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When location goes wrong


Here at Experian Data Quality, we've been dealing with address data for over two decades. Our products have always been there to help with some fundamental business challenges and customer outcomes such as:

  • Getting a letter or parcel to the intended recipient
  • Enabling consumers to register for bank accounts, public services and shopping sites
  • Ensuring the emergency services can attend an incident as quickly as possible
  • Helping organisations match customer records across business silos and systems

Location and address are really important for so many different tasks that we sometimes take it for granted. In fact, we only really think about it when it goes wrong.

It doesn’t always work out well… Create the best customer experience possible

How many of us have wasted time on the phone to a business because they've delivered our parcel to the wrong place or have had to delay a purchase of home insurance or a fridge when moving into a new build property while we wait for address datasets to be updated? It's certainly frustrating and it's why we always recommend the use of the most up to date reference data such as daily Royal Mail PAF updates plus the Not Yet Built additional data or Ordnance Survey AddressBase Premium.

However, I don't think I've ever encountered an 'Address Fail' like the one Lindsay Diaz in Texas, USA experienced recently. CNET reported an incident that added insult to injury following a tornado that affected the city of Rowlett.

Firstly, I have to add that I use Google Maps all the time and really like it - but this story does point out that trusting a single source of information can sometimes (when combined with human error) create problems.

A demolition company were sent to tear down some homes that were damaged beyond repair following the tornado in Rowlett. The operatives found their location on Google Maps and went along to knock down the two properties. It was only after flattening 7601 & 7603 Calypso Drive that the mistake was discovered - by poor Ms Diaz returning home to discover a pile of rubble where her house should have been. Oops doesn't really cover it!

It appears that a small inaccuracy in Google Maps (now corrected) and some human error sent the demolition team one block away from the correct location. Clearly, this was a really serious issue for Ms Diaz who had not yet decided whether to repair or demolish her property.

When it comes to address data, a small mistake can have a big impact

What can we take from this story? Firstly, mistakes can happen with any map. Secondly, if you need very high levels of accuracy, then getting the right information into every step of your process is crucial.

In this case, while an accurate address was captured, it wasn't translated to the 'fulfilment' part of the process (i.e. the wrecking ball). It's important to consider the end to end journey of an address in everything you do:

  • Are you a retailer delivering your products directly to your customers? If so, you should think about how you get from address captured at registration or payment through to your route planning teams and on to the van driver.
  • Are you a utility working to install smart meters or trying to prevent energy fraud? You'll need accurate pre-build and multiple residence data alongside map coordinates that you can share within your business and with partners on the ground.
  • Are you a public body helping citizens with their health or educational needs? Ensuring you can share addresses across Government will remove the risk of errors or delays as documents or applications are processed. AddressBase Premium is part of the Public Sector Mapping Agreement - enabling you to share addresses easily and without additional cost.

In fact, you could find a reason for any organisation to ensure that their address data is accurate right through the business. We still see a number of examples where this isn't the case. For example, an eCommerce site that uses an address capture tool within the checkout process but fails to do so on a Newsletter sign up form - leading to a lack of usable marketing data and an inability to match marketing activity to sales results automatically. All of this leads to poor customer experience, duplication of effort and additional cost.

The moral of the story – accurate data is essential

Ensure you capture accurate data all of the time and in every place, then make sure you share it with your business to remove the risk for human error and (if you can) look for additional validation points if the process being driven is business critical or where mistakes could prove disastrous for you or your customer. And finally, whatever you do, read the road sign properly before knocking down someone's house!

This is an extreme case where a small, simple mistake had huge ramifications, how do you envisage inaccurate location data affecting your responsibilities?