In every mailroom, there invariably lurks a pile of returned mail the Postal Service could not deliver. This issue, termed UAA (Undeliverable as Addressed) mail by the US Postal Service, usually pertains to First Class mail pieces returned to the sender (the USPS destroys undeliverable Marketing mail unless the mailer has requested otherwise). Being First Class mail, the contents of the returned envelopes are important. Resources were deployed and money was spent to produce and mail the items. The organization would like their bills, statements, or important notices to reach their customers. Regrettably, mail centers habitually stack this undeliverable mail in trays, pushing it to the side, and waiting for a time when someone is free to sort it out — a time which never seems to arrive. We've covered the challenges of dealing with returned mail before in this blog with articles such as: Finally Fix the Returned Mail Problem How to Finally Deal with Returned Mail Why Mail Centers Avoid Dealing with Returned Mail Based on conversations with Tritek customers, we can see the returned mail problem still exists. In some cases, it's getting worse and, in a few instances, the returned mail issue has become a full-fledged crisis. State health departments, in particular, currently find themselves buried under an unprecedented volume of UAA mail they can no longer ignore. Other organizations may not be facing the same challenges as the health departments, but this situation is a good example of how events can change things in a hurry, and it could happen again. Next time, it may affect your industry. Highly regulated businesses such as healthcare, insurance, and financial services are vulnerable, as they can be compelled to follow new rules and laws that govern their efforts to communicate with customers. How would your organization fare if you needed to write to thousands of people that had not received mail from you for several years? Much of that mail would probably come back to you. You would have to scramble to locate these people, correct their postal addresses, and re-mail the information. Why the Sudden Increase? 91 million people are qualified to receive Medicaid benefits. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) estimates indicate that 5 to 14 million individuals may lose their coverage across the nation because of Medicaid unwinding. Medicaid unwinding is a process where states withdraw Medicaid benefits from recipients. This occurs when a recipient is deemed no longer eligible for the benefits. During the COVID pandemic, the government suspended a requirement for individuals to re-qualify for Medicaid benefits periodically, but the waiver period has now expired. The Federal government has required the states to contact all their Medicaid enrollees. State health departments are now sending application materials to the enrollees. The states obviously want to stop providing benefits to individuals who no longer qualify for the aid. The problem is the health departments have not maintained contact with Medicaid enrollees. Many times, the last known address for an individual was updated in 2019. You might see how that can be an issue: People may have moved (some several times) Some people have died Some have increased their income to a level that disqualifies them for Medicaid A percentage of Medicaid enrollees is somewhat transient and may lack permanent addresses Regulatory Requirements for State Health Departments The task of locating Medicaid enrollees and documenting the search efforts falls to state health departments. This process is governed by a set of regulatory requirements, which consider an array of factors and complexities. The process of handling undeliverable mail and successfully distributing critical medical information includes the same steps any organization would take to attack their UAA mail backlog: Maintain Accurate Records: State health departments are tasked with maintaining correct and up-to-date records of Medicaid enrollees. Any changes in the enrollee’s contact information or status should be promptly updated to avoid returned mail. This maintenance duty is a continuous process and pivotal to the overall management of Medicaid enrollment. Initiate Location Attempts: If mail is returned, state health departments must carry out a systematic process to locate the enrollees. This involves various strategies, including cross-referencing with the USPS National Change of Address (NCOA) file and other databases, reaching out to known associates or relatives, or even collaborating with private location services. Document Efforts Thoroughly: Every attempt to locate a Medicaid enrollee should be thoroughly documented for accountability and future reference. This includes details about the chosen strategy, steps taken, the response received, and how any subsequent action was performed, ensuring a transparent paper trail. Adherence to these requirements is not just a matter of formality, procedure, or compliance, but an obligation rooted in an ethical commitment to provide continual health coverage to eligible individuals. While Medicaid unwinding plays a part in the returned mail crunch, the solutions to address this problem are within reach. Adopt modern technology, revamp communication processes, and keep recipient databases up to date - these changes will not only reduce the onslaught of returned mail but also significantly improve mailing efficiency. Human Labor is Not the Answer Using human labor to handle the challenge of returned mail is futile - especially when volumes swell. In a