Data Entry Tips Improve Quality Prevent Errors
Many businesses need some help in creating and building their mailing list. Once the structure of your list has been thoughtfully designed, the next step is to place your information into it – the industry term is data entry. While service bureaus offer experienced data entry, in some cases, it may make sense for you to do a large part of your data entry in-house. Your service bureau can help you make this decision. The necessity for clean and consistent data input cannot be emphasized enough. The cost of running your mailing list – in both effort and money – will stay reasonable and remain stable if some consideration is given to how your data should be entered into the system right from the beginning. If it becomes necessary to reinvent the wheel (high level corporate talk for clean up data entry errors) whenever it comes time to add ZIP+4’s, remove
duplicates, presort labels, etc. the cost will continually be going up not down.
This situation is by no means unique in the business world, or the computer services industry – we see it all the time. Hopefully, the following standards will prove to be of as much value to you as other businesses that have asked Northwest Database Services to suggest some ways your in-house list efforts might be improved.
It’s more important to your customer than you know
The information entered into your computer is used to maintain contact with your customer. This ongoing contact not only tells you about this person, but more important, tells the customer a lot about you and your company. Normally this is done through mailing, although phone numbers are also used for telemarketing and follow-up survey purposes. The advertising messages you send to customers and prospects (AKA: future customers) are only a small part of what you tell them about yourself and your business. The way in which these communications are handled often tells your
audience far more about your feelings towards them than the marketing messages themselves.
All of this effort is for one thing only: to keep in touch with your customer and make sure that he, she or they feel recognized and valued for their contribution to your success. It is for this reason customers continue to do business with your company. It’s really that simple, which is why the way that you handle their information is so very important.
Anyone who gets more that one piece of mail from an organization, in the same mailing,can come to only two conclusions. The first is that this company doesn’t really care enough about their customers, as individuals (i.e. as real people), to make sure that only one letter or card is sent to them. This feeling of disregard is tremendously compounded when the mailing piece projects personal recognition of the recipient. All of your company’s credibility is instantly destroyed and the "personal" message dismissed as more junk mail. A person who receives two or more of these "sincere" mailing pieces feels irritated that you have wasted his or her valuable time only to convey the fact that he or she is on yet one more mailing list. Be honest, don’t you feel that way when this happens to you?
The other conclusion that one comes to is this: your company apparently isn’t skillful enough at handling its own records to have them listed only once in your mailing list. Nobody really wants to do business with a company that isn’t capable and efficient at keeping track of their own customers.
There is no surer way of projecting indifference or incompetence than sending several mailing pieces to the same person – unless it’s misspelling their name (or their company, etc.). Again, remember when this has happened to you… and how you felt.
It’s not that difficult
Computers process information literally, they have no discretionary intelligence. A computer can’t tell that you meant "John" when you entered "Jhon"; it will simply interpret these as two different names.
For any database (a computer "file" containing names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.) to function properly it must be consistent (Street is always written "St" – Floor isalways "Fl", etc.) and it must be accurate (free from typos and "creative"
data entry). When everything is done the same way, by everyone involved, your information systems run smoothly (and less expensively).
Careful data entry, solid data management, and the increased good will that results is actually quite easy. In fact, most people prefer to have some set of standards that make this all possible. While it’s true that some of these conventions can be accomplished in more than one equally acceptable way, (such as using "Apt" or "Ste" rather than "#", etc.), for the sake of simplicity the following data guidelines
will keep your list on track:
Peoples’ names are made up of five basic parts. The first is the Prefix (Mr, Mrs, Dr, Rev, etc.). After the Prefix comes the First Name. This is followed by the Middle Name (or Middle Initial), the Last Name and finally the Suffix (Jr., III, DDS, MD, PhD, etc.). Normally, most files have separate fields for these name components (at least, they should have). But even when the name is entered into one large field, the same basic data entry rules apply:
Do not follow Suffixes, First Initials or Middle Initials with periods (or commas). Never use "and" in combination Prefixes like Mr & Mrsor Dr & Mrs Always use an ampersand (&), with a space on either side.
First Names are relatively straightforward. If there are only Initials given, enter those as "J B"; (no periods), with only one space between them. If a First Name is given, for instance, as "C Thomas," (an Initial preceding the "First" – or Middle Name, enter it as "C Thomas"). Dual First Names, such as "John & Mary," are entered accordingly, using an
ampersand – not the word "and."
Normally, don’t enter Middle Initials, especially if there is a full First Name. Only enter them if an Initial is given for the First Name along with
a Middle Initial, i.e. "J J Smith."
