Magazine article CRM Magazine

What's in a Name? Tearing through Systems to Scrub Dirty Data and Gaining a Cultural Understanding of Names across the Globe Is No Easy Task

Magazine article CRM Magazine

What's in a Name? Tearing through Systems to Scrub Dirty Data and Gaining a Cultural Understanding of Names across the Globe Is No Easy Task

Article excerpt

SHAKESPEARE may have been right that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but that doesn't apply to your database. Using the wrong name flat out stinks, and could cause you to lose a customer and money. Names present lots of problems, especially as companies strive to break down the walls and share information throughout departments. Emerging technology, however, can solve database issues with varying degrees of complexity, from dirty data and duplicate entries to life-stage changes, even to pinning down ethnicity. "Know thy customer is an imperative," says Lou Agosta, an independent technology consultant. "The real question is, how do you know? You can't do it with three-by-five cards--automation is necessary. What I can promise you is blood, sweat, and tears. There's a lot of work to be done."

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DIRTY DATA

For starters, businesses should make sure that mistakes are avoided from the beginning, and should understand that maintaining a clean database is not a one-time project, but a task that regularly performed will pay off in the long term. Data must be cleansed. "Sixty percent of data quality problems arrive from data entry errors," says Chandos Quill, vice president of marketing communications for Experian. Data hygiene tools like Experian's assure information are accurate and high quality. Its Customer Data Integration technology, Truvue, assigns a unique ID to a customer. The ID never changes as Experian tracks that person's history over several years. The technology links this information and delivers it to all points of customer and prospect information. It consolidates duplicate records, and eliminates inaccurate ones.

However, just because data is up to date and accurate doesn't mean it will stay that way. A lot of executives see information cleansing as a one-time-only activity, but it should be an ongoing and automated process, according to Jill Dyche, a partner at Baseline Consulting. "The fact of business these days is there's always new data coming in." Customers are constantly moving, getting married and divorced, and changing their names. Because of these common life changes, every month 2 percent to 5 percent of customer data will be wrong, according to Tony Fisher, president and general manager of DataFlux. And at only 2 percent per month, more than 20 percent of customer data will be dirty within one year. That's why like teeth, data needs to be regularly brushed clean.

Data cleansing tools can help--Dyche cites First-logic's offerings because of the products' price points, and notes that Experian, DataFlux (a division of SAS), and Ascential (recently acquired by IBM) are leaders in the data scrubbing arena. "There's an assumption that throwing people at the problem is cheaper. Nine times out of ten that's not true," she says. "Use the human for more high-impact work, as opposed to the brute data cleanup."

So who's in charge of keeping track of all this information? Typically it's the marketing team, but the best organizations understand that the need is repeated across all departments. Some companies even go as far as to hire data-quality strategic architects dedicated to the challenges of understanding the data and employing the right tools and training to deal with it.

Emerging technology can help follow individual life-stage changes like marriage and divorce. Jeff George, senior director for data services at Harte-Hanks, emphasizes the massive leap he sees in direct marketing technology used for such purposes. "It used to be that if you had a merge-purge that was customized, that was a competitive advantage," he says. "Now it's survival. Smart marketing is essential." Smart marketing also means having the right data and using it correctly. …

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