Saturday, April 26, 2014

People vs. Computers: What's the Best Way To Fix Bad Mailing Addresses?

The U.S. Postal Service’s traditional reliance on “carrier knowledge” to deliver mis-addressed mail is breaking down. But is that good news or bad news?

A USPS executive recently warned that the shift to more non-career carriers is likely to reduce the chances that mail with incomplete or incorrect addresses will be delivered correctly. Comments from both front-line employees and mailers confirm that the trouble has already started.

“Up until about five years ago there was always one carrier on one route meaning that every route was staffed properly,” a 27-year veteran letter carrier commented recently on my article New Postal Hires Mean More 'Return To Sender' Mail. “Plus, we had ‘fixed’ floaters for our days off. This
ensured that the mail was delivered with adequate knowledge. Now, every day is nothing short of chaos. Carriers are scrambling around the office to ‘case up’ vacant routes then doing a two- or three-hour split in addition to your own route. It’s a recipe for failure.”

“I place a big VACANT sticker in my vacant boxes,” a letter carrier wrote on another web site. “Evidently every CCA [city carrier assistant] thinks this is the resident’s name because they stuff it with mail -- every one of ‘em.”

Some commenters believe that relying on carrier knowledge rather than good databases and systems is the real recipe for failure:

“My rural carriers have always re-routed mail because of their personal knowledge and it drives me nuts,” wrote a 20-year postmaster. “I don't condone it because when the sub works, mail gets RTS
[Return to Sender, address unknown. No such number, no such zone]. I can't help the sub, because I don't know either. You'd be a better carrier to push your customers to correct their mail pieces misaddressed, and put their house number on their mailboxes.”

“I could not believe the comments from USPS employees that seemed to be saying that the issue would at least be partially resolved if full time/career employees were the only ones delivering mail because they would know ‘where these people live’," one person commented in the Printing Impressions LinkedIn group for mailers.

“The mail should be addressed properly. That is the only way the system works and especially in a time when people are moving seemingly more frequently. No human can possibly keep track of this for a route of any size (I can barely do it for my family!!!). Address hygiene is key!”

Statistics vs. service
Some postal workers blame the growing delivery problems on postal management that is increasingly emphasizing statistics over service. Said one: “A missed scan point is so much more important to upper management than mis-delivered mail, undelivered mail, or even deliverable mail that ends up being returned to sender because carriers are not given time to properly deal with it.”

Postal workers also complain about businesses and other institutional mailers using outdated address databases. But even industry-standard address-hygiene practices don’t solve all problems.

People often move without notifying the Postal Service, especially since USPS made it harder to obtain the proper forms. And folks forget (or choose not) to share the new address with all of the other organizations with which they have regular dealings.It can take awhile to get updates into the USPS’s address-correction system and even longer to correct data that's just plain wrong.

Stir it up In the interest of stirring up discussion of this knotty problem, here is a selection of other comments made to Dead Tree Edition, other web sites, and LinkedIn groups: 
  • "Hmmmmm, where I work many of the subs deliver everything because they're not given the time, they just don't care or they're too incompetent to figure out who does and doesn't live at a certain address."
  • "We are not allowed to leave mail at the case for the regular carrier to look at the next day to review. 'There's no such thing as review mail!' So I'll send it to the forwarding system, if there is a change of address in the system it's forwarded, if not then it hopefully comes back when the regular will get a chance to check it. Inefficient, but have to follow bonehead instructions."
  • “Maybe the USPS needs to use the new scanners/data collection devices to get real time info from those experienced carriers. Part of the USPS problem is not utilizing technology to the fullest.” 
  • "A few tips: 1. The Processing Center I work for does NOT have nixie or uncoded clerks. This means mail without zip codes will be returned. 2. Mail with incorrect zip codes will be sent to the zip code on the mail. A letter sent to Los Angeles, Ca. 10010 will be sent to New York and then returned as undeliverable. 3. First class mail that is undeliverable and does not have a return address will go to the Mail Recovery Center and if no valid address can be determined the mail will be destroyed."
  • "I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about returned mail from my customers lately. This is excellent info."
  • "The worst part about this is that the USPS is too stupid and inept to create a return to sender shipping label that is trackable and machineable. So your return to sender Priority Mail package goes to a sorting center to be hand sorted and takes two weeks or more to get back to you."
  • “It [mis-addressed mail] won`t be returned. It will be delivered. Many of our PTFs [Part-Time Flexible employees] just deliver the DPS [delivery-point sequenced] errors. They couldn`t care less if it goes to the wrong address.” To which someone responded, “Goes hand-in-hand with management that couldn't give a sh1t about the training of these subs......numbers and PFP [pay for performance] uber alles."


