Category Archives: Customer Service

10 Easy to Follow Data Entry Standards

Is your association database full of duplicate records?  Is your undeliverable mail bin overflowing with renewals and marketing messages that never reached the intended recipient?  Does it take an army of editors to prepare a directory or similar list of members for public distribution?  These are all signs that your database and your data entry team could benefit from use of formal data entry guidelines.  

The heart and soul of all association management systems are the contact records for our members. So when considering a data integrity strategy, you must begin by considering how new data is entered into the software.  For most of us working with US-based associations, the easiest way to get started is to adopt rules around contact information from a third-party source  such as the United States Postal Service address guidelines.   The full publication (Publication 28) can be used as a reference guide, but you’ll be most successful if you adopt a short set of rules that are easy to follow.  Below is my simplified version of data entry rules based on their address standards:

  • Spell out company names except Inc, LLC, LP, etc
  • Do not use punctuation except the hyphen between the zip and the plus 4 code. 
  • Numeric street names should (almost always) not be spelled out (7th, not seventh)
  • Abbreviate directionals before and after street names (123 S Main St NW)
  • Abbreviate street suffixes (Ave, Blvd, Cir, Ct, Dr, Ln, Rd, St)
  • Do not use the pound sign (#) as a secondary address unit designator, instead use standard abbreviations (Apt, Bldg, Fl, STE, Unit, Rm, Dept)
  • Spell out city names (Fort Myer, not Ft. Myer)
  • Use two letter abbreviations for US states
  • Manage records in proper case and use uppercase formatting for mailing labels reports
  •  Add the plus 4 to US zip codes (use an integrated address verification service to automate this)

Effective Web Self-Service Forms

Wes Trochil recently talked about the effectiveness of self-service web pages. He cites a Gartner study that found that 65% of self-service interactions result in a call to the customer service agent.

I agree with him that this statistic is dumbfounding, and I had just such an experience myself earlier today.

I found myself searching for a new health care provider.  I pulled the membership card out of my wallet and opened a web browser. I typed in the web address and landed on the company home page.  The navigation was straightforward and easy to follow.  Within a few seconds I found what I was looking for the “Find a Provider” directory.  So far, so good.

Then I landed on the search page and encountered my first problem.  The search form began with a required field labeled “Select Your Plan”.  The drop down list menu offered several options.  However, I didn’t recognize any of them as My Plan.  I had no idea what My Plan was.  I paused to study the membership card in my hand.  No plan name was listed.  I flipped the card over to study the fine print on the back, but again, nothing helpful.

Since the pick list only offered a few choices, I guessed at one and continued to enter the other seqarch criteria:  Zip Code, Type of Provider, etc. 

Six required values later, I stumbled upon my next hurdle.  “Select Your Network”.  I’m again presented with a drop down list of values which mean absolutely nothing to me.  So again, I studied both sides of my membership card, but found nothing useful to help me continue my self-service web search.  

I abandon the website and picked up the telephone.  The customer service representative asked me my name and plan number and quickly provided me with the answers for those two required fields that prevented me from completing my web search successfully.

So natural, I found myself wondering – Why didn’t the web self-service form ask me for identifying information that I could reasonably provide or find myself?  Or why didn’t they print the name of the plan or network on the membership card? 

This story illustrates several lessons.  First, is the importance of web usability testing with your members when designing new member self service pages.  If you already have several existing pages and no budget for usability testing, you  still have several options to test your forms.  Role play scenarios in the shoes of an average member to see how friendly your pages really are.  Recruit volunteer leaders or fans from your Facebook page to test the form for you.  Or consider adding a simple feedback email link to the form itself for all web users to provide feedback directly.  Lastly, meet with those folks who are on the front lines when dealing with members-your receptionist and your customer service representatives.  Ask them to list (or track for a short time to determine) the top 10 most common questions they are asked on customer service calls.  Then focus in on those that can be addressed by improving an online self service form.

For extra credit:  Check how your forms render in various web browsers (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, etc). Ask yourself which of these forms your members are likely to use on a mobile device and again, check how they display on various devices (iPhone, Andriod, Blackberry).  Check your web stats too to see what percentage of pageviews on occuring on mobile devices and in various browsers.