Mail manager surrounded by returned mail

Returned Mail Won’t Go Away on its Own

Nearly every mail center across the nation tangles with a persistent problem–stacks of undelivered mail returned by the US Postal Service. This issue is cumbersome and costly. The USPS estimates that over 4% of the mail it handles is undeliverable. Towers of returned mail trays pile up in the dark corners of most mailrooms. These dusty collections represent missed marketing opportunities, squandered production and postal expenses, and customer experience failures, not to mention a security risk. What are the reasons behind this problem and how can one tackle it effectively? 

The Impact of Undeliverable USPS Mail

When the USPS marks your mail as undeliverable, the ripple effects can be detrimental for your business operations and your bottom line. You must eventually address this issue. 

Returned mail is a stark reminder of an investment in an unfinished initiative, shining a light on wasted production and postage. Maybe that’s why we shove it to the back. But the impact of undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail doesn’t stop there. The innocent pile of returned mail accumulating in your mail center is also a potential security risk. Some of those mailpieces may contain sensitive information that, in the wrong hands, can be used maliciously. 

What Makes Mail Undeliverable?

When the USPS refers to UAA mail, they’re talking about any piece of mail they cannot deliver to the address printed on the mailpiece. Many things can cause a failed delivery: the recipient has moved, the address contains mistakes, the recipient is unknown or has died, there isn’t a mailbox available, or there wasn’t enough postage paid. In these cases, the postal service must forward, return, or even discard the material, depending on what’s allowed for that class of mail and the service endorsements chosen by the sender.

When they return mail to the sender, the USPS affixes a nixie label that includes information about the reason for non-delivery. Some common nixie label messages you may see include:

  • Insufficient Address
  • Attempted Not Known
  • Moved, Left No Address
  • Illegible
  • No Mail Receptacle
  • No Such Number
  • No Such Street
  • Vacant

The nixie labels also include the class of mail, processing date, and other information. The action you decide to take with these returned mail pieces will differ, depending on the reason for non-delivery. 

Significant Challenges in Handling Undelivered Mail

Dealing with undeliverable USPS mail is not a walk in the park. The challenges are significant and require dedicated effort and strategies to overcome.

Volume is typically a major issue. Your mail center may be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the pile. The bigger the stack, the harder it is to confront and it just gets worse. It’s common to experience a creeping average undeliverable rate for direct mail. Unless senders maintain the list, every mailing includes more outdated addresses. Without automation, correcting this issue demands lots of manual labor. 

Besides the paralyzing effect a mountain of mail can have on the staff, managing a returned mail project can be tedious. You’ll probably want to sort and separate the mail in different ways, such as segregating the returned mail by the generating department. This is not always easy to determine without opening the envelopes. You’ll also find duplicates, having mailed to the same people multiple times. The duplicates may have different reasons for non-delivery noted on the nixie labels, as conditions change. Sorting all this out can be mind-numbing.

No one wants to spend their time manually reading nixie labels and sorting mail into piles. In most mail centers, returned mail processing is something that is done only “when you have time.” Employees will find other more interesting tasks to do and avoid the returned mail duty. Many an organization has started and then re-started a returned mail project over and over because no one had the time to complete the job.

Finally, security is a big concern. Returned mail often includes sensitive information or documents that, if mishandled, lead to breaches in personal security and confidentiality. When someone with access to the mail center notices the unsecured stack of returned mail, they might remove some items. The company probably won’t miss a few envelopes containing high-value personal information.

Staying Ahead: Strategies to Deal with UAA Mail

The best way to lessen the impact of returned mail is to not generate it in the first place. Use specialized software to clean the mailing lists and update addresses before mailing. Use CASS-certified mailing software that standardizes addresses according to USPS regulations and flags data records with incorrect or missing information like street names, directionals, or apartment numbers. Compare the data to the USPS national change of address file (NCOA) to update the addresses of people who have moved. If necessary, use other address change resources (PCOA) to catch address changes for movers who did not submit information to the US Postal Service.

Implement Automation

Regardless of the address hygiene steps you take before mailing, some mail will still be returned. Plus, you probably have a big backload to face. This is where automation can come to the rescue. Use Tritek’s returned mail solution to eliminate the wearisome task of manually inspecting and sorting physical mailpieces. Our equipment and rules-driven software can scan the envelopes and nixie labels and capture the data via our exceptionally accurate optical character recognition (OCR) routines. We can sort the physical mailpieces by department and create a data file you can sort, view, and use to take action with each of the returned pieces. Automation and data management will change everything and allow you to get a handle on your returned mail problem. 

Maintain Accurate Records

Modern, automated management systems can track the reasons mail is returned to you, making it easier to keep up-to-date customer records. You will be able to identify patterns and find the conditions that are leading to UAA mail. With data in hand, you can approach departments that manage the data files generating poorly addressed data and help them see the benefits of updating their information. 

Review Your Mailing Strategy

If you find your mail being returned despite having verified the addresses before mailing, it might be a good time to reassess your mailing strategy. This analysis could reveal insights that go beyond basic reasons for returned mail. Maybe recipients refuse mail because of over-solicitation or irrelevant content. By critically reviewing your mailing strategy, you can honor customer preferences and reduce the likelihood of your mail being returned. 

Reduce the Impact of Returned Mail

Undeliverable mail issues can be complex, and a one-solution-fits-all approach is not always possible. The right combination of technology, process improvement, data analysis, and a strategic plan is often the recipe for successfully handling the challenge of USPS undeliverable mail.

  • Stop wasting money on mail that makes a round trip and never reaches the intended recipients:
  • Eliminate the accumulation of returned mail languishing in the mail center
  • Improve the customer experience
  • Raise the ROI of marketing campaigns
  • Lower the risk of security and privacy breaches
  • Invest in some technology and tackle this problem once and for all
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