Unknown said...

you have to have good databases and experienced,quality people at the delivery end to make it work......both have to be together. However, USPS mgt. has forgotten that simple rule in pursuit of numbers, and unjustified bonuses.

Anonymous said...

The USPS should require address service requested on every piece of mail and carriers should correct every piece. Then the mailers would fix their address because they would be paying for it. If we just keep delivering the bad address mail it will never get fixed.

Anonymous said...

Customer Service will continue its downward spiral into the toilet, and nothing will change until the Republicans announce, "See, look how bad the Postal Service is............the only way to fix it is to PRIVATIZE !!! "

Unknown said...

I delivered for 20 years. A carrier should never deliver a magazine with a bad address because as soon as he does, the address is sold to thousands and then you have even more mail with bad addresses. I corrected the long before we had PARS. Many were amazed at the lack of bad mail I had. It has been available for a long time. Use it. Other mail, like Grannys letter, should be left for regular carrier review. Local management can solve that.

Anonymous said...

Charles Mccoy is right-on, 100% correct! As a carrier, when I see incorrectly addressed business mail, I return it to the sender immediately. And even with first class personal correspondence, I let the customer know that with so much mail being automated, they need to let the sender know what their correct address is. I emphasize to them that with the post office increasingly relying on automation, if they want to continue to receive this mail, they must get the address correct. I, like Charles, have very little badly addressed mail and I have extremely happy customers because anyone who subs on my route can be confident that the mail they are delivering is going to the right place. As a rural carrier, I have the leeway to go this extra little step to insure good address hygiene on my route. Most city carriers are monitored and harassed over every second that they don't have this option. The USPS should start REQUIRING all carriers to return incorrectly addressed mail. About a year of this, and it would be amazing how much better the databases would be. Just the humble opinion of a 21 year carrier.

Anonymous said...

So far, I agree with most of the comments/complaints/explanations. BUT in the end it IS the sender's responsibility to make sure the mail is addressed correctly.
Being a carrier, I am astonished by how poorly some of the mail is addressed. I don't know how people can expect it will be delivered correctly. I would never dream of sending a letter to someone without putting ANY house number on it. Yes, I've delivered them correctly because I know by the name. But, a sender can't, reasonably, EXPECT that service. On the other hand, some mistakes are understandable. If i live in California and I'm sending something to New Jersey, how am I to know that a town has a Main St., Main Rd. and a Main Pl.? On the other hand, I can't complain that I get the letter back "No Such Number" because I addressed it to main St., when it should have been Main Rd. As a carrier, I made it a practice to "X" out the error in the hopes that the recipient would notify the the sender. But until that happens or they get it back (undeliverable), the sender will assume that they are using the correct address.

Just my 2¢

michaelejahn said...

Address verification is not the only thing to worry about...

Sorry, beware of unabashed sales marketing self serving plug immediately below ;

We offer address verification within our PressWise Print MIS mail tool. Actually, getting the address correct is not the only issue - Automatic CASS™, NCOALink® and PAVE™ Certified postal presorting enables folks to easily prepare mailings, even if you are new to mailing.

Anonymous said...

30 year carrier here.
All this is true.The more CCA's the more problems. They simply do not get the training. As long as all these vacant routes do not get permanent replacements,these problems will continue.

I would suggest you also look in to the disaster the forwarding system has become!

Anonymous said...

30 year carrier here.
All this is true.The more CCA's the more problems. They simply do not get the training. As long as all these vacant routes do not get permanent replacements,these problems will continue.

