In almost every mail center sits a stack of trays filled with mail that never made it to its intended destination and has been returned to the sender. The piles accumulate in remote corners of the shops, largely out of sight. Undelivered material is a challenge for all organizations. This isn’t a new problem. Mailing professionals know all about it.
Ignoring the problem is costly and risky. When organizations finally start analyzing the backlog of returned mail, they often discover they’ve repetitively sent documents to the same bad addresses. Repeating the mistake wastes 100% of production and postage costs and accentuates cash flow issues and opportunity costs. Recent changes in USPS compliance and verification procedures put organizations that generate too much undeliverable-as-addressed (UAA) mail at risk for audits, penalties, and fines.
Returned mail can also be a security issue. Envelopes may contain documents bearing personal health or financial information, social security numbers, or checks. Misuse or theft of information acquired from undeliverable mail would go unnoticed in most mail centers.
Even though returned mail is risky and wasteful and everyone knows it, several obstacles prevent companies from efficiently handling the problem.
What’s Keeping Companies from Putting an End to Their Returned Mail Predicament?
1. Regulations prevent some industries from mailing to an updated address unless the customer has specifically authorized changes. The rules may allow address changes on some documents but not on others, even if they are mailed from the same company and use the same customer database! Automatic move update processing may not be feasible.
2. Mailers don’t always have access to customer databases. Print/mail service providers always have this problem, but sometimes even their clients depend on others to provide recipient mailing addresses. Group health insurance communications are a good example. Neither the mail house nor the insurance company provides employee addresses. Those come from the companies offering health insurance benefits to their employees.
3. The problem is physical, but the solution is digital. Those trays of returned mail contain the data necessary to research, correct, and update customer address files. But organizations need to convert this information from printed envelopes, codes, and USPS stickers into actionable data useful to automated processes.
Returned Mail Processing Solutions
The only workable solution for many organizations is determining the origin of each returned mailpiece and shipping the items back to the departments for address research and correction. This analysis is an overwhelming, time-consuming task. Few mail centers have the resources to manually inspect, sort, and route huge volumes of UAA mail. And so the mail accumulates.
The only way companies can reduce risks and lower costs associated with undeliverable mail is through automation. The right equipment paired with configurable, rules-based software can eliminate the returned mail processing issue while simultaneously turning address correction into a manageable task.
Hardware for Returned Mail Processing
Returned mail comes in all shapes and sizes. A mail center may accumulate standard business size envelopes, flats, self-mailers, magazines, or other document formats. Some documents are landscape oriented and others portrait. Some use labels, some glassine envelope windows, and others have addresses printed directly on the mailpieces. The backs of envelopes or self-mailers may contain relevant information.
Hardware used to process this wide variety of material faces three challenges:
Software for Returned Mail Processing
Sophisticated rules-based software must interpret the data extracted from mailpieces, decide about address remediation, and determine the responsible departments. All this processing must take place in real time as the equipment routes UAA mailpieces into the proper output bins.
Organizations could base their rules for identifying originating departments on the return address, codes in the address block, or on logos or other text and artwork present on mailpieces. They may make their decisions based on a combination of these features.
Unlikely to Solve Without Automation
If companies could handle returned mail without investing in hardware and software designed for the task, it wouldn’t be such a persistent issue. Mail centers of all sizes are hoarding UAA mail because they have no reasonable way to manage it. As postage rates increase, USPS enforcement becomes more stringent, and regulations tighten, the cost of doing nothing is rising. If your organization has a hidden returned mail issue, start a project to determine the current and potential costs of continuing to ignore the problem. Then compute the ROI of investing in a returned mail processing solution.