time when companies are dealing with the daunting task of filling vacant positions, assigning employees to address the issues of returned mail is frequently not an option. Organizations initially taking a manual approach soon confront the manpower demands necessary to tackle this lengthy project. Employees devote time and effort to UAA mail only until other departmental needs arise, causing the project to grind to a halt. Interrupted and neglected, the process picks up intermittently whenever a window of availability emerges. With each passing delay, the piles of UAA mail continue to grow. The only practical solution lies in automation. Automated processes allow mail centers to manage UAA mail continuously, thereby effectively addressing and resolving this enduring problem. Automation to the Rescue Tritek’s Return Mail Solution has been helping organizations take on the UAA mail problem for years. One of the foremost challenges that emerge when amplifying the efficacy of returned mail handling through an automated approach is accommodating the physical variability of the mailpieces. The feeding and scanning hardware must accept any mail form, size, or thickness. Tritek's feeding and transport systems will handle all types of returned mail, be it letters, postcards, self-mailers, brochures, or flats. Cameras strategically positioned on the Tritek system obtain essential data from each mailpiece. The collected data includes specifics like the sending and return addresses, USPS reason-for-return stickers, permit numbers, and so on. Such data capture can be tricky, as details may be printed on either face of the mailpiece or in inconsistent orientation. However, the proven competence of the Tritek camera and data capture system ensures gathering of all relevant information from the mix of mail. Software deployed by Tritek uses customizable business rules to segregate mailpieces by department. These processes also include referencing resources such as the USPS National Change of Address file. Assessments made by the software rely on information sources that can range from logos, tag lines, or any other information presented on the mailpieces. It is crucial that the software and processing speed keep pace with the transport mechanism. The Tritek returned mail solution deposits the UAA mailpieces in the stipulated output bins. This enables the mail center staff to expedite mail delivery to the respective internal departments for further research and address correction in the customer databases. Fix This Problem Now As we have seen with the Medicare unwinding situation, failing to implement a system to process returned mail and correct addresses can catch organizations flat-footed and unprepared to deal with new needs and requirements. The standard operating procedure in many mail centers is to simply ignore the UAA mail. They lack the manpower and time necessary to ensure their organizations are ready, should new needs arise. The answer for most organizations is automation.
When companies consider customer experience (CX) initiatives, they rarely focus on postal mail. Websites, mobile apps, and chatbots get the most attention. But for most companies, communication through the mail is still a vital component of the overall customer relationship. Today we will consider how efficient outbound mail processing, inbound processing, and returned mail processing affect the total customer experience. Customer Engagement Customer engagement is how an organization communicates and interacts with its customers or constituents. Interactions occur through a variety of channels as a way to build that relationship. Robust customer engagement means: High rates of customer retention Increases in sales revenue Improved brand loyalty and trust Growth in brand awareness Memorable customer experiences Amplified customer feedback and insight Authentic customer engagement requires a strategy based on your customer’s wants, needs, and communication preferences. Direct Mail as Part of the Customer Experience Marketers are increasingly adding direct mail to their media mix, as mail is far more effective than electronic media for communicating with customers and prospects. A recent survey showed that 84 percent1 of marketing managers believe that direct mail improves advertising campaign performance. Like online marketing strategies, direct mail can also target customers at each stage of their buying journey, from brand discovery to retaining satisfied customers. With 56 percent of people believing that print advertising is trustworthy, businesses may consider it a better way to contact prospects.2 Much of that trust comes from direct mail’s tangibility. It can be touched, interacted with, and saved. Electronic messages are fleeting, while paper messages have permanence. The most significant appeal of direct mail is that it can be personalized in hundreds of ways. Customers are more likely to engage with your business if they know the content is created just for them. “Wow, my name is everywhere in this flyer, and these coupons are for stuff I buy!” That is a positive customer experience. Making Mail Work in Your Customer Experience Initiative Timely Outbound Mail One reason email and electronic media are attractive to marketers is the time from idea to “in-the-mail” is short compared to other channels. A marketer can react to market conditions with an email and send it to their customer base within minutes, if needed. It takes longer to develop and print a direct mail piece, but nothing compared to a few years ago. Companies can design and publish a