Print/mail service providers have long held the opinion that the mailing list was the client's responsibility. Yes, the mail service provider might do the CASS and NCOA processing necessary to qualify for postage discounts, but that is often where their interaction with the client's data ends.

I think acting as a pass-through entity for customer data is a missed opportunity. Print/mail service providers should always look for ways to add value. Otherwise, customers will view their services as a commodity they can procure just about anywhere, with no difference between suppliers besides the price. Finding new ways to work with your customer’s data is a way to distinguish your company from the competition and encourage customer loyalty. Data manipulation is something most service providers can accomplish, and it doesn’t require a huge capital investment.

Data improvement steps will benefit your customers by enhancing the performance of mailing projects. For your company, the extra time, effort, and expertise you lend to the projects can be billable services.

Let’s consider some data-related conditions your customers consider negatives, but you can fix for them:

1. Duplicate mail pieces

2. Undeliverable mail

3. Inaccurate personalization

4. Poor data presentation (improper casing, missing data elements, etc.)

5. Irrelevant mail

When I was in the print/mail service provider business working with client-supplied data, I ran into all these situations. When we recognized an opportunity to help our customers achieve better results with the mail, we’d show them how we could improve their data. Often, our customers welcomed the assistance, but not always. Some customers didn’t want us to touch the data. Others felt they were constrained by regulations or they just didn’t care. In lots of cases, though, we could adjust the data. When we did, we created better ROIs for our customers. I considered those projects as wins for everyone involved.

Eliminating Duplicates

Deduping a data file might be one of the easiest steps a print/mail service provider can take to improve the data that drives a mailing project. It’s not always as straightforward as it seems, though. You’ll have to learn exactly how your customer defines a duplicate. Is it a customer's name? Delivery address? Surname and delivery address? The duplicate criteria might be different, depending on the mailpieces you are sending. Eliminating duplicates lowers the mailing cost (while raising the campaign ROI) and prevents your customer from appearing wasteful in the eyes of the people with whom they wish to communicate.

Undeliverable Mail

You may find some undeliverable addresses as you process customer data files through the CASS software. Unless your customer is required to mail to the exact address on file, it makes little sense to spend the time and money on printing, processing, and postage for mailpieces you know won’t be delivered. You can drop those records from the mailing file and notify your customer so they can correct the addresses before attempting to mail to them again.

Bad Personalization

Personalization is great when it works–and horrible when it doesn’t. I always tried to scan through the data files, looking for instances where data might cause a problem with personalization. I’ve seen cases where data fields to be used to personalize documents contained random characters, truncated words, wacky dates, or completely inappropriate values. It might be worth the time to run the file through programs that validate the variable data fields you will be printing so you can repair the damage before you compose the documents.

Data Presentation Problems

Data can come from many sources, including user submissions via online forms or mobile apps. You do not know about controls that may or may not have been in place when the data was acquired. As a result, customer-supplied data files can be peppered with data formatting inconsistencies. If you are mailing a personalized communication and some names are in ALL CAPS, the piece loses its personal touch. Other errors become glaringly obvious when data is missing or in the wrong fields. An extra comma in an ASCII delimited file can cause all kinds of problems. Scan the file for obvious errors and be sure to define default values in case data is missing from a data record. This will help you avoid the dreaded “Dear ,” salutation when a data record lacks a first name.

Checking for Relevancy

Sending irrelevant documents is almost as wasteful as duplicate mail. Some examples where relevancy may apply include geographic-specific messaging, documents that include only male or female pronouns sent to mixed-gender data files, business addresses embedded in a file meant for consumers, or offers for single-family homes sent to apartments. Read the text of the material to be sent and then scan the data file to see if ineligible or unlikely buyers have been filtered out. You may be able to create multiple segments and adjust the content appropriately instead of trimming mailpieces from the job.

Correcting the problems outlined above does not require you to augment or enhance the data with third party information, although that is another way to add value to your customer’s mailing project. You could add data points such as age, estimated income, home ownership, or credit score and use that information to further filter, segment, or customize the documents. Or you might append an email address and expand into multi-channel communications.

As your customers become more sophisticated about data-driven communication, the data files you receive will contain more information than just a name and address. Use this additional data to your advantage and create mail that gives your customers what they want while simultaneously strengthening your relationships with them.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants creates content that helps attract and retain customers for companies in the document industry and assists companies as they integrate new technology. Learn more about his services at Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.