The United States Postal Service (“USPS”) delivers to over 300 million people at more than 150 million addresses every day. In most years, between 600,000 and 800,000 new addresses are created. About 40 million people will file a change of address request with the USPS each year.
Address databases – from a mailer and the USPS point of view – are dynamic, constantly changing entities, and require constant, consistent maintenance.
In our last post, we discussed the importance of validating new customers’ addresses as soon as possible using USPS-certified software. In addition to the proper formatting and validating the correct ZIP Code information from the Coding Accuracy Support System or “CASS” software, mailers should run the addresses against the National Change of Address (“NCOALink”) database.
But once is not enough.
The USPS Address Management System (“AMS”) maintains all mailing addresses (include post office boxes) with regular updates to certified vendors. The AMS updates include new addresses, changes in ZIP codes, delivery routes and address change requests. Vendors format the information for their software, and then forward the changes to their customers. The timing of the updates for mailers depends on the type of software, vendor practices and service agreements. New information availability could be immediate (cloud-based), monthly or bi-monthly.
The USPS address certification standards for mailers (DMM 602 – Addressing) are lenient. For presorted First Class Mail, the ZIP codes need to be verified an updated once every 12 months. While somewhat stricter, the Move Update standard (i.e., matching names and addresses against customer-filed change of address requests) is only within 95 days before a mailing. Savvy mailers exceed the USPS standards, checking their addresses either monthly or bi-monthly.
But there’s more to maintaining a healthy address database than just running the list through software. Mailers must have documented methods to update any moves and correct addresses that fail the coding process. Based on government regulations or contracts, a company may need permission from a customer to update an address. Actions could include mailing notices that include a feedback form, electronic submission information or a call-in number. Using double postcards or self-mailers can reduce the costs associated with this steps.
Just as important, the addresses that fail the CASS process need to be corrected. Prioritization should be given to addresses that have severe failures (e.g., no street number, missing apartment or suite number, no ZIP Code, etc.). Customer service representatives should contact the customer through alternate means, including email and telephone. Mailers may also want to take advantage of the USPS Address Element Correction (AEC) or AECII Services.
Keeping mailing addresses up to date is an ongoing process. Regular checkups using CASS and NCOAlink software will provide the required information to detect moves and identify errors. Taking action as soon as moves or errors are detected reduces returned mail, lowers postage costs and most importantly – avoids adverse customer relationships.