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Aug. 30 2011 04:02 PM

Has your company cut back on the amount of mail it sends to customers and prospects? Most people would say yes. Budget constraints have combined with a whole slew of alternative communication channels to shift volume away from postal mail. If certain groups of customers or prospects don't present a reasonable return for the marketing dollars spent, the mailings to them are likely to be suspended. That's a pretty smart strategy.

But unless you're planning on removing information about dormant or unresponsive prospects from your system entirely, it may make sense to keep their address information current. There might come a time when you'll want to mail to them again. Occasionally running those addresses through NCOA ensures that you're always aware of prospect and customer locations.

NCOA even if not mailing?
Even if you aren't likely to use postal mail again to re-connect with holders of closed or inactive accounts, maintaining a current address for them can still be valuable. As messaging becomes more personalized and targeted, the negative effect of inaccurate customer data on the effectiveness of your communication can be amplified - regardless of how those messages are distributed.

Here are a couple of personal examples:

1. I received a phone call from an organization with which I had done business several years ago. They were asking me to sign up for a new service they are providing and it sounded pretty interesting. The trouble was that in order to qualify to receive the service they needed to verify my mailing address. When my current address didn't match their records, they revealed (after much pleading on my part) the city and state where they thought I lived. It turned out that I had last resided there in 2006. I've moved six times since then and I couldn't recall that old address. Since the address was the only data they accepted for establishing my identity as their old customer, I was unable to sign back up. They missed an opportunity to reengage with me as a customer.

2. My car is getting up there in age. But it still runs well and it looks pretty good. I probably won't be replacing it soon, but I do need to pay attention to service items to make sure the vehicle keeps taking me where I need to go. I bought the car new and the manufacturer sends me special service discounts at the dealership where I bought the car - which is now over 2,000 miles away! Obviously, they haven't caught on to the fact that I don't live in Oregon anymore. Despite my faithful submission of address change notices with the USPS, the manufacturer hasn't updated my information. As a result I am left unaware of service specials at dealerships near my current residence. The local dealership has been robbed of a valuable personal communication channel. And that will be critical when the time comes to buy another car.

Customers not likely to fix addresses themselves
In both these cases I could take the initiative to try to find out how to update my address information in the files of the organizations. But that means digging through boxes in the garage to find something with the old address. And then finding a customer service number so I can wade through those annoying automated phone trees. Or trying to log into an online account with user names and passwords I probably won't remember either. It's easier to just ignore the ineffective messages.

I'm confident that the customer addresses these companies use in their current mailings are correct. But because they have decided to communicate with me only via phone or email they haven't bothered to include my records in the files that they pass through NCOA. And now, due to the number of moves and the length of time, it's going to be tough to get a match in case they ever do see value in updating my address.

As organizations show a preference for alternative communication channels, it might be tempting to trim some expenses by eliminating customers from the NCOA process. It seems like a logical step to take. But inaccurate address data can come back to bite you whether you are mailing or not. The cost to keep updating addresses will be a lot cheaper than wasted messaging and lost sales opportunities in the future.

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. For more tips visit and sign up for Practical Stuff - the free newsletter for document operations. Your comments are welcome. Send them to