Data Management from Cable to Grave

If you’re hot on social media, you may have seen a photo shared on your Facebook news or Twitter feeds last week in relation to a certain telecommunication company’s demands for a £10 late payment charge on the bill of a deceased man.

The picture uploaded by the deceased man’s son-in-law went viral and sparked some good old fashioned British outrage – and rightly so!

 “I’m really sorry for my father-in-law not paying his bill last month, but what with him being dead and all, it’s probably slipped his mind. Some people, eh?

I might pay it if you can prove to me he’s been watching any of your channels in heaven, but given that British Sky Broadcasting is beamed in directly from the clouds I think he’s much more likely to be enjoying that.”

Humbling apologies

The company in question has since issued a humbling apology following the embarrassing incident, refunded the cash, donated money to a hospice and vowed to get to the bottom of the matter. But to me and to most other marketers, the cause will be painstakingly obvious: poor data.

Data cleansing is one of the most important components of managing customer and marketing communications. Without exception, it makes good commercial sense when corresponding with customers or embarking on marketing campaigns to keep mailing lists up to date with changes among the UK population to prevent unnecessary distress to the bereaved families, environmental waste, not to mention considerable amounts of money.

Fortunately in the UK we have an excellent dataset from Mortascreen. The file contains the names and address details of over 10 million deceased individuals, with around 50,000 new records collected each month.

When a file is cleansed against Mortascreen any records that are matched as deceased will be suppressed (removed) from the file, or, if the client so wishes, flagged. When a record is flagged by Mortascreen it remains in the file allowing the client to take any other appropriate action they feel necessary.

Something of a puzzle

You could be forgiven for thinking that with software like this readily available, the UK database marketing industry would have the basic of data hygiene well and truly nailed and nice, clean shiny, up to date databases would be par for the course. But the reality, unfortunately, is that this is still very far from the case, as this news story so evidentially demonstrates.

For me this is something of a puzzle, given the accessibility and affordability of data cleansing solutions.

Companies that fail to keep their mailing lists suppressed for movers or the deceased will be continually and publically criticised creating completely avoidable negativity, which will result in financial loss.

In today’s society people can easily broadcast their views to millions and unfortunately for this company their failure to update their database for the deceased has been exposed all over social networks.



  • It’s a tough subject Guy. Indeed, harassing (relatives of) dead people is a recurring subject and as the case in question reveals, it’s not only about sending marketing material to dead people but also about how to communicate with (the relatives of) your customers who aren’t among us anymore.

    The key is to keep better data which are easily aligned with suppression services and other enrichment services in place wherever you are do are business in this world and having routines in place which ensures that data are right the first time and keeps on being right until the last time.

  • As we saw recently with virgin media, it can turn bad. in my experience as long as once you are contacted by a relative saying someone has passed you deal with it in a good friendly and reasonable manner it will be fine – it’s when you become unreasonable it becomes a hard subject to talk about.

  • Jonathan Hanson

    Spot on Andy but I think you’re missing the point Guy is trying to make here; by regularly cleaning up your database you can prevent instances like this happening in the first place.