Ever hear a client or coworker tell you, "I CASS'd the file, so I should be ok. So why all the undeliverable mail and problems with timely mail delivery?" Well, I wanted to understand and be able to give an educated answer. So last year, I decided to participate in three Mailers Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) workgroups and share my working knowledge of dealing with address quality issues and learn from other industry and postal members' experiences.
What a can of alphabet soup that was! But it's a good "can" to open now. Most of you are well aware of the 1993 USPS study that found up to 23% of all mail contains major addressing errors, or the findings of the 1998 study of Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) mail, commissioned thru Price Waterhouse, that showed three percent of all mail is UAA. At a cost of $1.5 billion to forward, return or dispose of the 5.4 billion pieces of UAA mail annually, it's a good move to understand why just CASSing a file isn't nearly good enough.
You need to be aware of the implications of the current UAA study the USPS is reviewing, and will use, for perhaps not the current rate filing but certainly for the one that will immediately follow. You can expect to pay postage rates based on what you do to your address files prior to putting the pieces into the mail stream. The Move Update requirement most likely will be required for Standard and Periodical mailings at a frequency of 90 days instead of the current 185 days, and look for even a "Gold, Silver or other medal" level of postage rate depending on what additional steps or alphabet soup you apply to your address file.
I can see why people use the expression, "CASS'd their file." When you take an address file and pass it through the USPS Coding Accuracy Support System's Vendor Certified address matching software, a report is printed called the PS Form 3553, Summary Report. The top line of the Report reads, "CASS." So, you CASS'd your file. Right? Wrong! The USPS' CASS System is a process of evaluating independent vendor software that is used to match an address to the USPS' ZIP+4 database to get the correct ZIP+4 delivery point code, carrier route code and five-digit ZIP Code. After the vendor obtains a passing score through the CASS process, it can release its software to its customers who use it as one step in preparing a list for mailing purposes a very minor point, but one that should be understood so mail owners don't just stop at this initial step.
It's understanding why and what to do with the records that don't match or "code" that becomes the "art and science of address quality." Finding out how bad addresses get into files and taking steps to prevent this should be implemented.
Each vendor develops technology that will parse or separate the address into its discrete components; standardizes those components according to USPS Publication 28, "Postal Addressing Standards;" corrects them based on bi-monthly or monthly ZIP+4 directories that are provided by the USPS; and enhances those components (such as adding the ZIP+4 address or code); and finally, presents them in the USPS-approved manner again according to Publication 28.
All address-matching software vendors must license and receive the ZIP+4 and associated data files from the USPS. They can license the Applications Program Interface (API) from the USPS or develop their own assignment technology solutions or engine using proprietary parsing and assignment algorithms. That's why some of the products will assign codes to addresses that others can't. Simply stated, each product has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Not all facets of vendors' address matching software's functionality are tested by the USPS' CASS certification process. The USPS focuses on those areas that are known deficiencies common across software products that require correction. This is important to understand, as CASS certification does NOT guarantee the address matching software will always produce the correct assignments. As an example, prior to 1996, the USPS did not sort mail in delivery sequence for apartment or suite addresses. In 1997, the USPS began sorting apartment addresses in sequence for carrier delivery, requiring the address-matching software to change the way these addresses were assigned.
Match rates for any given address list using CASS-Certified software can vary greatly depending on address format, use of non-standard abbreviations, currency of the address as well as the capability of the individual address-matching software. In a test of several major address-matching software products, including the address-matching software developed by the USPS, not one of the products was able to match perfect input addresses 100%! Recognizing the difficulty software has in matching input addresses correctly might help you understand how CASS-certified software may come up with the wrong answer when it is given imperfect addresses to process.
So, the statement that "My address list is CASS-certified" is inaccurate since CASS never tests an individual address list; only the address-matching software is tested. And because only certain features are tested, how well the CASS-certified software will handle addresses that are not part of the test conditions can't be determined without fairly extensive research.
