UAA mail is at the heart of many long-term operational issues, such as rising print and postage costs, difficult cash flow management, poor customer service, and missed sales opportunities. And UAA mail itself is based on bad data. This can range from incomplete names and addresses to information that is just plain wrong, such as typos, incorrect ZIP Codes, duplicate records, mismatched data, or a database that includes customers who have moved, retired, married, divorced, or passed away. Here is where smart data quality can make a difference. Implementing customer data verification processes at point of capture and batch cleansing to maintain address accuracy will reduce returned mail, streamline operations, and improve targeted marketing efforts. These same processes meet address quality challenges when expanding internationally.

Get Good Data at the Point-of-Entry

Eliminating bad data at the source is critical. By integrating real-time address autocompletion and verification solutions, mailers ensure that only valid address information is entered into the system; solutions suggest a verified address as the user types and then complete the entry automatically. This helps boost conversions and increase orders by simplifying and accelerating the checkout process for customers.

Mailers can also implement address verification to clean postal addresses already in their systems or mailing lists, and they should consider a solution that is certified by the postal organization they use. Postal certification serves as a standard for address data quality measurement and allows customers to benefit from postage discounts. There are many postal certifications worldwide including CASS by USPS, SERP by Canada Post, AMAS by Australia Post, SNA by La Poste in France, and others. Utilizing a certified address verification solution will help fix incomplete or inaccurate addresses by adding the correct (or missing) components such as postal codes, secondary (suite) information, directional, residential, or business identifier. This standardization of address data not only ensures that mailers earn postal discounts, but is also key to identifying and eliminating duplicate records – especially those that are hard to spot due to address obscurities, formatting inconsistencies, nicknames, and abbreviations. By merge/purging duplicate records, mailers can reduce waste and get a more accurate, single view of their customers.

Slashing UAA Mail with Move Update

Up to 25% of an average company’s contact data records are inaccurate in some way. One of the leading culprits is data decay – data deteriorates as businesses and people move, change jobs, marry, retire, and die. In the US alone, 44 million families, individuals, and businesses move each year. To reduce costs associated with wasted postage and production, change-of-address processing is essential.

While the USPS recommends four primary change-of-address processes to reduce UAA mail and meet the Move-Update requirements for all Presorted First Class, Standard Class, and Parcel Select Lightweight mailing postage discounts, its NCOALink is the only one that updates your list with current addresses prior to mailing. NCOALink processing matches your list against a dataset of approximately 160 million permanent change-of-address records filed with the USPS over the last 48 months. To save on postage, printing, and time, as well as meet certain requirements for postal discounts, mailers must Move Update their mailing lists within 95 days of mailing. USPS case studies estimate that a database owner of one million records realizes a savings of $600 for every one-percent improvement provided by NCOALink processing.

Change-of-address services are also available in international markets such as Canada, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

Going Beyond Move Update

What about the roughly 40% of movers that do not file a change-of-address with the USPS? Mailers should incorporate multisource change-of-address processing (MCOA), accessing a privately owned database of approximately 121 million change-of-address records from sources such as magazine publishers, banks and credit card companies, mail-order forms, and various other sources. Blending NCOALink and MCOA results in a cost-effective direct mailing, ensuring the bases are covered and your campaign reaches its target audience.

Now Go Global

While the tools we’ve been talking about also apply to your global database, there are some important distinctions. Language and character sets differ dramatically, creating impact on how your address information is standardized (and then validated, cleaned, updated, deduplicated, and more). In addition to native languages that are non-Latin, almost every country has its own address format, sometimes up to six address lines depending on the country. Because of this, the more international your records, the more likely you will have problems verifying addresses for mailing and shipping.

A transliteration engine is imperative, helping international mailers translate foreign languages so that international postal address records can be validated and deduped. Transliteration will transform non-Latin writing systems including Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Cyrillic, and Korean into Latin characters so that addresses can be validated, standardized, deduped, and enhanced. There simply are no more roadblocks to international data quality with convenient tools that eliminate undeliverable mail, as well as clean CRM data, ensure e-commerce shipments are delivered, and reduce fraud.

Meeting the UAA Challenge

A decade ago, the USPS issued a challenge to reduce UAA by 50% over 10 years. The move was inspired by more than 10 billion pieces of mail considered undeliverable because of an incomplete, illegible, or incorrect address, as well as a total cost of $2 billion annually to the Postal Service, forced to either treat the undeliverable mail as waste or handle it with forwards or returns. The good news is that these numbers have dropped: In fiscal year 2014, UAA mail was 6.6 billion pieces and cost the Postal Service $1.5 billion. The bad news is that this does not include the cost to mailers themselves, estimated to waste nearly $20 billion annually in UAA cost related to printing, shipping, and loss of long-term business and customer relationships. Unchecked, these costs are likely to become even more significant as business becomes more and more global – with mailers serving customers worldwide and managing address data sourced from company websites, blogs, call centers, and more.

Working with clean, optimized data is the key to solving the UAA challenge. Mailers not only reduce costs and meet postal regulations but also ensure long-term business value with timely deliveries and high customer satisfaction worldwide.

Greg Brown is a vice president at Melissa Data, provider of global data quality solutions that integrate into a spectrum of direct mail, ecommerce, master data management and Big Data platforms.