When the USPS can’t deliver First-Class mail, it returns it to the mailer. Somewhere in every corporate mail center sits a stack of mail trays stuffed with returned mail. This has been a problem for as long as I can remember. The people in the mail center have no authority to correct the addresses, and the process of locating the people in the organization who own those addresses is time-consuming. The mail just keeps accumulating.

    If the mail center employees do make time to examine the returned mail and successfully deliver it to the responsible departments, they find that fixing the addresses is usually a low priority item for the mail originators. As a result, the addresses don’t get corrected, and the mail center continues generating mail bearing the same bad addresses month after month.

    Undeliverable mail will always be a part of a mail operation. Though the mail center may diligently process address files against CASS and DPV databases and update the addresses through NCOA, some mail will still come back. The mail center can increase deliverability by correcting the addresses before mailing, but the original data source remains untouched. Eventually, records drop off the NCOA files and the company reverts to sending mail bearing the addresses of people who moved four years ago. Then the mail pieces come back to be added to the stockpile of returned mail.

    Returned mail can also present privacy and security risks. Those envelopes could contain checks or personal information. Though I’ve not heard of identity theft or other criminal activity connected to an organization’s returned mail, it’s a vulnerability you shouldn’t ignore.

    If a simple resolution to the returned mail issue existed, companies would have solved it by now. Unfortunately, getting a handle on returned mail involves an investment in time or money and it might be difficult to justify the effort. Unless undelivered mail directly affects revenue or puts the company at risk of regulatory non-compliance penalties, companies find it tough to calculate a positive ROI for a project to tackle returned mail.

    That being said, companies can be more active about handling all those returned envelopes by investing in scanning hardware and software. They can automate some of the manual steps to research and route returned mail. You may even be able to use existing components such as an outbound mail sorter to do some of the work.

    Another approach mailers can consider is the Secure Destruction program from the US Postal Service (https://postalpro.usps.com/mailing/secure-destruction). Secure Destruction applies to First-Class letters and flats where the intelligent mail barcode includes a special service type ID. The USPS shreds mail they would otherwise return to the sender. They communicate the reason for non-delivery and issue a notice of destruction.

    For mailers enrolled in the program, Secure Destruction eliminates the risk and expense associated with handling, storing, and disposing of returned mail. Companies can use the USPS provided data to identify the addresses that need updating and send that data to the external clients or internal departments responsible for maintaining the addresses.

    Will returned mail handling ever be a priority for mail centers? It depends on the organization and their exposure to risk or expense. The mail center must do an analysis of the returned mail to determine the impact of repeatedly generating mail bearing bad addresses. They can recommend processes that would allow them to automate the distribution of the mail pieces or the USPS data and lower the handling expense. With this information, the organization can decide whether to take a proactive approach or continue to allow the returned mail to stack up in the mail center.

    Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants creates content for the document industry and helps document operations build and implement strategies for future growth and competitiveness. Learn more about his services at www.printmailconsultants.com and www.pmccontentservices.com. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.