"My addresses are good because they went through CASS!" Well, that just isn't true. Passing through CASS-certified address-matching software doesn't mean an address is updated, fully corrected, deliverable, etc. It just means that it's been standardized to USPS preferred format.
Some updates/corrections are possible. For instance:
2. Or 163 Pine Hill Dr Lislie IL 60532 could get corrected to
3. CASS can validate that there are a range of addresses between 100 and 199 on
4. CASS deals only with the address it does not confirm the name of the person on your list lives there or has moved (use an approved Move Update address correction method)
5. CASS doesn't not change addresses to meet the new 911 requirements (use LACS)
Passing through CASS and/or not getting to a ZIP+4 and barcode does not necessarily mean that the mail to that address can be delivered. New addresses are being created all the time, but the CASS databases are only updated monthly or bi-monthly. The USPS database may reflect Apartment numbers 1-4, but on the actual building they have A-D. An address with Apt A will not fully CASS code but can still be delivered.
So you begin to see how the address you have may not be as correct or efficiently delivered as you hoped. And what about the alphabet soup? Well, here's a quick look:
Delivery Point Validation (DPV): Only DPV enabled CASS-certified address-matching software will be able to determine if the address records are VALID delivery points, according to · the U.S. Postal Service. Remember, the address matching software can code to the ZIP+4 range of numbers. If your address falls within that range, you will get a code, but the address may not actually exist! This is a great tool to use on front-end ordering systems. Do you know how many people don't know or give you their complete correct addresses? If you're missing apartment numbers, or directionals, for example, you may not be getting the best possible ZIP+4 code, which translates to postage discount and best delivery opportunity.
Locatable Address Conversion System (LACS): Addresses that have been converted from primarily rural route and box number to standard city style addresses under the National Emergency 911 program are corrected when you pass them through the LACS process. The LACS database of approximately five million records also includes addresses that have gone through some type of restructuring for example, existing city-style addresses where streets are renamed or addresses are renumbered and newly established delivery addresses. But remember, it doesn't give you the name of the individual at the address. LACS is available only through National Change of Address Linkage System, NCOALink licensees at this time. LACSLink will be available as an option in your vendor's CASS-certified address-matching software on July 31. The service is currently offered as a stand-along process or as a back-end process with the NCOALink service. I'm writing about address quality, but you must consider who's at the address? Use NCOALink to keep up with the over 43 million Americans who change their addresses annually. (And they don't all turn in a change of address to the USPS either!)
Address Element Correction (AEC): When CASS-certified address-matching software can't match an address to the ZIP+4 product, commonly called "invalids," the address becomes a candidate for AEC. This is a service provided by the USPS that will correct and standardize address elements for problem addresses that resolves approximately 31% of previously unmatched addresses. Look for AECII, using the USPS' Delivery Force Knowledge to correct bad addresses in mailers' files later this year.
The "alphabet soup" tools can be used before you put mail into the system. There are several post-mailing alternatives such as Address Change Service, ACS and Ancillary Service Endorsements printed on your pieces. When you decide to take steps to reduce the amount of money wasted on print, postage and services, remember to update as close to the mail date as possible.
Factors That Affect Accuracy Mobility
Address Conversion (not a move 911)
Barriers to Quality Addressing
Source Reference: Federal Register Notice May 31, 2002, Vol. 67, Number 105 and October 15, 2001 Mailing Industry Taskforce report, "Seizing Opportunity"
When you do improve your address quality, keep in mind that there are errors in sorting at the USPS... mechanical as well as human. Your normal carrier can correct many of your address quality issues, but what happens when they don't get the mail because automation has sent it to a reject bin? Or what happens when he or she's on vacation?
I wanted to give you some ideas as to why just "CASSing" your file is not the only address quality solution. Address quality WILL become a major consideration for future postage rates, and I want you to be more aware and ready to achieve the best results when communicating through the mail. Unlike 30% of USPS management, I'm not ready to retire and would like to continue to work in a strong direct marketing industry. Keep those cards and letters coming!
Wanda Senne is the Director of Postal Development, for ACE