Janet M. Kennedy, Director Market Development, Market Vue Partners

Do you recall the famous line delivered by diminutive actress Zelda Rubenstein as Tangina the spiritualist in "Poltergeist"? After tumultuous and life threatening events she declared "this house is clean," having swept the poltergeist from the home. Or so she thought.

Managing a customer data file can sometimes seem like you are managing poltergeists. Odd bits of information appear where they shouldn’t, unknown characters emerge when files are transferred, or proofs sometimes do not match the end product. Have no fear, the vast majority of data errors are a simple result of human error and/or inconsistent data entry procedures. You can solve most inaccurate data problems by employee training, establishing standardization for data entry and the periodic auditing of your customer file.

Recently I proofed a mailing address file and found a variety of errors that would have negatively impacted the customer’s mailing. There were many records that would have been dropped from the file because the person doing the data entry used improper abbreviations, extra notations, customer comments or skipped the actual street address field. I saw false data because the employee thought typing "XXXX" in each field was the best way to block a customer from getting mailed. The only thing accomplished by entering false data was to artificially boost the possible mail count and add time on the part of the team pulling and proofing the file. The more challenging data entry misuse is the addition of descriptive information in name or address fields like "Janet (do not call)" or "Janet (not this one)". I don’t know who "not this one" is since "that one" was not in the file!

Most POS systems have fields set up for additional notes, do not call or other restrictive codes that prevent customers from unwanted contact via one or multiple methods of communication. An essential element of new employee training should cover the importance of clean, accurate data entry. As a courtesy to customers it is also appropriate to spell or use appropriate capitalization in their names such as MacDonald versus Macdonald. As the customers will see their names the way you or your staff have typed them, it’s important to be accurate and use proper capitalization.

Self proofing the customer file may seem an insurmountable task for some companies with thousands if not millions of customer records, but if you are a small business, you cannot afford to ignore your most precious new revenue resource – your own customer database. Pull a printout of your customer data one section at a time. You will be surprised (Amazed? Horrified?) at the inaccuracies or format errors that are keeping you from making a good impression.

Most importantly, never, ever put a personal comment in a field that is not proofed by a human. Mailing to "Janet never happy" Kennedy is bound to haunt you.