In an average year 13% of the UK population will move home, 600,000 people will die, 300,000 will marry or have civil ceremonies (so it is likely that almost 50% of these will change their surname name), 200,000 will emigrate and approximately half a million people will move to the UK.

Each year the Royal Mail expects to make 1.25 million address changes to PAF (its Postcode Address File that contains information regarding 28 million addresses in the UK). When faced with these statistics it is not surprising that a customer database, that is not adequately maintained, will decay at the conservative rate of 20%, and possibly as high as 30% each year. Within just five years such a database will contain no valid or usable information.

The cost implications — both financial and otherwise — are significant. For example, a mail order clothing company sends out its glossy catalogue twice a year en-masse to its entire database of 50,000 existing and past customers. Each catalogue costs £1.25 to print and a further 69p per item to mail out.

The minimum annual wasted financial cost to the company if 10% of the data has decayed will be in the region of £19,400 for materials and postage alone, rising to £97,000 if half of the data has deteriorated.

In addition to the financial wastage the long-term damage to the brand cannot be underestimated. Negative perceptions will be generated by formerly loyal customers who desire the catalogue but fail to receive the new one, and those who receive the package but with incorrect name or address details (it has been reported that 69% of all direct mail is printed with incorrect customer details).

In an age when the public have become highly protective of their personal data, making an error on the envelope or covering letter can bring trust into question. And of course, the environmental implications of wasting such high volumes of printed materials are not aligned with the corporate and social responsibility customers expect of the businesses today.

As with all things in life if you maintain things correctly they will serve you well, and having a data quality management (DQM) strategy in place is a basic essential for every customer data driven business. From day one it is vital to instil processes that ensure the right data is accurately captured at the point of entry, whether it is the telephone, ecommerce website or EPOS for example.

However, this data must be regularly screened, cleansed and de-duplicated against all available and relevant files (especially immediately before a mailing). The PAF and Electoral Roll are the most obvious but there are others of significance. Suppression files such as the National Change of Address or Gone Away Suppression should be used to flag the people no longer living at an address; similarly the mortality and bereavement register will identify individuals that have passed away.

Ensure all records are cross-referenced with the Telephone and Mail Preference Services for subscribers who object to receiving telesales calls or unsolicited mail. For those who welcome such approaches use telephone number verification to append telephone numbers to addresses.

Such files and services are accessible and affordable for companies of all shapes and sizes. Those with large databases and high mail volumes will benefit from investing in DQM software, whereas others with more infrequent requirements can take advantage of the same technologies using the lower relative cost of web-based on-demand services.

A customer database is a living entity. Fail to give it regular health checks and feed it with the right information and it will eventually decay and prematurely die, meanwhile the costs and repercussions will long continue to haunt the business.

For more information on Capscan and their address and data quality management products and services, call Capscan on +44 (0)20 7428 1255 or email enquiries@capscan.com
Alternatively, visit Capscan's Website at www.capscan.com.