mail piece in hours. Outbound mail processing technology can apply postage and presort the mail for postal discounts and accelerated delivery, allowing mail that was printed to enter the mailstream the same day. Outbound mail equipment is one arrow in the marketer's quiver to get communications in the mail stream rapidly. Companies can react to market conditions or share critical consumer information through a channel that gets their customer’s attention. One of the best customer experiences is receiving a relevant and timely offer or communication. With outbound mail processing technology as part of the communication workflow, an organization can provide a memorable experience consistent with interactions customers have with the company online, on the phone, or in-store. Inbound Mail Processing Customers today demand an immediate response to mail sent to an organization. This includes posted checks and payments. People trust the mail. They know a letter dropped at the Post Office will make it to the addressee on time. The USPS has published delivery standards that they meet 93 or 94 percent of the time. The onus of mail delivery is as much on the receiving organization as on the Postal Service. Processing payments and application forms the day they are received provides an excellent customer experience using the mail. Immediate processing of inbound mail is a snap with inbound mail processing equipment. A chain of custody begins when mail enters the receiving organization. When a customer calls wondering about the status of their mailed application, request, or payment, the inbound mail tracking data allows customer service representatives to provide updated information. Returned Mail Processing When people move, they have a million things on their minds. Changing their address with everyone they do business with is probably not one of them. When the USPS returns mail because of the move, it is essential to process the return quickly. Find the new address and get the mail out to the customer. Returned mail processing equipment makes this process automated, so the customer receives the mail without further delay. Tritek’s Contributions to Customer Experience Since 1988, Tritek has engineered patented, field-proven mailroom automation and document imaging solutions to improve productivity and mailroom efficiency. Tritek’s expanding menu of mail services includes biohazard screening, digital email delivery, returned mail processing, inbound mail, presorted mail, and parcel processing. Tritek’s clients include Fortune 500 companies, government, educational institutions, financial services, healthcare, insurance, and fulfillment. When considering customer experience improvement strategies, don’t forget about the mail. For many companies, documents customers send and receive through the mail ARE the experience, unless they have a special need or a problem. Every step in the mail handling process contributes to how customers perceive the organization. It pays to ensure those important customer interactions that occur through the mail flow smoothly through the organization. 1 https://martechseries.com/sales-marketing/marketing-automation/report-84-of-marketers-state-direct-mail-improves-multichannel-campaign-performance/ 2 https://theagencyltd.net/the-new-direct-mail/
Recently, many businesses have determined that investing in mailroom equipment, software, and labor may not be in the best interest of the organization. This has prompted a renewed interest in outsourcing mail center operations. Several forces are at work. Declining mail volumes, a dispersed workforce, and labor shortages have contributed to the trend. At the same time, postage rates are escalating and rules for entering mail are increasingly complex. Moreover, mail center managers are being asked to support a level of hygiene that is virtually impossible when everything you touch comes from places and people you do not know. Insurance companies are good at insurance. Real estate companies are good at real estate. Law firms are good at law. They are not experts in mail operations or USPS regulations. Mail service providers are experts in all things mail. Your goal when outsourcing mail processing is to find a provider that offers the breadth and depth of services necessary to support your organization. The Big Picture You do not need to be a postal expert to realize that the landscape of mailing has changed in the past 20 years. Just look in your mailbox. There is not much in there. Bills are sent and paid on the internet. While less effective, email advertising is cheaper than marketing mail. If mail centers are not sending much outbound mail and not receiving much inbound mail, you do not need much of a mail center. Mail Centers Evolving to Small Parcel Centers While mail is declining, parcel shipping is increasing. From 2015 to 2021, mail volume declined from 154 billion pieces per year to 129 billion pieces per year. During that time, the USPS’ revenues increased from $69 billion to $77 billion.1 The increase is attributed to parcel and Priority Mail shipping. It is plausible that parcel processing will be more significant than letters for corporate mail departments. This is not the death knell of postal mail. 129 billion pieces must still be delivered. Many businesses will maintain a “service center” for shipping, copies, and office supplies. However, companies looking to optimize mail handling should consider handing off mail processing to a service provider. Your Mail Center Does Not Have to Be Your Mail Center Outsourcing involves just moving your mail