Making the Most of NCOA Nixies

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The National Change of Address Nixie option is one of the least-used features of NCOA. NCOA Nixies are records that matched the NCOA file, but the match was not exact enough, according to U.S. Postal Service guidelines, to allow the vendor to return the new address. NCOA Nixies are flagged, and the differences that prevented a good match are explained by the Nixie footnote codes.


For years, mailers have used "nixie" to describe records identified as undeliverable by the USPS. Typically, they would be eliminated from later mailings. With the arrival of NCOA, the term took on another meaning. The dual use of the term has caused confusion, and some mailers have eliminated the Nixies, thinking they were definitely undeliverable.


To ensure quality and a consistent NCOA program, the USPS mandates strict guidelines for the NCOA matching process. Licensees must conform to these guidelines and are audited regularly. For a licensee to provide the new address, the match needs to be nearly perfect.


Interpreting the Codes


The NCOA Nixie footnote codes hold the key for deciding, on a record-by-record basis, the best action for NCOA Nixies. They will help you determine whether the "near match" is likely to be a real change of address. Once you determine that, you will need to decide what action to take.


You should consider factors such as active vs. inactive customers or buyers vs. prospects. You also will want to consider whether the NCOA record involved was a family, individual or firm move and whether the effective move date is more recent than your last contact date.


You should drop "real COAs" from prospect mailings to rented lists because you only have the old address. When dealing with customer records, you may want to invest to try to recover the new address.


If you have a continuity-, membership- or account-based business with regular contact opportunities, you will want to flag NCOA Nixies for customer service action. Or you can include them in the next mailing that uses one of the ancillary endorsements, such as "Change Service Requested," so you can get the new address from the USPS. The value of a customer, the cost to obtain the new address and the cost to replace a lost customer are keys to deciding.


NCOA Nixies can have more than one footnote code. Multiple footnote codes translate into multiple differences that prevented a good match. The following suggestions do not address possible combinations with other codes, so take this into consideration. The following are the Nixie footnote codes:


• "P" - Multiple NCOA records matched to the client record. These are good matches, but the postal service doesn't allow us to give you either of the new addresses because one may be incorrect. The important thing to understand is that your record has changed his address. Real move = Yes.


• "Y" - The only way to get this code is if you asked for a special option in NCOA that uses individual matching logic on all records. The option requires that the first/middle names match to call it a match to NCOA, even if it's a family move. This code indicates that you made a match on surname and address but failed on first/middle names. Since you chose this option to avoid these matches, this is not a genuine move by your standards. Real move = No, according to your criteria.


• "D" - Your record did not have a house number, and the NCOA record did. Assuming there were no other Nixie codes present, this could be a real COA. If it's a prospect record, you should drop the record from the mailing; it's missing a house number and is possibly a move. If it's a customer record, flag for customer service.


• "M" - Both records had matching rural routes, but one record had a box number and the other did not. Because the address is in a less densely populated area, it makes it more likely that this is a real move. Drop from prospect mailings if your record is the one missing the box number. If the customer record is missing the box number, flag for customer service. You may want to drop from future customer mailings, as the address may be deficient; otherwise, include in your next Change Service Requested mailing.


• "N" - Either the directionals (north, south, east, west) or the street suffix differed. The code does not differentiate when information is simply missing, versus being present in both records and different. Consider "123 Eagle Drive vs. 123 Eagle Road." Address standardization would have added the street suffix to your record if there were only one option, so it is safe to assume that if you are missing the suffix, your mail may get misdirected. Directionals are essentially part of the street name, and if different, you are probably dealing with a different street. Possibly a move, possibly undeliverable. Drop from prospect mailings if no ZIP-plus-four code was assigned or if it's missing the street suffix. Flag for customer service if it's a customer record.


• "O" - Street names unequal. The percentages would say this is probably not a real move, but be careful if you abbreviate street names on your customer file. If the street name is a long name (Pocahontas Trail) or one subject to abbreviations (JFK, MLK), it increases the chances that it is a real COA. Retain on prospect mailings if your input record was assigned a ZIP-plus-four code; otherwise, drop. Retain on customer mailings and flag for customer service.


• "E" - Your record has an apartment number, and the NCOA record does not. Consider the presence of other footnote codes. Real move = Yes. Drop from prospect mailings. Flag customers and mail a Customer Service Requested form.


• "U" - The NCOA record has an apartment number, and your record does not. Consider the presence of other footnote codes. Real move = Yes. Drop from prospect mailings. Flag customers and mail CSR.


• "Q" - Unit designator values (apartment, floor, suite number) are present in both records and are different. Be sure to see footnote codes "W" and "X." If there is a firm move and no other footnotes, this is a real move. If it's a family or individual, then you may want to retain on prospect mailings if you are aggressive or the name comes from an exceptional list. Retain on customer mailings, and flag for customer service.


• "W" - The last two digits of the apartment number are transposed. Barring other footnote codes, consider this a real move.


• "X" - Exceptional unit number missing or different. Unit designators such as "front," "rear," "upper," "lower" usually don't have a number, but if the NCOA record does have a value present, your record must have the same value to make a match. Consider this a real move.


• "I" - Firm name different. The company name on your record and the NCOA record are different. For a business-to-business mailer, this is usually not a real move. However, many businesses operate under more than one name. If your market is consumers, you may want to drop this record from prospect mailings, depending on how business addresses respond to your offer.


• "F" - The input surname - or I/P surname - is phonetically similar to the NCOA master file record, but not similar enough to be called a match. If it's a single-family dwelling unit and there are no other footnote codes of import, you should consider this a real move. If other significant footnote codes are present, treat as a nonmove.


• "H" - Missing or different "generation suffix" (Jr., Sr., II, III). A minor difference if your record doesn't have the suffix; far more significant if both records have a suffix and they are different. You can't "look at" the NCOA record, so if you can, use only your record to guide you. It's a real move if I/P surname record is missing the suffix or if it's a prospect mailing.


Footnote Codes for Individual Moves Only


Individual moves are often the result of a grown child leaving home or a separation or divorce. These are life-changing events and can affect spending habits.


• "G" - First name not equal. Both records have first names (not initials), and they are different. Not a real move.


• "J" - Input record is missing first name. Drop from prospect mailings. Flag for customer service on customer file to get first name.


• "K" - Different middle name or initial. Both records have the same first name, and both have middle/secondary names/initials present, but they are different. Probably father/son or mother/daughter. Probably not a real move. Drop from prospect mailings if you need to cut back or would rather play it safe.


• "L" - Gender not equal. Using the first names, a gender code is assigned to each record and compared. Not a real move.


• "V" - One record has a fully spelled-out first name and the other has an initial only, but the initial does match. Consider this a real move and drop from prospect mailings. Flag customers for customer service and CSR mailings.


Bill McGlynn is manager of sales and product development at Time Customer Service, a Time Warner Co., Tampa, FL.
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