Businesses are constantly plagued by inaccurate contact data. Those inaccuracies affect a variety of functions, from customer relationship management to operational efficiency.

While 69 percent of organizations are currently working on or already have a contact data management strategy, according to a recent Experian QAS survey of insurance, financial and retail organizations, there are still extensive problems.

Responding to the same survey, 60 percent of respondents stated that 6 percent or more of their database contains inaccurate or missing contact data. There are many possibilities as to why these data errors are occurring. One likely cause is that data quality tools and strategies are not being rolled out fast enough to keep up with the flow of data changes, or that businesses are simply not properly equipped to deal with current issues.

Many businesses are focusing on general master data management strategies. While these can be helpful in the long term, they can take years to roll out and usually require extensive technical resources. Rather than just focusing on a long-term master data management plan, organizations need to identify recurring errors and put processes into place to remedy those issues now. Otherwise, data quality problems may persist and negatively affect business processes. By starting to correct a few key problems, organizations could drastically decrease errors with a relatively small investment.

But what is the best way to go about deciding which problems to correct? Database managers at individual organizations need to review their data to discover which data quality errors are most common. Three data errors are most harmful to business databases: incomplete or missing data, outdated information and incorrect data. These were cited as the most common errors in the recent Experian QAS survey. Each of these errors occurs for a specific reason and can be quickly corrected with relatively simple techniques.

Missing or Incomplete Data

The top data error was missing or incomplete contact data reported by 76 percent. These errors are frequently caused by staff or user mistakes. When entering contact information, it is easy for call center representatives, store clerks or even customers in a self-service portal to leave off address components. Common errors include apartment numbers or email address formatting. Unfortunately, most of the time, staff and customers do not realize they are making important mistakes.

Besides staff and user error, businesses should consider that some customers are unwilling to provide all of their contact information. Consider a recent shopping trip. There is a good chance that a retail clerk may have asked you to provide your ZIP code or email address when checking out. Were you willing to provide that information? When you are shopping online, do you enter information in fields that are not required?

To correct these common problems, businesses first need to educate staff on the importance of collecting all parts of a contact record. In addition, organizations should put tools in place that flag fields that are left incomplete or blank. This allows businesses to go back to the customer to collect information or purchase data from a third party.

Outdated Information

Data has a very short lifecycle. When looking at address information only, we find that the USPS processes 43 million permanent change-of-address orders each year. With the fluidity of data and its role in product delivery, marketing efforts and government-regulated communications, it is important to update information on a frequent basis.

Businesses can take several approaches when updating contact data. First, verify information during each customer interaction. This verification will not add much time to the checkout or service process, but will allow organizations to ensure the accuracy of their contact information, allowing for better communication with customers.

However, if organizations do not want to add any additional steps, no matter how short, to their customer interactions, they can verify data against third party sources. While this is not as effective as speaking to the customer directly, it can help to update information in most cases. For example, if we look at addresses, the USPS has a National Change of Address (NCOA) file. Businesses can work with third parties to run their customer addresses against the NCOA file to obtain forwarding addresses. While not all parties file a change of address, this process allows organizations to keep in touch with the majority of customers who have moved.

Incorrect Information

Finally, incorrect information was cited as a common error. Incorrect data can be caused by a simple typing mistake by staff or a general lack of knowledge. Unfortunately, without verification tools, these errors frequently go unnoticed until a negative customer interaction takes place.

Aside from the staff education mentioned previously around correcting missing or incomplete data, provide staff with an incentive to gather correct information. Maybe bonuses are tied to accurate data collection. Next, put verification tools in place. These will ensure that information is taken correctly and that it is complete and standardized before it enters businesses processes.

Benefiting from Accurate Data

By educating staff, putting verification tools in place and utilizing third party data sources, businesses can achieve more accurate contact data. This will allow businesses to better communicate with customers, create a complete view of each individual customer and prospect, and assist in government regulations.

All of these solutions have a low cost of implementation and can be rolled out relatively quickly. They also assist in correcting data today, while working on a larger data quality initiative for the future.

Every time businesses enter incorrect information into their database, they increase the likelihood that they will experience the problems outlined above. Take steps now to clean up key areas of your database to enhance relationships and improve business processes.

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