center from your building to someone else’s building. Someone that knows the postal process and can provide a level of service to accomplish your goals. Service providers are vested in current technology to deliver benefits not usually found in corporate mail centers. Outsource with Tritek Biohazard Protection As pathogens, viruses, and biohazards can be distributed through the mail stream, mail handlers find it necessary to institute safety measures and controls to evade these dangers. The Postal Service and OSHA guidelines recommend that mailroom operations have secondary engineering controls as a part of the daily workflow. Most corporate mail centers do not have these precautions. But service providers do. Digital Email Delivery Digital email delivery has been a viable technology for a decade, but its popularity has been limited. That is no longer the case. Remote work is the new normal, and teams without the right technology struggle to stay on top of their mail from home. Digital email delivery solves this predicament. This is a simplified explanation of how digital mail delivery works: The corporate mail center receives an envelope from a client addressed to Sally. The mail center staff opens the envelope, extracts and scans the contents, and emails the information to Sally. Sally opens the email on her phone or laptop, reads the letter, and responds. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Multiply this scenario by thousands of inbound letters every day. Clearly, mail centers would need technology beyond a mail opener and a scanner from the office supply store. The investment in technology and the implementation costs are beyond the scope of most corporate mail centers but digital delivery is within the reach of mail service providers. They can amortize the investment over several clients. Returned Mail Management The USPS returns outbound mail for several reasons, but the most common cause is inaccurate delivery addresses. The cost to a company is staggering. Experts estimate the operational cost at $25 per item.2 This does not include the “consequence cost.” When a bill sent to a client is returned because of an address error, the invoice remains unpaid until the biller corrects the address. Once corrected, the bill must be re-printed and remailed, and the remittance returned. What does that do to cash flow? Multiply that scenario by several thousand returned bills. That is the “consequence cost.” Mail service providers help with address correction and returned mail reduction. Implementation Since 1988, Tritek has engineered patented, field-proven mailroom automation and document imaging solutions to improve productivity and mailroom efficiency. Tritek’s expanding menu of mail services includes Biohazard Screening, Digital Email Delivery, Database Management, Returned Mail Processing, Inbound Mail, Presorted Mail, and Parcel Processing. Tritek’s clients include Fortune 500 companies, government, educational institutions, financial services, healthcare, insurance, and fulfillment. Let us be your new mailroom. View Related Articles: The Future of Mailroom Automation for Businesses How You Can Use One Machine for every Mailing Operation Solving Corporate Inbound Mail Challenges 1 https://facts.usps.com/table-facts/ 2 https://mailingsystemstechnology.com/article-4640-Report-The-Cost-of-Returned-Mail.html
Dodging undelivered returned mail is pretty common in mail centers across the country. But failing to take action on undelivered mail can have wide-ranging effects. Companies waste money by sending multiple mailpieces to undeliverable addresses, they lose touch with customers, delay incoming payments, and can even risk privacy breaches. With all the impacts of returned mail, one might think that mail centers would focus on processing undelivered envelopes, self-mailers, and flats that come back to them, but that’s not usually the case. Many mail operations consider returned mail a “when we get more time” sort of task. On the priority list, it’s way below duties such as processing the day’s outbound mail, sorting and distributing daily inbound mail, parcel handling, periodic equipment maintenance, and just about everything else that comes up during an average day. Realistically, that extra time never occurs, and the returned mail just stacks up in a forgotten corner of the mail center. Why Mail Centers Procrastinate Mail centers avoid processing returned mail because it takes lots of time and resources that a typical mail processing facility just doesn’t have. Returned mail is mostly unstructured, which makes it necessary to perform detailed inspections and make several decisions about how the mail center should handle each mailpiece. Here are a few of the questions operations must answer as they process returned mail: What came back?—Is it an invoice, statement, important notice, contract, policy, or correspondence, or does it seem to be marketing material? Why did it get returned?—Was there an error in the address? Did the recipient move? Was the address vacant? Or did the USPS make a mistake? Can you find the correct the address yourself?—Address errors or move updates may be something mail center employees can help resolve. Then they can advise the responsible department to update their information. In other cases, company business units must handle the research, which may involve reaching them via some other communication channel before they can update the mailing address on file. Who should be notified?