I would suggest you also look in to the disaster the forwarding system has become!

Jill Fielder said...

The Post Office is responsible for delivering mail that is completely and correctly addressed. As mailers, it's our job to keep our lists squeaky clean. If we do our jobs well we won't be in the position of relying on postal employees to figure out what we wanted done. Step up folks and give this issue the internal attention it deserves.

Anonymous said...

I have the greatest respect for our carrier. He has a foot route, and works hard at it. Yet when you see him, he still has time to wave and give a happy "hello", no matter what the weather. And his knowledge of the route is unmatched. A couple of years ago we had UPS deliver a package. It had our address, but not our name and was obviously a Christmas present. Looking through the phone book didn't find anything; neither did a search on the Internet (not surprising - it was a common name with millions of hits). But when I asked our carrier he knew exactly who it was for (someone about a block away). A few minutes later I was able to make a mother happy - she had been looking for it :) Without Charles, I would have had to return it to the sender.

You can't beat that kind of service with machines and part time carriers.

Rick Miller said...

Jill, I agree with your comment that the responsibility ends up being with the mailer rather than the USPS. As a data hygiene services supplier, in addition to the USPS licensed products we have at Valid USA, we have had to go beyond that incorporating proprietary change of address, apartment append, address element correction and deliverability scoring to meet the changing needs of our clients. If mailers want to impact their bottom line, it all starts with attaining "squeaky clean" data. The processes and products are there, we as suppliers need to continue to get the word out in regards to best practices and emerging address hygiene technologies.

Anonymous said...

In the past there were tests and training for new hires. Now if one can pass the drug test you are in. The PMG is big on right sizing and flexible workforce--when will USPS start saving big bucks by replacing him with cheap labor from China or Bangladesh?

elizabeth said...

"they" usps took away our professional status and reduced us to warmbody deliverers. no data base can replace a carrier who is invested in customer service

Anonymous said...

I used to work nights, and played hoops with the carriers for a few hours each afternoon while they "worked".

Reminds me of a joke:
A guy goes to the Post Office to apply for a job. The interviewer asks him, "Are you allergic to anything?"
He replies, "Yes, caffeine. I can't drink coffee."
"OK, have you ever been in the military service?"
"Yes," he says, "I was in Iraq for one tour."
The interviewer says, "That will give you 5 extra points toward employment."
Then he asks, "Are you disabled in any way?"
The guy says, "Yes. A bomb exploded near me and I lost both my testicles."
The interviewer grimaces and then says, "Okay. You've got enough points for me to hire you right now. Our normal hours are from 8 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. You can start tomorrow at 10 a.m., and plan on starting at 10 a.m. every day."
The guy is puzzled and asks, "If the work hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., why don't you want me here until 10 a.m.?"
"This is a government job", the interviewer says. "For the first two hours, we just stand around drinking coffee and scratching our balls. No point in you coming in for that.

Anonymous said...

What ever happened to "Move Update" and consequences for offenders not following strict addressing standards? You got it, mailers push the costs of UAA mail on to the USPS and expect miracles. I've worked with thousands of mailers and the key issue here is data base management and convoluted communication between those internal silos using this information. Software can only correct so much, each mailer needs to purposefully engage in strategic data hygiene and data mining to increase ROI and proper measurement of their customer engagement programs, period.

michaelejahn said...

on - April 30, 2014 at 4:13 AM - Anonymous said...

Software can only correct so much, each mailer needs to purposefully engage in strategic data hygiene and data mining to increase ROI and proper measurement of their customer engagement programs, period.


WhereDidMyMailGoToday? said...

It irks me when I read about the "mis-addessed" mail excuse. I'm not a carrier (or a USPS employee), but I routinely have to deliver my neighbor's mail to them. When I get home, I joke to my wife that I am on my way out to do my other job. And it's all mail that is addressed correctly! I've complained to the local branch, but I get the idea that they don't believe me or just don't care.

I work in direct mail and have begged my wife to continue to use the postal service, she's given up and is moving everything online because of delivery issues. USPS keeps shooting themselves in their feet.