When it comes to addressing, I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is that for First-Class Mail, the average amount of Undeliverable-as-Addressed (UAA) mail is 3.7%. Even worse is the fact that this number is 4.7% for Marketing Mail. Whether you’re mailing two or 20 million pieces per month, that is a lot of UAA mail.

The good news is that one-third of those pieces likely could have been identified as undeliverable at the time of mailing. This means that by implementing addressing best practices, you can ensure your data is clean prior to mailing, and significantly reduce UAA mail.

Before I get to these best practices, let me explain what I mean by “clean.” A clean address is one that:

  • has all necessary elements,
  • is a valid address,
  • represents the current address for the intended recipient,
  • reflects the current representation of that address, and
  • is correct for your intended business purposes.

Best Practices for Postage Discounts vs. Best Practices for your Business

The first and most significant thing you can do to ensure that your data is clean (and substantially reduce UAA mail) is to use the best practices tools and processes that allow your mail to qualify for postage discounts. Then, work or suppress the addresses that fail.

These best practices tools and processes are:

  • Coding Accuracy Support System, or CASS (with Delivery Point Validation, or DPV; Locatable Address Conversion System, or LACSLink; and SuiteLink)
  • National Change of Address system, or NCOALink
  • Address Change Service (ACS)

Use these tools to verify that the address you are using is one that the USPS considers to be the current, valid address for the intended recipient and, therefore, qualifies for postage discounts.

Many organizations initially implement address quality best practices primarily to maximize postage discounts, but these same tools and services can provide additional information that lets you optimize your entire business.

To do this, you must leverage all the data from (and across) all the tools and processes to make more intelligent decisions impacting your business operations. Let’s look at an example that is currently getting a lot of talk in the mailing industry.

A Valid Address Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Delivered Mail

There are addresses that fully validate for postage discounts, meaning, there are no immediate indicators of any deficiencies. Recipients can file changes of address both into and out of these valid, physical addresses. However, there’s one problem: The USPS does not actually deliver mail to these addresses. And, the Postal Service has been making recent efforts to add over a million more of these records into their database.

From a postage discount perspective, sure, you can mail to these addresses. From a business perspective, however, not only do you not mail to these, but you record this physical address and request the correct mailing address to which you then send communications.

I have seen cases where as much as one percent of the records fell into this scenario. While these pieces qualify for postage discounts, they are a waste when used in a mailing because they are not deliverable.

The bottom line: If you’re only implementing best practices for postage discounts, you’re missing out. You must use all the data from all the tools to ensure your data is clean, reduce your UAA mail, and improve your business operations by deepening customer relationships and reducing risks.

Don’t Overlook These Other Scenarios

There are many other instances regarding addresses with special characteristics. For example, there are addresses that are valid solely for package delivery, while some addresses have restrictions on who can deliver to them. Identifying these and other special types of addresses and then using the best practices tools (along with additional processes) to find alternate, deliverable addresses for the intended recipient is what enables mailers to make smart business decisions and have return mail rates well under one percent (some under 0.5%). This is what address quality best practices is all about.

There are two additional best practices that can reduce UAA mail, but are often overlooked. The first is one of the biggest, missed opportunities: learning from the past. Many of the tools provide indicators of whether a mail piece may be deliverable or not. However, learning from actual mailings as to whether or not an address is valid for mail delivery is often overlooked. Don’t make this mistake.

The second practice is failing to revisit prior bad addresses. Just because a name and address was bad, does not mean that it will stay bad. A common example: A person moved and forgot to file a COA with the USPS. By using NCOALink, you can continue to process that address to see if a COA gets filed, in which case you can get the new address and re-establish contact.

When it comes to addresses, knowledge is power. The more you know, the smarter decisions you can make for your business – not just your mailing operations.

By not implementing address quality best practices, including using all the tools and data available to clean your data and reduce your UAA mail, you may not lose discounts, but you do waste mail production costs and pay additional return mail handling costs. You delay payments, and you lose opportunities to make a sale or promote customer relationships. You increase the risk of fraud and privacy violations, to mention paying fines and penalties. And, worst case, you put your company’s reputation at risk.

Adam Collinson is Director of Research and Development, GrayHair Software. Adam has utilized 6-Sigma processes and techniques for over two decades. In his current role, he uses his experience and knowledge to analyze, research, design, and implement new solutions to meet the needs of the ever-changing mailing industry. He is constantly involved in leading postal initiatives, associations, and workgroups and is a key speaker at such venues as PCC events, the National Postal Forum, and MAILCOM.

This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2019 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.