—Deciding which departments or individuals should be contacted concerning returned mailpieces can be tricky. It may be necessary to open the envelopes to determine the sender. Until the responsible departments correct the source data, future mailings will generate more returned mail, so it’s important to let the senders know which addresses are undeliverable. How many times has the mail been returned?—Repeatedly mailing to the same addresses and having the mail returned means the costs of that outbound mail continues to rise. The impact of non-delivery also increases. Does the mail need to be secured?—Returned checks or credit cards shouldn’t be sitting in mail trays on the production floor. Neither should documents containing sensitive personal information like social security numbers, account numbers, or personal health or financial information. Like so many problems facing businesses today, the solution to dealing with returned mail is automation. Mail centers aren’t likely to increase staffing levels or reorganize their priorities, so making it easier to tackle that pile of returned mail is the only answer. An automated returned mail processing solution requires two components; hardware and software. Browse Mailroom Automated Solutions Mail Processing Hardware Equipment that companies use to process an eclectic mix of mail must be able to feed and transport material of various dimensions, orientations, weights, and thickness without jamming. Cameras mounted on the machines must capture all the data from anywhere on the mailpiece - from the address block to yellow USPS stickers, to return addresses and other locations. Once pieces are identified, the machine must deposit them in the proper bins for delivery to user departments, destruction, or manual inspection. Unlike outbound mail, where machines process large batches of identically configured mailpieces, returned mail is a mixture of items the organization sent out at different times. The collection of returned mail may include business size envelopes, large flats, self-mailers, postcards, or other document formats. Addresses may be printed at diverse locations on the pieces using a variety of fonts. The contrast between printed information and the background will vary. The mailing addresses could be shown through glassine windows, on labels, or printed directly on the envelopes. Information critical to identifying the contents or the department responsible for the mailpieces may be included in keylines, the return address, permit number, or other text and graphics printed on the front or back of the envelope. Cameras scanning the mailpieces must capture information accurately under challenging conditions. Smart Software Required Since the returned mail requirements differ for every organization, the software used to interpret camera-captured data must be flexible and easily configured by the mailing operations team. The variety of returned mail is constantly shifting. Though some mail pieces will still require manual inspection, the goal is to automate as much of the process as possible. Rules-based software must be able to handle a wide variety of situations, using data captured from the mailpieces to separate them based on many criteria. Some mail, returned because of insufficient address, may be run through CASS software to determine exactly what address elements are deficient. Other mailpieces may have to be opened to decide what department should correct the address. Rules for determining the disposition of returned mail could be based on a combination of data acquired from the return address, logos, tag lines, addressing format, permit numbers, or a wide variety of other elements. Software and processing speed must keep up with the transport mechanism and determine the output bin selection in fractions of seconds. Finally Get Control of Returned Mail Without automation, the returned mail dilemma will not get better. The costs of ignoring the problem will continue to grow and the effort required to get caught up will eventually be insurmountable. If your company is hoarding returned mail, you can’t discount the consequences of doing nothing. It’s time to consider the benefits of tackling the issue and shine a light on the stack of mail in that dark corner of the mail center. Tritek Technologies is known for our superior mail processing equipment that handles the variability of returned mail with ease. The rules engine built into our software allows mail centers to identify and route returned mail to appropriate departments regardless of the criteria necessary to make those decisions in real time. Contact us to find out how our solutions can help your organization deal with your returned mail situation. Learn More About Returned Mail: How to Deal with Returned Mail Efficiently How to Solve the Returned Mail Issue How to Solve Corporate Inbound Mail Challenges
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 Ending 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. Learn More About Tritek's Return Mail Solutions 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: Feeding and transporting materials of varying size, weight, and thickness. Successfully extracting mailpiece information used to identify originating departments, recognize reasons for non-delivery, and record errant mailing addresses. Sorting mailpieces into bins or other containers destined for delivery to the departments responsible for correcting the addresses. 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. Contact Tritek For More Info Learn More About Retuned Mail: How to Solve the Returned Mail Problem Why Mail Centers Avoid Dealing With Return Mail (BAD IDEA)