Make the annual cleaning of databases superfluous

A temporary worker must often process a mountain of returns

Do you regularly get a portion of send mailings or bills returned? Then the time has come to clean the address database. To keep it clean afterwards business intelligence systems and web services can be used. Mailings of which a large portion is returned, customers that have moved and of which the address is no longer retrievable: they are small, daily frustrations for many organizations. Everybody knows it is better to properly maintain the address files, but in practice the return envelopes are piling on. That makes the updating of the address file an annoying and time-consuming job.


There is a number of reasons why databases of organizations are increasingly polluted. First of all customers are not always equally careful when it comes to sending the correct address data. After relocating there a many different matters that should not be forgotten, and with all the persons and organizations that need to receive an address change, a company might slip through the cracks occasionally. However, the problem is often the organization itself. Companies and even departments gather an increasing amount of data to be able to make substantiated statements on customer behavior. But as the data increases, so does the probability that there are errors included. An address change is received but not processed correctly. That is often how a financial department records the address change, but the sales department is still using the old address to send a brochure to.

The cause is that many different databases are isolated islands. After all, in the past the possibility to link the financial files to the data that the customer service might use did not exist. And besides, it was hardly necessary either. Partly due to the rise of CRM systems for the sales and marketing department those islands have drifted apart more and more. That makes it increasingly harder to tie them together. In addition, organizations are growing because of fusions and scaling up. Direct customer contact is decreasing because of it and the databases are expanding. The problem of bad data quality is becoming more and more acute because of these developments.

Large clean-up

The realization that the quality of data is not yet good enough is dawning on organizations, but not a lot of companies know how deal with it. A common solution is the ‘great clean-up’-approach. During the whole year return mailings and invoices are collected. They are piled onto a big heap until the summer holidays, when a hired temporary employee works through the entire pile in one go. An excellent solution for the own employees, because it is impossible to handle this task next to their usual activities. However, hiring a temporary employee that is not familiar with the company and never has to work there again is far from ideal. A temporary employee looks at the maintenance of a database as an easy job on the side rather than as a necessity, and will not often be equally accurate.

Do you regularly get a portion of send mailings or bills returned? Then the time has come to clean the address database. Business intelligence systems and web service can ensure that it is kept clean afterwards. In ideal circumstances a database is continuously updated. The automated tackling of address problems ensures that human error is prevented. A database can be cleaned more accurately when a good application has been developed, that automatically takes all errors out, like an erroneous combination of street and postal code.

High costs

Both the manual as well as the automated annual clean-up are pricey affairs. Hiring a temporary employee may seem cheap, but temporary employees that are not familiar with the company and need to be taught how the database works also demand a lot of time of regular employees and are also less productive. And also think of the hidden costs that arise because customers are often receiving erroneous mailings?

Checking up the address files by telephone can also lead to annoyance for customers, especially when this happens every year again. The development costs of an application are also not to be underestimated. To design a good process, it is necessary to look at the administrative procedures and files and identify all possible errors. That takes up a lot of time at first. In addition, there are operational costs coming with it, such as the extra taxation by service providers that deliver data to support the clean-up process. Think of data that is used to recognize potential errors in the data file.

Proper approach

However, in all these scenarios we are talking about swimming against the currents whenever processes are not adapted to prevent new errors. Since a large clean-up is only done once a year, while there is a continuous supply of fresh errors in the databases. The proper approach is that organizations set up processes, that prevent the formation of new errors. Through the use of a strict policy for entering new data in the database the clean file can remain clean.

Business intelligence

Business intelligence systems can ensure that all systems that are used, like CRM applications and administrative systems, are linked together. That all happens behind the scenes, so that users are not hindered by the change. In that way all data is consistent in the whole organization and address changes are entered just one time, for all the places where the address can be found.

Web services

By using web services, data that is entered in one place can be used everywhere. Applications are also linked together behind the scene here and the user does not notice a thing.

Simple entry

Finally it is important to ensure there is an unambiguous way to enter data in an organization. The best way to make that work is to indicate one functionary to design and implement those rules. It is also possible to put the responsibility for this on one department. However, it is important that the change in culture affects the rest of the organization as well. The sales employee that heard of an address change during a phone call with a customer, needs to be aware of the possible consequences if this change is not entered through to the whole organization. If you ensure linked applications and databases and clear procedures, then address files will remain clean after the single clean-up procedure. In this way the annually returning clean-up - with all the problems and costs it brings with it - can be happily omitted.

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Publication Guido Leenders in the Magazine Administration – number 9 – September 2007