I am dedicating these snippets of real news stories to all the hardworking people who churn out millions of personalized messages a month. Reading about these mishaps may make you sad, or elicit a chuckle, but you’re probably relieved incidents like these didn’t happen to you. If they have, I hope you caught the errors before they became newsworthy!

Many of these bloopers probably triggered HIPAA actions — an expensive response to a dumb mistake.

Maybe Homer Moonlights at the County

15,000 Springfield residents received duplicate tax bills, increasing production and mailing costs by 12.5%. The county did not explain why the increased print volume raised no concerns at production time. The quotes from the county assessor are priceless. The solution for recipients of the double tax forms? ‘Throw one away and use the other one.” And in the famous last words category, “Those programs were working fine in the past…”

Why We Don’t Use Mail Merge for Document Composition

A regional health center breached the privacy of over 800 individuals when they mailed a letter about a staff change and accidentally revealed names of other patients. Investigations revealed a mailing vendor used mail merge to construct the letters. They selected incorrect data fields (and apparently lacked sufficient quality controls or proofreaders).

Was Geocoding on the Blink?

The service special above was delivered to my home in Texas. I’ve never lived anywhere near Virginia, but then I’ve never owned a Honda either. Low conversion rate predicted for this mailing.

OK, I used to live in Oregon — in 2001! Seems like this mailer performed move update processing on the delivery addresses, but used the original data or purchase history for identifying the nearby retail store…

JDLR – (Just Doesn’t Look Right)

An Illinois health system sent 3,000 medical bills to the wrong patients because of a mail center error by a third-party contractor. Someone inadvertently changed settings on the equipment to automatically insert two bills in each envelope. This condition persisted for five consecutive days and nobody noticed their output was half their input. Perhaps they were happy about the postage savings?

Householding Gone Wild

A Washington, DC hospital suffered a privacy breach when they sent collection letters with errors. Patients sharing the same surnames received letters intended for others. Oops. Seems like a case of excessive merging.

My name is Mike, but my friends call me FNAME

Dear [FNAME],

How does your organization prioritize spending, adoption, and best practice implementation of marketing technologies?

Your experiences, decisions and opinions are what matter most to us, so I hope you can spare a few minutes to participate in this brief survey…

I received the above email from an organization specializing in target marketing! It seems they would know better. You can never assume data is 100% correct. Default placeholders would have come in handy here.

We’re Just Making Sure, That’s All

Some county residents in Maryland received two identical property tax bills. The local printing company “rolls back” the file every time they have to re-load their printer with paper “to make sure every resident receives the mailing.” Sort of frightening to consider what other quality controls may be missing from this process.

The organizations responsible for these embarrassing communications could have prevented them all, usually by applying minimal process controls and quality assurance measures. These paper and email communications were not terribly exotic or complex. Stories like these show us when quality control procedures become relaxed, even simple jobs can trip you up.

Mike Porter helps print/mail organizations improve operations and develop strategies for growth. With an outside perspective, he uncovers workflow weakness often invisible to the operations staff. Contact Mike at www.printmailconsultants.com or follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter @PMCmike.