Analyzing Move Update Survey Results

The U.S. Postal Service's results from its first year of Move Update were a bit surprising. A primary purpose of the regulation was to stimulate address cleansing (preferably pre-mail cleansing) by First-Class mailers, which, in theory, would have reduced the volume of Undeliverable-As-Addressed return mail. Initial findings don't completely support that objective.

Fiscal year-end results for 1998 revealed that UAA mail volume failed to drop in spite of dramatic increases in FastForward and National Change of Address pre-mail cleansing services. In a nutshell, pre-mail cleansing increased by tens of million of records while return mail volume was basically flat. A contradiction of such magnitude demanded action by the postal service. Accordingly, it created a compliance review team that launched the first in a series of in-depth field studies. Michael Murphy, manager of address management and the National Customer Support Center, presented the team's findings at the recent Mail Advertising Service Association's Mailer Strategies Conference.

The mission of the Move Update compliance review team was to identify methods and procedures used by First-Class mailers to update addresses, evaluate compliance and report noncompliance to district personnel. It randomly surveyed 184 First-Class mailers within 42 postal districts over a 90-day period. Team members were equipped with appropriate guides, publications and a complete flowchart of Move Update options that let them properly inform all survey participants. Here is the breakdown of the industries surveyed:

* Service bureau: 36 percent

* Financial: 14 percent

* Insurance: 11 percent

* Utilities: 9 percent

* Government: 8 percent

* Direct Mail: 7 percent

* Other: 6 percent

* Nonprofit: 4 percent

* College: 3 percent

* Publishing: 1 percent

* Retail: 1 percent

As you can see, efforts were made to survey a reasonable spectrum of First-Class business mailers. Of course, issue always can be taken as to the composition of the survey universe as well as the degree of coverage given to particular categories. Nevertheless, I believe the postal service achieved its objective. However, future selection criteria also should include database size. This will assure proper representation of businesses by size. (For instance, 63 percent of customer databases are under 250,000 records.)

Here is what the team found in its survey of those 184 customers:

* Compliance: 77 percent, 141 customers.

* Noncompliance: 16 percent, 30 customers.

* Questionable: 7 percent, 13 customers.

The first survey's results appear to be mixed, at best. Only 77 percent of the survey participants were found to be in compliance. The Questionable group consisted of companies that were not met with for various reasons, hadn't completed the survey or were found to be processing change information in a less-than-timely manner. Questionable or not, the sharp reality is that upwards of 23 percent of the companies surveyed were not in compliance. Using the old grade card system, First-Class mailers presently are rated a lowly C for their compliance to the Move Update regulation. This, too, is surprising considering the consequences.

At this point, it's important to note that the USPS is taking the high road and focusing solely on educating First-Class mailers — as opposed to enforcing the penalties signers subject themselves to, which include imprisonment of up to five years and fines of up to $10,000.

The postal service believes the UAA problem is attributed to a combination of noncompliance and envelope endorsements, which are widely used.

The survey findings demonstrate a need for the USPS to share survey findings with industry organizations such as the Direct Marketing Association and Mail Advertising Service Association and for the groups to inform their constituents in a timely and thorough manner.

First-Class mailers using ancillary envelope endorsements should seriously consider adding NCOA or FastForward pre-mail service as their primary cleansing technique. Pre-mail cleansing services are easily two or three times less costly and certainly more timely than endorsements.

All mailers should test the additional benefit of using pre-mail services three or four times a year to keep ahead of the population move dynamic. Some mailers are finding the usual twice-yearly frequency is not providing any net gain overall. It's analogous to treading water.

In reality, the compliance review team surveys are serving the best interests of First-Class mailers. Identifying a problem is the first step in correcting it. Now we have the responsibility to share these findings, as well as the penalty potential, to our colleagues so costly UAA mail is abated and we avoid future postage increases attributed to this problem.

Robert Swick is vice president of data services for Anchor Computer Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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