Print/mail service providers and in-plants must rely on the data their customers provide. Though it's not always the greatest quality, some shops are reluctant to touch the customer data, even if they recognize improvement opportunities. There’s no upside to changing anything, goes a popular line of thought, and they put themselves at risk unnecessarily, should something go wrong.

    While I agree that customers are accountable for the data they provide, it’s short-sighted to ignore an opportunity to add value to a print and mail job whenever you can. Customer retention, repeat work, and profit margins will improve if you can help your customers achieve their business goals. Working to improve and enhance the data is one way to do that.

    Simple Address Quality

    Your options for improving customer data depends on the material you are mailing and your customer’s willingness to share information. But print/mail service providers and in-plant mail operations can always improve data quality, even if all your customers provide is a basic name and address list.

    Readily available tools can identify invalid addresses, update addresses for individuals or businesses that have moved, or correct improperly formatted address data. You are probably already doing this work to qualify the mail for postage discounts, but what else could you do?

    Adding More Value

    How about scrubbing marketing lists to remove anyone who is deceased, incarcerated, or living in a nursing home? These individuals may have deliverable mailing addresses, but there’s a near-zero chance of them responding to an offer that arrives via direct mail. Improve the customer’s ROI for the campaign by eliminating lost causes right at the beginning.

    You probably know that just because an address passes through the CASS process and receives a ZIP+4 code doesn’t mean the USPS will deliver it to the intended recipient. Additional data sources will tell you if a time-sensitive mailpiece is unlikely to reach the addressee. A building may be vacant or be lacking a mail receptacle. In some vacation communities, the residents only occupy the premises during certain times of the year. Sending them ads about next week’s sale is useless if it’s the wrong season.

    Another simple step you can take to improve the effectiveness of your customer’s mailing is to eliminate duplicates. Purging exact duplicate names is a simple operation, but it’s worthwhile to check with your customer. Learn their criteria for sending multiple pieces to different people at the same address. Mailing duplicate pieces to roommates with different surnames may be acceptable but avoid sending catalogs to each family member living at the same address. Use householding logic to remove or combine data records and help your customers save money and meet their goals for mailing campaigns.

    Bill for Data Services

    Taking actions that reduce the number of pieces you mail can be a bitter pill to swallow. When you bill customers strictly on the volume you produce, any steps that decrease the number of mailed items will cost you money. But charging customers for data services that reduce their mailing costs can be a win-win proposition. The customers spend less on materials and postage and simultaneously improve response rates while you forge a stronger business relationship with them. By selling data services, you can change your business model and cease the old practice of basing your revenue solely on per-piece prices that competitors can be easily match.

    Data Enhancement

    Want to go even further? In many cases, data enhancements can allow your customers to target individuals more precisely and adjust messaging and offers designed to elicit more positive responses. External data sources can supply information such as geocoding, household income, age, dwelling type, and more.

    Use enhanced data, along with modern document composition software and digital print platforms, to create personalized and segmented mailpieces, all within a single mailing job.

    I believe the only sustainable strategy for print/mail service providers and in-plant mail operations in the long run is to add value in multiple steps. This may mean venturing beyond your comfort zone regarding data manipulation and validation. Consider adding data services (and charging for them) that will lower mailing costs for customers, improve mail campaign results, and encourage repeat business.

    Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants creates content for the document industry and helps document operations build and implement strategies for future growth and competitiveness. Learn more about his services at and Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.