returned mail costly to government

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Automated services key to containing mail costs

In today’s multichannel environment there are many ways government agencies communicate with citizens -- ranging from postal mail to email to social media. While digital communications may be gaining popularity, print still remains king with the United States Postal Service delivering more than 155 billion pieces of mail in 2014 alone.

For public sector organizations, undelivered mail is a large and costly challenge: 140 million pieces of government correspondence were returned in 2014 because of name or address issues. Returned mail costs an organization on average $3 per piece in operational costs alone – postage, printing, handling, research, re-mailing and related processes.  And then lost receivables, missed collection payments, increased use of more expensive customer service channels (i.e.  call centers) and additional labor can drive the cost to exceed $50 per piece of mail, according to Novitex data, resulting in an estimated $7 billion problem for government agencies. And that doesn’t even take into account the risk of identity theft or fraud from misdelivered entitlements, collection notices or surveys containing personally identifiable information.

The primary reason behind the public sector’s massive undeliverable mail problem is the quality of each agency’s address database. Each year millions of Americans move, sell their homes and change their names without  informing government agencies of the change.

To help government agencies reduce spending and risk related to undelivered mail while increasing interaction with constituents, the public sector should consider using a centralized, automated managed return mail service. This type of offering integrates multiple types of technologies, datasets and processes to help organizations effectively manage this problem.

There are four steps public sector organizations must follow in order to make this approach work:

Convert physical mail into useable data. By scanning the physical document or scanning a unique barcode that is attributed to the piece of mail when it is originally sent out, agencies can effectively capture electronic information about undelivered mail. The digital information should be uploaded immediately to the contact database.

Cleaning and validating the address book. Agencies should validate incorrect addresses with certified USPS or third-party datasets that include consumer and business records. This information should be housed in an integrated platform and combined with intelligent program logic to create a massive and comprehensive compilation of contact details that can be cross-checked prior to mailings.

Streamline process via document repurposing. Agencies should set up back-end processes when mail is returned. When updated addresses are found, agencies should use a quality-driven process to remail the original documents, insert address validation communications and ensure secure storage and destruction of documents that are not remailed. These make it easier to resend documents to updated addresses and allow subsequent automated reprocessing.

Report and analyze results. It’s equally important that agencies report, analyze and audit the new return mail processes to measure the progress of the initiative. Key metrics should be established and reviewed on a regular basis as this will enable agencies to make changes if necessary.

As long as citizens keep moving, selling their homes or changing their names, return mail will always be a problem for government agencies. By leveraging a combination of technology, processes and data, however, the public sector can begin to reduce spending and risk associated with this issue.

About the Author

Christine J. Erna is the senior postal solutions architect at Novitex.

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