Undeliverable-as-Addressed (UAA) mail costs the United States Postal Service (USPS) approximately $1.2 billion dollars each year to handle and process, and this cost is passed along to consumers and mailers in the form of higher postage rates. For mailers and the mailing industry, UAA mail results in delayed or missing communications with customers, which inevitably leads to unhappy and/or lost customers. There is an additional burden of costs that are associated with mailers handling returned undeliverable mail. Many mailers have not reviewed internal UAA processes for years, and they are missing out on new technologies and options. Sticking with the old, out of date manual processes is squandering opportunity to squeeze every dollar possible out of a marketing budget.
It is estimated that there are close to 2.2 BILLION pieces of incorrectly addressed mail actually delivered each year — without a complete address. These discrepancies require additional USPS time and labor, which also adds up to unnecessary, additional cost (which is eventually paid by the postage rates set). An additional 1.2 billion pieces are returned or just plain discarded — yes, as in thrown out — at a cost of $185 million dollars per year, not to mention the lost revenue experienced by marketers unable to reach their intended recipient and the waste of a marketing/informational/messaging touchpoint lost.
Late in 2016, a collaborative USPS Mailers' Technical Advisory Committee workgroup (MTAC WG #177) completed work on two addressing-related best-practices reference documents. The workgroup, made up of both industry and Postal Service addressing experts, reviewed and updated previous guides and documents in the hopes of providing everyone with some non-technical, easy to understand guides. The goal was to put forth updated guides to address quality methodologies and to UAA mail that reflected improvements in technologies, processes, and applications. These hidden gems provide a great reference for anyone looking to improve address quality — and who in mailing isn’t looking to have their intended message received by the target recipient?
Addressing Qualities Methodologies
Let’s take a look first at the addressing qualities methodologies document. The document can be accessed here.
The document provides a guide to suggested best practices. There are recommendations included for short, medium, and long-term approaches to improving address quality prior to mailing. Wherever applicable, efforts were made to identify the low-hanging fruit – the best, easiest to implement strategies that will help mailers and mail owners improve their address quality significantly.
Addressing quality methodologies focus on getting the address formatted and presented correctly prior to mailing, including all the elements that will give the piece the best shot at reaching the intended destination. Items have been identified as best practices for address quality. Each best practice has been assigned a category, a definition, identification of current practices within the industry, and suggested best practices for improved address quality. Categories covered include everything from data collection and storage, address and name verifications, transitioning to best practices, disaster response readiness, to supply chain and management recommendations. The benefit of experience is available here to those just getting started in address management or anyone trying to look at old practices in a new way.
Best Practices for ACS
The second document is called Best Practices for ACS and can be accessed here.
The workgroup used a well-worn but still useful whitepaper that was produced many years ago by the Association for Electronic Mail Enhancement (AMEE) as a starting point. The AMEE whitepaper had long been a go-to reference for all things Address Change Service related, but had aged to a point where updating was a necessity. Building on the success of that document, the workgroup also took the opportunity to add new technologies and options (such as Marketing mail forwarding options and secure destruction options for First-Class mail). The group also added current and updated case studies, providing examples of how the data is currently used in different ways.
This document helps guide potential users of USPS ACS services to help gather change of address (COA) and nixie information from the Postal Service. COA information is provided to mailers with data from movers who have filed a change of address form with the USPS. In addition to change of addresses, nixies – information provided by USPS carriers and other field operations on undeliverable mail stemming from reasons other than a move — is also provided.
From the preface to the guide itself: “The primary purpose of this document is to disseminate information to anyone interested or responsible for address management of their organization’s mailing list. It is designed for software users, end users, and for the general mailing industry. This document does not contain information on how to become a software vendor or how to write interface programs. This effort is a result of a consortium of concerned experts from the United States Postal Service®, software vendors, and major mailers, and is sponsored by the Association for Mail Electronic Enhancement (AMEE).”
The document was designed to enhance mailers' knowledge of the US Postal Service address change service (ACS) product and should be used in conjunction with the other USPS technical guides on address change services. The document is intended to aid mailers in their decision making for the use of the service and the application of the data.
One of the best provisions made for both these guides are the fact that they were presented and will be maintained as living documents. These documents will be reviewed on a regular basis and will be changed and updated as needed. There is a change log included with each document. Both documents, while very detailed, are presented in a manner that is not off-putting to non-technical audiences. They focus more on case studies, results achieved, and options available to mail owners.
It behooves all mailers to take advantage of the collaboration and contributions of the individuals who came together to provide the content for these MTAC documents. The Mailers Technical Advisory Committee is an “association of associations,” where all facets of the mailing industry come together, roll up their sleeves, and dig in to help USPS provide the best services to mailers. Nobody likes undeliverable mail, and everyone shares in the cost. Mailers and mail owners need to take what responsibility they can, and do their part to stop UAA mail in its tracks.
Lisa Bowes is Manager, Webtrack Division, Intelisent. She is a mailing industry professional experienced in all facets of mailing with the United States Postal Service, from design to production and delivery. She is currently serving on the MTAC Leadership Committee.