contact Gary at or 216.251.2500 x 4985.