Customer Data Decay: Why Your Contact Data is Rotten.

We marketers work so hard – and spend so much money – to earn customer data that we really want to believe that our job is done once we’ve captured it.

The truth is exactly the opposite: the customer data that we neatly store in our databases, CRM systems, marketing automation platforms, and customer profiles is decaying all the time – and at an alarming rate.

If you do nothing to your precious customer data except store it, its accuracy will significantly decay every month. This is especially true of the most important data of all: customer contact data.

Face it: the postal addresses, emails, and phone numbers of your customers and prospects are changing all the time. People either move homes, change email domains, or change phone numbers. And often, you’re the last to be informed.

In other words, your critical customer contact data is rotting right under your nose. Kind of like this banana

Unless you’re in a business that sells perishable products (like bananas), can you think of any other strategic asset that decays at such an alarming rate?

How bad is your customer data decay?

The rate of your own customer data decay will depend on many factors, from the consumers or industries you serve to the countries you do business in. But even the most conservative estimates out there indicate at least 30 percent decay every year.

In B2B markets, sectors with high job turnover (like in Silicon Valley technology) can see contact data decay rates as high as 70% per year. Ouch.

Why does customer data decay so quickly?

Data decays because lives change all the time. It’s not only people who change contact information. Businesses also change. They buy other companies. Or merge. Email conventions change. New offices open up. Others close down. And then there are changes set by local or national governments. Streets get renamed. Area codes change. Countries change their postal address conventions (we know, we monitor 241 of them).

In your own life, you may or may not see many of these things in any given year, but the data proves that, in large populations, they happen many times a day.

The cost of customer data decay

It’s hard to estimate the exact cost of contact data decay in your organization, partly because the costs are spread out across the entire organization.

Bad contact data sneaks into your processes and sucks out profit in many, many ways, including things like product returns, mis-addressed invoices, lost sales time, wasted marketing materials, and email blacklisting (from sending out to many undeliverable emails).

Add to this the customer experience problems (“Where’s my new tennis racket?!”) and the impact on loyalty and customer lifetime value.

Then throw in the time wasted trying to correct the problem manually. Chasing down bad contact details. Updating them. Trying to populate the correction across systems…

I’ve seen estimates that put the annual loss to business in the billions. To be honest, I don’t think you have to calculate it perfectly to know how important it is to fix this problem. Even if the estimates are exaggerated by ten times, you need to fix this.

How to prevent customer data decay

So as bad as the data decay story sounds, there’s some really good news: preventing the problem is really pretty easy – and, if you failed to prevent it, fixing it is easy too.

I won’t do the whole sales pitch here (you can read about our Contact Data Verification services on our product pages). But here’s the bottom line:

  • Contact data verification is best done before the bad data reaches your databases. That means live, real-time verification behind the web forms, CRM fields and customer service screens that your customers, sales folks and contact center agents fill out every day.
  • It’s easy to make regular contact data health checks a routine part of your marketing operations. Again, this is easily automated using cloud services or on-premise software tools (yes, the ones we sell).
  • You can centralize your contact data hygiene, then publish the clean data back to the applications and systems that use it.
  • Or you can sync your clean contact data across systems – using data integration, data quality, master data management, or simple API synchronization.

For a problem that’s so chronic and pervasive, the fix is ridiculously simple, inexpensive, and reliable. The companies with the biggest, most valuable customer databases have been doing it for years – and the tools just keep getting better and better.

This is the very definition of a ‘no-brainer’: an expensive problem that siphons profits from sales, marketing, and customer service – but a problem that is quickly, easily, and inexpensively fixed.

It’s as if you could make a rotting banana go into reverse and look as fresh as the day it was picked.

Life should be like that.


Biznology, B2B data decay and list rental – buyer beware!, February 13, 2015

RingLead, ‘Data Decay’, May 2014

InsideView: 7 Reasons to Clean Up Your Dirty Data, 2015, 6 Quick Dirty Data Stats, July, 2015. Original Source: D&B

HubSpot report on database decay. Retrieved on January 20, 2016

Informatica, Can You Trust Your Marketing Contact Data? 2016