Data Value: it’s how you approach your customer – search for the ultimate data entry form

The graph on the left has been my eye opener. One of our customers showed me the graph and explained that there has been a significant drop in failures or non-validated entries in their customer portal. The number of wrong entries reduced significantly after they updated the data entry form. The cause for that drop is that they seriously looked at their entry screens. The old screens were very obvious for their own employees, but hardly usable for their – or selections of their – customers. It sounds obvious, there is nothing new in it, but it is still the case in many data entry forms, in a lot of customer entry portals.

In the example above, the primary focus of the specific company was pretty regional and did not serve an international audience. My conclusion, after taken a sample on the web, is that a similar data quality increase can be gained for globally operating companies, and that the same underlying paradigms need to be implemented. These paradigms are:

  • Localize your entry screen: Design your entry screen in such a way that it fits with the cultural behaviour of your audience. And sorry to say, that is much more than changing the language from German to French, or from English to Italian – yes, there are more languages in the world than US English ;-).
    Think, for example, about cultural differences in names, names per gender – and related salutations, addresses, postal codes, the need to ask for a state – that stupid fact that most non-US countries do not have states, and if they have states, the chance that it starts with Alabama is almost zero.
    A well known authority on addresses is Graham Rhind and I love to hear his stories on clumsy entry screens in relation to the address. For example, simple facts like Ireland that does not use postcodes, or more recently inhabitants of small isle states that recently forced their government to introduce a postcode because they could not buy on the Internet, the entry screens forced them to fill in a postcode in order to buy.
  • Prevent pollution of your data source. As with your kitchen or bathroom, you need to clean it every now and then, but it significantly helps if you take some serious precautions to prevent that it becomes a mess. Simple things like wiping your shoes before entering your house, etc. The same goes for data entry.
    The moment your user provides you with its data, it is better to validate and check it immediately before you use it – validate the syntax, the semantics, completeness, the existence and up-to-dateness. And in most cases it will pay off to enrich the data automatically before you check if the data is already available in your system(s).

I am curious, do we have user friendly entry forms somewhere in the world? Can you sent me – in your opinion – the best entry screen you have ever used – preferably for an international audience. Please provide me with th URL and a small screenshot of possible. If you sent me enough examples I will start a contest. And of course I am biased for western oriented screens but I will not run away from some exotic writing set that is used by 20% of the world population.

Help me in my search for the ultimate customer entry form. And… in case you want share some clumsy entry screens, do not hesitate to share them as well.

5 Responses to “Data Value: it’s how you approach your customer – search for the ultimate data entry form”

  • Or another interesting thing, besides having to fill in obligatory states, how many times have I filled in:
    Sarah Blauw
    Blastraat 3
    1234 AB Leukestad

    Some bogus address to avoid being called or mailed by the Postbank just because I want to know how much I will have to pay for a new mortgage? Many, many times. Of course, a smart question would be how much potential customers they loose by forcing people to fill in their address, but another is how many people just make something up and how incredibly cluttered their mortgage marketing database must be…

  • Postcodes/Zip codes, call them what you will, but please oh please:

    1) don’t make them mandatory (Ireland doesn’t have them so you’ll get a comment from me in your post code field which lowers your data quality)

    2) don’t apply the formatting of only your country in the validation… US Zipcode formats are different to UK or Canadian or French post codes.

    And when it comes to email addresses and website addresses:

    1) make sure your validation is checking for ALL TLDs ( is a valid email address format, even if your validation says no)

    2) why not include the “http://” as one of the valid things that can be in an email address… you can always strip it out if your database doesn’t like or want it, but don’t make me struggle for 10 minutes figuring out why my website address won’t validate (particularly as you’ve already peeved me by requiring me to use my personal email address because you don’t accept “.info” as a valid TLD.

    And when it comes to names:

    1) A space in a surname is not necessarily invalid (O Briain or O Brien are valid surnames)
    2) There are other characters other than a hyphen that might occur in a name
    3) Test your processing for name types that use different character sets or (heaven forbid) the dreaded Apostrophe of Doom which occurs quite frequently in names like… O’Brien, O’Connor (but not O’Bama)

    Ultimately, quality begins with design and planning. If you are targeting international audiences, you should take a little time to make sure your data capture makes sense.

  • What an affecting point of view on this topic. I am happy you shared your thoughts and ideas and I find that I agree. I enjoy your coherent writing and the effort you have spent on this post. Many thanks for the solid work and good luck with your site, I am looking forward to more updates.

  • where can i get more info about that? please let me know anyone

  • Excellent article, I’m a huge fan of this blog, keep up the great work, and I’ll be a regular visitor for a long time.

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