Postal Forum Hammers Home Importance of Address Quality

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KISSIMMEE, FL -- Address quality, always a major topic for business mailers and the U.S. Postal Service, dominated the discussion yesterday at the 2006 National Postal Forum here.


"We have wrestled with [the issue of undeliverable-as-addressed mail] for years," Postmaster General John E. Potter told attendees in his keynote speech. "It adds costs to mailers, several billion dollars a year by some estimates, and costs us more than $1 billion a year in wasted productivity."


Potter advised mailers to use the tools like NCOALink just before a mailing."


NCOALink is a data set of address changes from the USPS. It lets companies update mailing lists with new addresses from individuals, families and businesses that moved so mailers can qualify for First-Class automation and presort discounts.


Using NCOALink more often than the recommended 180 days prior to a mailing also was urged at a session during the forum's Address Quality Symposium yesterday.


"We recommend using NCOALink every 30 days," said Chris A. Bennett, chief technology officer at Data-Mail Inc., Newington, CT, a direct mail processing and computer services company. Bennett spoke at the symposium. "It just works really well for us within that time frame."


Bennett also suggested using the postal service's electronic ACS, or electronic Address Change Service, to obtain move information when someone relocates after a mail piece has entered the mail stream. The system aims to reduce the volume of hard-copy address correction notifications handled by the USPS and mailers. It also centralizes and automates address correction information to mailers.


To use the service, mailers add a unique code to the address area of their mail pieces to identify them as ACS participants. As UAA mail pieces are processed at Computerized Forwarding System sites, this code prompts the CFS computer system to create an electronic record of the customer's move information.


These records are consolidated nightly at the National Customer Support Center in Memphis, TN, and are provided to ACS mailers based on a frequency determined by each mailer.


Bennett also mentioned that the new four-state barcode technology. This lets business mailers sort and track up to 1 billion pieces of mail at a time as well as request services such as address correction and confirmation of delivery easily. It will make ACS even more effective and eliminate the need to place an extra ACS barcode on a mail piece.


"For marketers, freeing up the real estate on the envelope is especially important," Bennett said. "It directly impacts response rates."


Smart mailers also are using their customer service agents to update their mailing lists to try to eliminate UAA mail, and more companies should think about doing this, one Postal Forum panelist said.


"One of the best things companies can do to cut down on UAA mail is get their customer service reps involved," said Christopher Lien, commercial mail market director at Firstlogic Inc., a postal software and solution provider in La Crosse, WI.


For example, when a customer service rep is talking with a customer, he should have access to that customer's address and be able to ask them to confirm their address while they are on the telephone.


"This is probably the best way to get real-time address data about your customers," he said.


Also at the session, postal officials offered insight into plans for the agency's address management products and services.


James D. Wilson, USPS program manager for intelligent mail and address quality, said that the agency is working on ways to improve its address management products and services and make them easier to use.


Janice E. Caldwell, USPS manager for address management, said that to keep up with the new homes and subdivisions being built around the country, "we have an internal system set up so that as soon as we see any new addresses, our letter carriers can input the new [data] in 24 hours or less."


As a result, Caldwell added, "you will see fewer rejects in the very near future."


Though 13 sessions at the forum addressed address quality, it is vital to put these lessons into action.


"The key is doing something about UAA mail, not just talking about it," said Robert B. Swick of Address Management Solutions Inc., Dunedin, FL, a firm that helps companies update their mail files.


Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, CRM and database marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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