Case Study: Outsourcing Data Quality

By verifying names and addresses over the Web, Saab provides near-instant lead generation for its dealers

It wasn’t quite a crisis, but Saab Cars USA had to do something. Its existing sales lead management and verification system was cumbersome and slow, and many of its dealers were unhappy because potential sales were slipping away. Saab found a solution by licensing a new data quality Web service that lets it verify name, address, and other information on the fly, all without installing any software in its own environment.

The problem, says Richard Amling, an in-house marketing analyst for Saab, stemmed from the company’s Web site, which features a section in which prospective customers can request more information about Saab automobiles.

“We capture leads on our Web site and then we pass them to our dealer community, and dealers are always under a lot of pressure to sell as many cars as they can to as many people as they can, so they’re very interested in the leads,” Amling explains. “But they also get very frustrated when we pass them a lead that turns out to be junk … [because] it’s uncontactable, the address is bad, the name is bad.”

Over time, Saab devised a cumbersome solution to this problem: Follow-up verification via telephone. As Amling readily concedes, this led to other problems—once again, largely in the area of dealer relations. “We had implemented a process where we were calling all of these leads from the Web site, which at the time we were getting a few thousand per month,” he comments. “It was just slow, so if there was a surge in activity for a few days, it could take a day or two before we could actually get a hold of [prospective customers].”

Not surprisingly, Saab’s dealers were unhappy with this approach, Amling acknowledges, “particularly with leads coming from the Net, [potential customers] expect a rapid response. So what we wanted to do was speed up the process [of] how we validated the address to validate it as best we could and pass the information along to the dealer as quickly as possible.”

To address these issues, Saab outsourced its name and address verification requirements to Melissa Data, a long-time purveyor of data quality and data profiling tools for the direct mail and marketing software industry. Melissa Data markets Data Quality Web Service (DQWS), a data entry verification service that provides near-on-the-fly validation and correction of mailing addresses, updating of telephone area codes, parsing of names and identification of fraudulent entries, such as vulgar words.

Best of all, says Jack Schember, marketing manager with Melissa Data, DQWS can be exploited as a Web service, which means that customers can easily build it into their existing applications. “It’s an XML-based Web service, so they send an XML-wrapped document directly from their server to our server, which [the XML-wrapped document] is essentially a postal address, and we verify it and validate it instantly and send it back to their service, so when the data comes to us, we in turn grab that address and match it up against the U.S. Postal Service database, which resides on our server,” he explains, adding: “We are certified by the Postal Service to keep that database and maintain it here.”

DQWS was just the ticket for Saab, which liked the idea of validating its data entries over the wire and ensuring near-instant lead generation for its dealers, says Amling. “We liked the fact that it was mostly online-based, so we could really validate these addresses online,” he explains, noting that DQWS provides “sub-second” response times and typically processes two and five thousand leads a month. “[I]t really happens real-time, so as we get a request in, we validate it and then send it in to our processing center,” at which point, he says, it can be channeled to the appropriate dealer

Saab considered several other competing solutions, all of which were based on some variation of an outsourced data-entry verification service model, Amling says. “We weren't looking at any solution that would have required us to install stuff,” he stresses.

In the end, he acknowledges, Melissa Data emerged as the best fit for Saab’s requirements for several key reasons. “I think Melissa Data was the most responsive as well as the best fit in terms of how the process worked, and it had a very attractive price,” he says. “From our perspective, it was a seamless fit [with Saab’s application environment], and within a couple of days, they worked it all out and had it running.”

Instead of eliminating its call center, which, like many similar services, is outsourced to an agency, Saab has redeployed these workers to handle other tasks. “Rather than monitoring all of these in-bound leads, the call center agents are just doing something else,” he says.

Although it’s too soon to tell if DQWS will drive an uptick in sales among dealers, Amling says that Saab’s relationships with its affiliates have certainly improved. “Dealer satisfaction is better, we get fewer complaints about what we’re passing along, and there’s more actionable [data] there,” he concludes. “On that basis alone, it’s a winner. But the real proof will be when dealers start telling us that they’re able to close sales because they’re contacting customers more quickly.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.