Bleep Your File Before You Bleep Your Customers

The Super Bowl half-time show and many television awards shows use a five-second delay to give the broadcasters time to bleep inappropriate words and actions. But when a customer service or sales rep replaces a customer’s name with an inappropriate word in your database, it takes more than a five-second delay to fix that problem.

And if you don’t think your CSRs are introducing unsavory words into the records of aggravating customers—changing “Jane Doe” to “Jane X*#%&”–think again.

“I was the one to get the calls from irate customers when I was the circulation director,” recalls Bill Singleton, who is now president of Algonquin, IL-based consultancy Singleton Marketing. “Having to apologize profusely and explain how the company could have missed catching the rude entry in its database is critical to keeping the customer. But if the customer database is your responsibility there really is no excuse.”

Singleton says taking the time to develop and install such a filter in your system and at your merge/purge service provider can help you avoid losing a customer. Otherwise that customer might tell friends and colleagues or even scan the label and post it online or e-mail it to the local newspaper. Explaining how you slipped up can cost you more time and grief and customers tomorrow than putting a preventive process in place today.

A customer call such as that is a signal that you have to educate the sales reps about the consequences of an angry gesture, though word of a suspension or firing for the offense gets around quickly. If you do not have a company policy about maliciously entering data, Singleton says you should consider creating one. A sales or customer service person might not realize the serious effect their attempt to be funny or to vent after a bad phone call can have on their jobs and the company’s image.

It should also be a motivation to install filters for profanity and insults in the customer database and at the service bureau. “Spam filters keep insulting and profane e-mail out, but few companies have internal filters,” says Singleton.

He found that the service bureau he used at the time did have a small profanity filter file, but it did not catch all the terms entered by the sales reps. So he created his own filter file with the help of multilingual staff and the Internet. The resulting file listed more than 300 words in eight languages.

“International customers buying through the company Website make a global list a necessity,” says Singleton. False catalog requests can include words and phrases from around the world. Internal and external data entry can test the best spam and profanity filters.

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