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List Watch: Keep It Clean

By Paul Miller, Senior News Editor, “Catalog Age”

This article contains material from Jim Wheaton, a Principal at Wheaton Group.  This material has been underlined for quick reference.

Reprinted with permission from the April 1, 2001 issue of Catalog Age, http://catalogagemag.com/ar/marketing_list_watch_keep/index.htm.

The phrase “an ounce of prevention is the best medication” most certainly applies to list hygiene.  After all, if you enter in the names and addresses of customers correctly the first time, you eliminate the potential for mistakes and duplicate records.

But “many catalog order reps can be sloppy in taking information down, and that causes problems,” says database marketing consultant Jim Wheaton, principal for Chapel Hill, NC-based Wheaton Consulting Group.  So how do you get your telephone service reps (TSRs) to enter the customer information correctly?  Try these steps: 

  • Train your TSRs properly.  It helps if you hire intelligent, articulate reps with excellent typing skills, but you can teach workers to improve their data entry.  For one, have TSRs read back key information and spell out names, streets, and cities.  You might also consider using a telephone operator alphabet, such as “A as in apple, B as in boy,” although this can be time-consuming, says Valley Stream, NY-based telemarketing consultant Liz Kislik.
  • Invest in smart software.  List deduping software isn't new, but mailers can now buy programs that red-flag duplicate names or incorrect addresses upon entry, Wheaton says.  This alerts TSRs that a problem exists and enables them to correct it right away.  Many software vendors, including Trillium/Harte-Hanks, Group 1 Software, and First Logic, market such products; Trillium, for one, has also introduced an online version that alerts Web shoppers of their typing errors.
  • Develop or modify your own software.  Some catalogers, such as $254 million food mailer Omaha Steaks, have developed proprietary software programs to flag bad addresses.  “When new orders come into our system, the software looks for dupes and points them out to our order-takers,” says Ron Eike, Omaha's director of operations.  “We look at them to ascertain if they're really dupes or two different people shipping to the same person.”
  • Use technology to detect human error.  If you have deduping software, you can use it to tabulate how many mistakes each TSR is responsible for, Wheaton says, and use that data to train or motivate them.  If the reps know that the software can detect their mistakes “and that it will affect their compensation,” he adds, they may be inspired to clean up their act, so to speak.

Jim Wheaton is a Principal at Wheaton Group, and can be reached at 919-969-8859 or jim.wheaton@wheatongroup.com.   The firm specializes in direct marketing consulting and data mining, data quality assessment and assurance, and the delivery of cost-effective data warehouses and marts.   Jim is also a Co-Founder of Data University www.datauniversity.org.

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