Automobile Group Puts Brakes on Returned Mail

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A data quality initiative by the AAA Allied Group Inc. has helped this regional membership organization of the St. Louis-based AAA reduce its returned mail by 20 percent.

AAA Allied Group spans the Hartford, CT, region; the Cincinnati tri-state area; Kansas; Miami County, OH; southern West Virginia; and eastern Kentucky. The automobile group began thinking about a data quality effort in 2002.

"We have 1.2 million members, and we were concerned about the amount of our outreach that was actually making it to the intended recipient," said Tom Wiedemann, senior vice president of AAA Allied Group. "For example, we send out a yearly bill for dues, and you have to have your addresses right if you want to chase down your members and make sure they renew."

The database also was referenced when the group distributed membership cards, offers, discount books, maps and partner marketing.

Besides struggling to manage boxes of returned mail, the group also realized it was wasting staff time on manually calling members to verify address information after the fact.

"When someone decided to join our club, they'd either call us, walk into a club office or join us via the Web site," Mr. Wiedemann said. "But after they would sign up and we would get mail returned to us, our counselors had to manually call each member to get the correct address."

At the time, the group used "what everyone else uses -- CASS software from the [U.S. Postal Service] -- which tells us if there are forwarding addresses, and then we would work with the USPS to do any uploads of information that they had," he said. "But obviously at that point you've already missed them. It was our desire to be proactive on the front end."

In 2003, AAA Allied Group began working with QAS, an Experian company and an address management solutions supplier. The Cambridge, MA, company's QuickAddress software suite helps organizations capture accurate address data and conserve the integrity of that data over time.

The group began using QuickAddress Pro, which is now integrated into AAA Allied Group's membership software and is accessible by all the frontline counselors in the call center or in the offices. Earlier this year, the company implemented QuickAddress Pro Web, a front-end address correction software for seamless integration into Web site forms, which lets members ensure their address is correct when they sign up online.

AAA Allied Group also uses QuickAddress Batch address correction software, which cleans, completes and verifies existing records in an address database or list. The accounting department inputs the fresh address into its database.

In the call centers and in the offices, "the QAS software pops up automatically whenever an employee goes into an address field within our membership software," Mr. Wiedemann said. "The software helps them verify the accuracy of the address when the members call, and we can walk the member through [the transaction]."

For example, "we can say something like, 'You say it is 85 Elm Street, but I'm not showing that that is a valid address. Could it be something else?'" he said.

The software also saves time, Mr. Wiedemann said, as "we take 2 million phone calls from our members in a year ... and the software allows our counselors to verify the accuracy of the information and save keystrokes because as they type in an address, it reduces the possibility of what the correct address can be. The closest they get to what it can be, they just click on it."

Since using the software, the group has cut its returned mail by 20 percent and saved $154,000 per year on postage and printing costs.

"The way our membership works, we send three separate bills, so by the time we find out one is on its way back, we may already be sending a second," he said. "Every three weeks or so we are sending out a new bill, so if you didn't pay the first one, a second one is on the way. So we are saving on the second and third mailing. And once we get the correct information, our re-mailing has been cut down quite a bit."

The organization also saved another $147,000 in labor costs because staff previously spent time calling members to verify addresses.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, AAA Allied Group's staff was freed up to focus on improving customer service.

The organization also claims that by knowing how street names are spelled, customers feel more confident that AAA will know where to go when the member needs roadside assistance.

"It adds a level of intelligence to the transaction, where the member knows this person is plugged in, they have information at their fingertips," Mr. Wiedemann said.

Data quality also became important as AAA clubs were merged. In 2000, the association began combining clubs to try to be more efficient.

"We were very locally friendly, but inefficient," he said. "We began to understand that in order to be a world-class association, we needed to hitch our wagons together and become more efficient."

Mr. Wiedemann said the first merger for AAA Allied Group took place in 2002 between the Cincinnati area and the Hartford area.

"As we merged, having the right addresses became even more important," he said. "When these clubs had 200,000 or 300,000 members individually and when you start to pull all that together, you really understand the implication of not reaching a few percentage points. You realize that's a big deal."

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