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Bringing Dead Letters Back to Life

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All right, we are finally going to admit it: there are some bad mailing addresses out there that even Service Objects can’t fix.

Of course, we’re talking about cases like illegible handwriting, physical damage, or the kid who addresses a Christmas letter to “Santa Claus, North Pole.” But even for them, there is hope – in the form of a nondescript building on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, Utah, known as the USPS Remote Encoding Center. Images of illegible mailing addresses are sent here online from all over the United States, in a last-ditch effort to get these pieces of mail where they are going.

Behind the walls of this beige, block-long building lies an optometrist’s dream: nearly 1700 employees working 24 hours a day, each scanning a new image every few seconds and matching it to addresses in the USPS database. (The same database we use to verify your contact address data, incidentally.) Most get linked to a verified address and are sent on their merry way; the truly illegible ones are forwarded to the USPS’s Dead Letter facility to be opened, and those letters to Santa get forwarded to a group of volunteers in Alaska to be answered.

According to the Smithsonian, there used to be more than 50 of these facilities all over the US. With time and improving automation, all of them have now been shuttered, with the exception of this lone center in Salt Lake City. To work there, you need to be fast, precise, and then go through more than a full week of training – and then you get put on one of 33 shifts, handling the roughly two percent of mail pieces that the Post Office’s computers cannot read automatically. That’s between five and eleven million pieces of mail per day on most days.

Of course, technology continues to improve, and USPS has become a world leader in optical character recognition for both handwritten and machine-addressed mailing pieces – even 98 percent of hand-addressed envelopes are processed by machine nowadays. In an interview with the New York Times, the center’s operations director acknowledges that computer processing could eventually put them out of business entirely. But for now, human intervention for illegible addresses hasn’t yet gone the way of the elevator operator.

Thankfully, your business correspondence probably isn’t hand-scrawled by your Aunt Mildred. And hopefully Santa Claus doesn’t show up very often in your prospect database (although fake names get entered for free marketing goodies more often than you think, and we can easily catch and fix these). So your chances of ending up on a computer screen in Salt Lake City are pretty slim – which means we can help you ensure clean contact data, and leverage this data for better marketing insight.

So for those of you who can’t spell, failed penmanship when you went to school, or have a habit of leaving your envelopes out too long in the rain, there is still hope. For the rest of you, there is Service Objects.

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