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Aug. 30 2012 09:53 AM

Free address correction that comes with Full Service Intelligent Mail Barcodes sounds like a great deal. And it is. But it shouldn't be the only way that you correct your addresses.

ACS is a post-mailing method of acquiring the updated addresses of consumers who have moved and filed address change forms with the Postal Service. As companies actively seek to substitute First Class mail with less expensive ways to communicate, they may be losing track of their customers who have moved. For instance, suppose your company has been successfully convincing a portion of your customers to suppress paper statements. Suddenly, your monthly affirmation that the customer still lives at the address you have on file disappears. If they move, you may never know it.

Address correction? We don't need no stinkin' Oh - wait a minute

After moving, the paperless customer will still get his statement right there in his email box, the digital postal delivery service, or on your online web portal. He may never think to proactively contact your company to change his mailing address. "So what you say?", "They are still getting the statement and we're saving a ton of money on printing and mailing costs".

All well and good until you need to mail them something in physical form. Maybe it's a benefit book, an annual report, a check, a membership card, product samples, or something else that can't be delivered digitally. Or maybe you're running a multi-channel marketing campaign with QR codes linked to personalized landing pages. Without the proper address on file, your mail piece will be delayed, or maybe even destroyed if it is undeliverable as addressed.

The impact that stale addresses could have on the response rate for a direct mail piece sent as Standard Mail could be severe. You may have spent months persuading the marketing department to add direct mail back into the strategy, only to have the effort fail miserably because of out-of-date addresses. The money spent on the campaign will seem to have been wasted. And the marketing people may be convinced they shouldn't be spending their money on direct mail anymore, since the results were so poor. Not a good outcome if your livelihood depends on the mail.

Lots of movers to track
If your organization uses a post-mailing method for informing you that some of your customers have moved - and you've stopped mailing to them, your address list could be 10%-15% out of date very quickly. Almost 40 million people moved in 2011. And keep in mind that new delivery points are being added all the time - over 600,000 of them last year. Some of these new addresses resulted in the splitting or combining of zip codes. So if you're not doing address correction processing for paperless customers, then those records could be out of date as well.

If your product or promotions somehow depend on the physical location of the customers then losing track of movers can even affect digitally-delivered messages. I've used the example before of the car manufacturer who regularly sends me email service coupons that are valid at the dealership where I bought the car - now over 2,000 miles away from where I live. Not only does this mistake make them seem inattentive, it robs a local dealership from attracting my business because I don't get coupons from them.

NCOA to the rescue
Whenever we run across a situation like this (and it seems to be getting more common) we suggest that our customers implement a regimen of processing their entire address list against the NCOA (National Change of Address) file every quarter. That will ensure that physical mail will continue to be deliverable with a minimum of waste and that location-dependent marketing content hits the intended target.

Digital delivery and paper suppression are wonderful ways to take costs out of customer communications. But few companies abandon mail altogether. If you're going use the mail even occasionally it pays to keep the addresses up to date.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. For more ideas about how to make mail work for you, connect with Mike directly at Or visit and sign up for Practical Stuff - the free newsletter dedicated to document operations professionals.