- Last Names are relatively direct. If there is any doubt, always verify the spelling. Keep an eye out for hyphenated Last Names. If a customer says their name is "Jane Cooper Smith," they are likely to spell it, "Jane Cooper-Smith." At any rate, ask if you have the chance; it’s important to them.
- Suffixes are typically things like "MD, DDS, Jr, PhD, III and so on. Enter those after the Last Name separated by a single space. Do not enter a period following, or a comma preceding the Suffix.
Every segment of the name should be separated by single spaces. The sequence of the name’s data components should be: Prefix, First Name (or First and Middle Initials, or First Initial and Middle Name), Last Name and Suffix – not Last Name comma First Name. The only valid punctuation used is: a hyphen (used in hyphenated last names), and an apostrophe (used occasionally in names like D’Angelo).
Company names have simple rules.
- The only punctuation allowed is: the pound sign (#) for number ("American Legion Post # 1"), an apostrophe ("Jake’s Place" or "Tail ‘O the Cock"), a hyphen ("Two-For-One Pizza") or a slash (/) used to denote fractions ("1/2" – this is rare).
- If a company includes initials as part of its name, separate them with a single space ("IBM Corp" becomes "I B M Corp" – "TNT Productions" becomes "T N T Productions"). The reason that this is done is to keep the company name accurate when "casing" is performed. Casing is a process where information is converted to all upper case letters from upper and lower case, or the other way around. Casing up to all capital letters is simple, but when the operation is reversed (often called "Proper Casing"), the computer will make "IBM" into "Ibm" and "AT&T" into "At&t" or "At&T." Putting a space between these letters, while not the most elegant solution, is usually the most practical and consistent. If a company simply has a weird industrial name, like "Gelco" or "Unetco," enter it as one word. Again, if there is any doubt, ask.
Use the same business abbreviations throughout the database ("Inc" for "Incorporated", "Corp" for
"Corporation", "Ltd" for "Limited", etc.). If there is any question about what the proper abbreviation is, refer to the table of business abbreviations in USPS Postal Publication # 28, "Postal Addressing Standards." The USPS distributes this publication free of charge.
- Again, use no commas or periods. "Savinni & Sons, Inc." is wrong; "Savinni & Sons Inc" is correct.
- Spell out business designations only when they are part of the business’s proper name. Sometimes this can be unclear, and your best guess will have to do. There should be, however, an obvious difference between "A-1 Carpet Cleaning Svcs" and "Super Service Steam Cleaning Inc."
Use only a proper name in this field. It’s OK to enter, "Dr. John Mayfield" and then "Mayfield Dental Care Clinic" (if that’s the name of the company); don’t enter "Dental Clinic" just because that’s what Dr. Mayfield’s business happens to be.
Addresses are probably the most important part of the data entry process. Fortunately, the conventions and abbreviations for address formats are clearly defined by the US Postal Service. If there is any question, again, refer to "Postal Addressing Standards and the address
abbreviation standards and tables contained therein.
- Never, never, never use periods or commas in an address. Acceptable punctuation includes only: the pound sign (#) denoting number (used for apartments or suites), hyphen (occasional – "1234-A Johnson St"), and the slash (/) (for fractions – "234 1/2 Williams Ave"). Do Not Use: double spaces, asterisks (*), commas, periods, parentheses(), quotation marks(""), colons(:), semi-colons(;), apostrophes(‘). Only use hyphens in the ZIP+4 code (if there is one) or in the primary number used in the delivery address ("2345-C Washington Blvd").
There is basically only one address to which mail is delivered for each business or residence, although many businesses may list two. Typically this
is a PO Box number and a street address. This is usually done when a business prefers to receive it’s mail at its PO Box but must also list it’s street address on letterhead,business cards and invoices so that people will know where to send UPS, Fed-X and Airbornepackages which don’t deliver packages with PO Box addresses). When taking information froma customer, ask what his or her mailing address is, and then enter that address only. Don’t enter both lines just because you have two address fields (there are different ZIP Codes for each address, and because you will usually have only one of them, Postal Coding, duplication checking and even delivery will get fouled up. If there is no opportunity to verify the correct mailing address, the PO Box is probably the right one. If you must put both addresses in, make the PO Box line the primary (first) address line – always. If your file has a lot of entities that require separate mailing and shipping addresses, it’s much more professional to simply add a second and distinct set of address fields that to try and mix the data in only one.
