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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

4 Keys for Managing Contact Data

The right approach to data quality and marketing can help you build a new era of stronger and more profitable relationships with your customers.

If you do business with customers in Europe, you and your colleagues have probably heard the term GDPR this year -- a lot.

For Further Reading:

Reducing the Impact of Bad Data on Your Business

GDPR's Impact on BI


The European Union's sweeping new data privacy and security regulations -- backed by the threat of extremely stiff financial penalties -- have forced many organizations to rethink their contact data strategy. It doesn't stop with the GDPR. Regulations abound worldwide, and more are coming. For example, the California Consumer Privacy Act will mandate new guidelines for consumer data privacy, and Europe's proposed ePrivacy Regulation tightens restrictions on how communication apps use personal data, among other new rules.

These are more than just individual laws. They represent a growing trend of people wanting to regain control of personal data by pushing back against privacy loss and interruptive marketing. What this means for data professionals is that organizations now need an integrated, best-practices approach to contact data management. Here are some of the key requirements we see.

Requirement #1: Automated validation is now a must

Article 5 of the GDPR requires consumer data to be accurate to avoid unsolicited marketing to incorrect contact information. This means that the data-quality-by-exception era of tolerating contact databases with a percentage of errors is over. Most firms must now use third-party contact data validation tied in with continually updated postal, telephone, and other databases. Thankfully this has now become the domain of inexpensive, cloud-based applications that either integrate with the API of your marketing automation or CRM platform or are used as a batch service.

Requirement #2: Make contact data quality a process

Once upon a time, contact data quality was a one-and-done process for many organizations. If it changed over time, it was often corrected through responses to failures, if at all. Today, that strategy would be playing with fire in terms of regulatory compliance. You must validate data at both the time of data entry and at the time of use.

Take the U.S. Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which heavily penalizes unsolicited marketing to wireless phones. Because phone numbers change owners and line types constantly, you need a reproducible process to verify every phone contact for every phone or SMS-based campaign, every time you use or reuse that data. For some companies, neglecting to do this has turned into a multimillion-dollar mistake.

Requirement #3: Document your compliance efforts

The GDPR requires companies to clearly document efforts to keep contact data as up-to-date and accurate as possible. If you are working with a third-party vendor for contact data verification, explore whether they can assist with this documentation. For example, can they provide a certificate of accuracy for each contact record on request?

Requirement #4: Consider a chief data officer (CDO)

One of the key tools for compliance lies in your organization chart. For most line managers, contact data quality is too often viewed as an interruption to the goals on which their performance is evaluated (such as leads or sales). Moreover, keeping up with expanding regulations is becoming a job unto itself. There is now a growing role for data quality within the C-suite of many organizations, and the GDPR, in fact, requires a CDO at public organizations or entities handling sensitive personal data.

A Final Word

I realize that regulatory compliance is often viewed with the enthusiasm of eating your broccoli. Instead, I would strongly encourage you to see this new era of data privacy as a competitive opportunity based on a more authentic marketing relationship with your customers.

Irish data quality consultant Daragh O'Brien notes that contact data represents "a living breathing person with feelings, with emotions, with rights, and with aspirations and hopes, and how we handle their data has an impact on all of those things." My view is that with the right approach to data quality (and to marketing itself) you can help build a new era of stronger and more profitable relationships with these living, breathing people.

About the Author

Geoff Grow is the founder and CEO of Service Objects. Originally founded in 2001 to solve problems of inefficiency and waste through mathematical equations, Service Objects has validated and improved more than 3 billion contact records for over 2,500 clients. You can contact the author here.

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