This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2017 issue of
Mailing Systems Technology.
The recent announcement by the USPS regarding Move Update assessments has become one of the latest hot topics in addressing for mailers. Considering the fact that Undeliverable-as-Addressed (UAA) mail has increased to 4.6% of total mail volume in the last fiscal year, these assessments could have a major impact on future volumes of UAA mail.
The UAA fiscal year volume report has some interesting figures regarding mail and UAA volumes:
- Total mail volume declined by .35%, yet UAA mail increased by 5.4%
- First-Class mail and UAA mail volume decreased slightly
- Marketing mail increased by 1.05%, while UAA mail increased an astounding 10.3%!
UAA Mail Volume Is on the Rise
Despite efforts by the Postal Service to encourage and support mailers in improving address quality, the end result tipped it in the opposite direction. The USPS estimates that UAA Marketing mail alone costs over $316 million to handle and process. Over 4.2 billion pieces of Marketing mail were treated as waste.
Movers are the leading cause of UAA mail. Based on USPS information, nearly 76% of undeliverable mail is a result of customers who no longer receive mail at an address. Only 35% is forwarded or returned (mostly First-Class), while the other 65% is treated as waste.
Insufficient address elements, primarily secondary addresses (apartment or suites), is the second leading reason, accounting for 16% of UAA mail. This also includes missing and invalid house numbers and street names.
Finally, vacant addresses account for six percent of UAA mail. Typically, these are residents who have vacated their homes for various reasons such as bankruptcy, repossession, natural disaster, or simply left and failed to file a change of address (COA) with the USPS.
This all ties in with the announcement on Move Update assessments from the USPS. First, the USPS is changing the method of measuring compliance for meeting the Move Update requirements to a census-based approach, effective January 2018. Assessments will begin in March based on February data for any non-compliant pieces over a .5% threshold of the mailing.
The USPS will use scans from the mail processing equipment (MPE) to determine whether addresses for First-Class and Marketing Mail have been updated within 95 days of the mailing date. Compliance will be measured across a calendar month, and the results of this method will be shown in the mailer’s scorecard.
Combined, these red flags raise several questions for mailers:
Why is UAA mail increasing as a result of movers? There are several factors. About 18% of the population move each year, and nearly 35% of those never file a COA with the USPS (but they notify specific mailers). Strict matching logic issues in the NCOA process via service providers misses movers, and poor address quality prevents NCOA from matching and updating a list. Finally, there are also mailers who fail to update their lists with NCOA data provided back from their mail service providers (MSPs). Combined, these factors have become more prevalent than ever.
What is the impact on your business? Beyond wasted production, postage costs, and potential assessments from the USPS, mailers face additional research and re-mail costs, delayed and lost revenue from customers, risk of industry non-compliance, and damaged client relationships.
Is it impacted by sources of data? We all know data quality errors when we see them. They include missing data, duplicate records, floating and non-conforming data keyed across multiple fields, and typographical errors. Sometimes it’s keyed internally, and other times it comes from web-based forms. Data collected from the web is typically far worse, as users fail to adhere to any business rules. People make mistakes when entering data, but sometimes it may not be completely by mistake: data could be withheld for privacy reasons, alternate fields could be used to add information, and inaccurate data can be added intentionally.
How can you prevent errors on the front end? While there is no magic method to ensure 100% quality, there are steps mailers can take on the front end to manage data quality. It starts with training: ensuring the people who enter the data know the impact downstream. Printing and utilizing Publication 28 is also important — it’s the premier guideline for entering acceptable standardized address data from directional terms (ex: using “S” instead of “So” for “South”)to suffixes. Real-time validation software linked to web-based forms can be implemented to ensure quality to validate addresses, emails, and phone numbers.
While CASS and DPV are the standardization tools utilized by mailers before the mailing, they also provide valuable information on address errors. Essentially, if a record doesn’t have a Zip+4 appended to it, there is something wrong with the address! CASS/DPV processing provides error codes that allow a data manager to group these records for research, processing, and correction. Many of these can be corrected manually, using software tools of an MSP or utilizing the USPS AEC programs.
What about NCOA? First, mailers must be reminded that a record without a Zip+4 code is bypassed in conventional NCOA processing. A missing element or simple spelling or abbreviation error can prevent a record from matching and updating during NCOA due to tight matching rules. However, the looser rules of internal USPS processing may match and forward the piece and thus impact your Mailer Scorecard.
Additionally, many mailers rely on their MSPs and lettershops to run NCOA, but never apply the NCOA updates to their internal data files. Within a period of time, these addresses will fall outside the timeframe of NCOA, and mailers will ultimately return to mailing an original bad address! Best practice dictates you update your files with NCOA data each time you mail.
What tools are available at the time of mailing? At the time of mailing, several tools are available to help clean up a list to reduce UAA mail. Ancillary Service Endorsements provide manual or electronic address corrections or return the mail. Another tool is address change service (ACS), which is a post-mailing service that determines the correct disposition of the mail piece and also generates mailer-requested address correction data either manually or electronically.
Anything else? Yes! Address Element Correction (AEC) is a quality process offered by the USPS. AEC focuses on inaccurate addresses (i.e. remember those error codes out of CASS?). By correcting or providing missing elements, AEC turns problem addresses into accurate addresses. The result is a complete and standardized address that can be mailed, and matched to NCOA.
Managing Returned Mail
Everyone hates to see those trays of yellow-stickered returned mail. It makes it appear that your mailing was a failure, and management questions the costs involved in the campaign.
Working with UAA returned mail is a very manual process. However, by using internal and external resources, most companies realize a 25%+ lift in address data. The end result is lower costs and improved customer communications and revenue.
Returned Mail is typically worked in “when there is time.” When time runs out, mail is typically thrown away — resulting in mailing the same names to the same wrong addresses. When there is time, addresses are typically flagged to suppress future mailings, creating lost opportunities. Little, if any, effort is spent trying to locate those customers.
Some MSPs offer a returned mail service. Mail is keyed within a few days, and the file is compared to proprietary address files to update your file (remember those movers who notify certain mailers?). Find one that can help you.
With increasing undeliverable UAA mail and USPS Move Update assessments around the corner, the time to implement an address quality program is now. If you need assistance, contact your USPS rep or your MSP.
Gary A Seitz is Vice President of CTRAC Direct and has been a frequent presenter on UAA mail at the National Postal Forum and PCCs around the country for over 35 years. Gary can be reached at GSeitz@ctracdirect.com or by calling 216.251.2500 x 4987.