Even though there are fields allowing for two line addresses, place the address into the first line only. With proper abbreviation, it will fit. If
there is an apartment or suite number enter it this way: "2345 W Havenhurst Rd Apt 435" for residential addresses or "2345 W Havenhurst Rd Ste 435" for business addresses. Even though the USPS prefers either "Apt " or "te ", but they also sanction "#" as a secondary substitute for either. Always include a single space after the pound sign.
- For additional or unusual abbreviations, check the tables in Postal Pub. 28 ("Building 3B" becomes "Bldg 3B", "Floor 3" or "3rd Floor" becomes "Fl 3", etc.).
Always ask for and enter the street suffix (i.e. Avenue, Street, Boulevard, Road, Drive, Way, Trail, Lane, Circle, Loop, etc.). "123 Smith" is not an address; "123 Smith Rd" is. This is the most commonly occurring addressing error; one which will seriously impair just about every one of your subsequent mailing list operations. There can be a 123 Smith Rd, a 123 Smith Dr, a 123 Smith Ave, a 123 Smith Cir,
etc. all coexisting in the same ZIP Code. If it is unknown which one was meant, not only does the address become uncodable, but the mailing piece may not be deliverable at all.
Things like "The Kon Tiki Apartments" or "Parkwood Village Shopping Center" are not true address components; don’t include them in the address areas. 90% of the correct addresses you encounter will have a street number, street name and a suffix. There may also be a pre-directional ("123 N Main St") or, occasionally a post-directional ("123 Main St NE) as well. "El Torito Mall"
or "The Skyler Building" aren’t parts of a functional address.
- Never arbitrarily put an apartment number or letter between the street number and the street name unless you are sure that that is how it’s properly written. Always add it at the end of the address with an “Apt”, “Ste”, or "#". "1234 B Miller Dr" is bad. "1234 Miller Dr # B" is good. Sometimes an address is legitimately written "1234-C Dennis Rd" (always with a hyphen), but if you are at all unsure, opt for "1234 Dennis Rd # C".
Stay with one street number whenever possible. Try to avoid addresses with ranges that look like, "205-13 Trammel Way" unless you are fairly sure that it’s a legitimate address (e.g. it appears on that company’s invoice accompanied by a ZIP with a +4 extension). Although a company’s building(s) may occupy all of those street numbers, but its mail is usually delivered to only one of them.
As with all addressing, some actually are written as above, but…
- Don’t put hyphens or spaces between numbers and letters when entering an apartment or suite number. "# 3 A" or "# 3-A" should be "# 3A."
City, State and Zip
City, State and ZIP should be entered into three separate fields:
When it comes to City, always enter the full city name. Don’t abbreviate city names – use "Saint Louis", not "St Louis" – " os Angeles" is a city, "L A" is not. State abbreviations are always two characters (in upper case). The ZIP Code should be in one of the following formats (where "N" = a single digit): "NNNNN", or "NNNNN-NNNN". If you don’t know the correct ZIP+4 extension, don’t guess. Just leave it out, CASS coding
will pick it up later.
- If you must enter all three items into one field, follow the city with a single space, the state abbreviation (always two characters – this is also true for Canadian provinces), a single space and the ZIP or ZIP+4. That’s it.
- If you are entering a Canadian address, you will still enter the city, a single space, the two character provincial abbreviation and then the Canadian ZIP. Canadian ZIP Codes are quite different from US ZIPS and are written in this format: "LNL NLN", where "L" is a letter and "N" is a number. There is a single space between the first three characters and the last three characters (i.e. "W4N 5T7" or "F8M 6H5"). Putting Canada in this field is unnecessary; the ZIP itself is a dead give away. The Country name will be placed into a special Country field, implanted in the mailing file later. If you are entering a lot of foreign addresses, English, Australian and Canadian addresses can look the same — including similar ZIP formats. If foreign addressing is a large a part of your data entry, create and use a country field to differentiate these at the time of entry. The Post Office requires the Country Name to be in upper case, by itself, on the last line of the mailing label.
These simple rules will insure that your mailing list will work and your labor and cost intensive efforts won’t be wasted. If names, companies and addresses are entered carefully and consistently, your information can be conditioned and processed electronically (incurring less cost — much less). Name splitting, salutation creation and letter personalization, USPS CASS certified postal encoding (which will significantly lower
your postage costs), duplication removal, etc. will all run accurately, smoothly, and efficiently. The formula is straightforward. Good Data Entry + Skilled Processing = Less Production Money Spent + More Response Money In. That’s why it’s called direct mail.