I like to think about solving the Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) mail problem by dealing with the address database in three steps:

  1. Get It Clean. First, identify bad addresses using a variety of automated software to correct as many as possible. Interactive manual lookup tools can also be used where specific investigation is needed, but all tools that determine if an address is deliverable or not should be USPS-certified. When cleaning your address file, determine if each address can be delivered to. Stop mailing to bad addresses, and research them by contacting customers. Making these critical decisions is one area in which a postal consultant can be of great value. They can help assign a score to your address based on how likely it is to be delivered to.
  2. Keep It Clean. All mailers need to continue processing their lists. This is a great way to measure the success of your address cleansing and a reliable way to check that your database was properly updated during the "Get It Clean" step.
  3. Keep It Current. Since 75% of return mail is the result of customer moves, continually match addresses against the National Change of Address database, the vacant file and other data sources as part of an ongoing managed address process. These tools help ensure that the person you want to reach actually lives at the address you have for them. To qualify for discounts, these tools must be employed on an ongoing basis, so make sure to determine how deliverable the addresses are. There are many reasons that an address can be temporarily undeliverable. For example, a person moved but did not yet provide a forwarding address, or they moved outside the US. While you hope to re-establish contact with your customer in the future, these temporary addresses are guaranteed to be undeliverable as addressed.

Remember that you are working to improve your most valuable asset: the names and addresses of your customers and prospects.

Two Real-World Examples

A financial services firm measured the quality of its addresses by its return mail. While it believed that two percent of its file contained bad addresses, the postal consultant it hired discovered that, actually, over half a million of the addresses being mailed - about 12% of its client base - were undeliverable!

The solution the consultant recommended took the address database through several phases in the cleaning and maintenance steps, including 48-month Move Update runs. Correcting the suppressed addresses should result in an estimated annual savings of $2.2 million plus $1 million more from reducing return mail by 80%, as well as eliminating waste in international mail. In addition, it was estimated that best practices could deliver approximately $850,000 in annual savings.

A utility company's customer addresses were originally entered by service people at the time of installation, but were not maintained to reflect any changes. Addresses often used non-standard abbreviations for street addresses because of field size limits. This resulted in promotional mailing campaigns that generated a lot of UAA mail that the USPS then discarded at a rate well over 10% of the mailing.

Postal consultants hired by the utility performed a complete analysis of its customer files to uncover the root causes of the addressing issues. They incorporated five software tools to investigate, correct, confirm and configure the company's customer information. This process involved both automated and manual operations.

This process was able to correct 50% of bad addresses that did not match USPS ZIP+4 data and were suspect for delivery. Additional records were identified that could be researched by the company's local representatives to confirm the necessary changes. Additional challenges included field size limitations, the need to create customized processes and developing a way to handle service addresses such as military bases and universities where the USPS doesn't support the direct delivery of mail. The consultants also provided additional metrics for each address which the company will be able to use to optimize future mailing campaigns. These metrics include the specification of residence vs. business addresses, vacant addresses and last known customer move, with date.

The company has asked its consultants to repeat this process region by region and to establish standards for the entry of new address information in the future. This is a good example of executing the step of the process that keeps an address database current.