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SQUEAKY CLEAN! The Basics of ADDRESS HYGIENE

Alex Newell Alex Newell Senior Sourcing Manager

Data management can be a challenging task for any organization, even ones that do it as their main service offering! There are so many ways to analyze and interpret your mailfiles, so how do you know if you’re doing enough to keep your lists well-maintained? Production Solutions is here to help provide options and answers to all your data hygiene questions. Between our internal experts, dedicated supplier-partner relationships, and our connections at the USPS, we will find the data solution that is right for your organization. 

What Makes an Address Unclean? 

Did you know that undeliverable mail costs the USPS around $1.5 BILLION per year? UAA (Undeliverable As Addressed) mail is at the heart of “Unclean” addresses, and while there are many causes, these addresses typically fall into one of two buckets: Change of Address (COA) or Undeliverable (NIXIE). COA’s are typically people who have moved or are accepting mail at a different address than you have on your mailfile. NIXIE’s are addresses that are mostly identified by a postal employee when they attempt delivery.  

First Class mail will be forwarded if the COA is valid – but for those of us mailing mostly Marketing Mail (including Non-Profit), almost all UAA mail is recycled by the USPS. And that means whatever costs sunk into that mailpiece – paper, labor, not to mention POSTAGE! – are all lost. UAA mail can be incredibly wasteful for the postal service but also for the mail owner! 

These bad addresses happen for a variety of reasons, and it all starts at the beginning – Data Entry. Where did you collect this data from? Even a residences’ owner can mis-spell an address occasionally, but maybe it’s more complex. Is it a part-time resident? Multiple owners? Then there is conversion of the data entry to your database, and subsequent maintenance of it. What if the original address was written illegibly or just mis-keyed into the database? What if the person moved shortly after submitting it? There are many ways an address can be considered UAA! 

Should I use a Mop or a Broom? 

Data Entry is important, but Data Maintenance is CRITICAL. But how to go about it? The USPS has several services to help, and there are also 3rd party organizations that use proprietary databases for further cleansing. But if you want to reduce the most cost possible from UAA mail, you need to use as many cleansing tools as possible. You are likely already taking advantage at least of two of the three main services offered by the USPS – CASS and NCOA. Both are run prior to mailing, and both are required to be done on a regular basis to take advantage of certain postal discounts.  

Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) is a certification available to software manufacturers and/or mail service providers that verifies the address matching software used meets their standards. The National Change of Address (NCOA) database accounts for most of the almost 50 MILLION Americans that move every year. And Address Correction Service (ACS) is the third major service the USPS offers to cleanse your file and it take place AFTER your mailing has arrived. For this reason, it is best used to collect those NIXIE changes since these changes are typically reported by the postal carrier themselves.  

Both CASS and NCOA will change your mailings’ addresses if they find a match on a USPS database, and before your mailing goes out. Both are also an additional cost to run, but you typically recoup those costs in the postage discounts obtained. ACS can be a FREE service depending on the option chosen and will send an electronic file of address corrections back to the mail owner. However, these files are infamously difficult to interpret without specialized software. All three services will assign a code to each processed record that will either validate the address as mailable or define a reason for it being undeliverable – Change of Address, Insufficient Address, Not Deliverable as Addressed, Addressee Not Known at Place of Address; each of which are all common undeliverable definitions. 

Address Hygiene Best Practices 

Now that you know the basics, here is a roadmap to get the best out of each tool: 

  1. Data Entry – make sure to include some sort of Address verification at entry 
  2. Database Management – Run CASS for every mailing, NCOA at least every 95 days, and test out ACS occasionally to see if it needs to be used more often. 
  3. Business Rules – there is a lot of gray area with the different “undeliverable” definitions. Decide whether to suppress or mail each type, then re-evaluate regularly based on results. 
  4. Update Source Databases – whatever updates you make to each mailing, make sure to also update your original, source databases. 
  5. Allow Production Solutions to assist! We can help provide direction for your existing programmers, or partner with our dedicated supplier network to manage your databases and run address hygiene for you. Let us know where we best fit into your current process! 

About the Author

Alex Newell
Alex Newell Senior Sourcing Manager

Alex, PS’ Sourcing Manager, has been serving with PS since
2017. Alex is from Wethersfield, Connecticut and he
telecommutes full-time from his home in Maine. Alex enjoys
spending time with his wife, Diane, and two kids, Liliana and
Camden, reading, mountain biking and golfing. He has also
traveled to more countries worldwide than US States, and he
once circumnavigated the globe.
Alex has over 12 years of experience in our industry,
specifically with printing and mailing. Alex promotes and
recognizes value on a regular basis, and his dedication to
provide opportunities for his team and to deliver impeccable
service is inspiring.