Posts Tagged ‘change-of-address’

Best Practices for Address Validation

Your contact data is the lifeblood of your business. Today, having accurate address data is more critical than ever—it affects your customer reputation, mailing and shipping costs, the efficacies of your marketing campaigns, and, with the growing number of consumer data privacy regulations, your compliance efforts.

However, maintaining good data hygiene for your contact data is the result of a process—and more important, having people tasked to “own” this process across all stakeholders using this data.

Here are some of the common best practices for maintaining genuine, accurate and up-to-date address data:

Select a USPS-Certified validation service

Be sure the validation service you use is CASS-certified. CASS stands for Coding Accuracy Support System and is a rigorous set of tests administered by the USPS to verify the accuracy and performance of address validation software. Service Objects has provided CASS-certified address services for more than a decade.

Validate addresses at the time of data entry

Install real-time address validation APIs at the point of capture or onboarding of contact data. Data entry errors are a key cause of bad address data, and whether you are using a web form, call center agents, or remote data entry, validating address data in real-time provides the opportunity to check and correct address in the moment.

By integrating address validation directly into the data entry functions of your marketing automation, CRM or ERP platform, the person inputting these addresses can be presented with corrections and suggestions at the time and confirm and/or change this data in real-time. Use strong and specific error messaging on your web forms, to help users make more targeted corrections: for example, error messaging that specifically says:

“123 Main Street — the street number is out of the range of known street.” can help the user better understand the type of correction needed.

Revalidate regularly and at the time of use

If you capture addresses correctly, they are accurate— on that day. But given the rate of data decay as people move, change jobs and addresses, and come and go from the workforce, it is essential to clean and purge your marketing database on a regular basis, as well as before every marketing or customer contact campaign. Sources say that up to 25 percent of your contact data goes bad over the course of a year, given the volume of address changes and new addresses filed every day.

This step is particularly important if your address data links to contact data in other channels, such as telephone, text messaging or email. Sending unwanted marketing activity to contacts that have changed can cause severe penalties for non-compliance with laws such as the US Telephone Consumer Privacy Act (TCPA), the CAN-SPAM act for email, the European Union’s recent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Use a failover service for bad addresses

If an address fails the standard address validation process, all is not lost. There are secondary validation services that focus on resolving and correcting difficult, messy addresses, often using clues from other data points such as phone, email and IP location data. Using this type of service as a failover for hard to resolve addresses enables you to recover them, preserving valuable leads and customer contacts.

Assign data stewardship

On top of these best practices, it normally makes sense to have a central point of responsibility for contact data quality within your organization. While in years past businesses simply accepted a certain amount of bad contact data or cleaned up this data on a periodic basis.

In today’s competitive environment—and in particular, the risk of compliance penalties from new data privacy laws—now make this a function that requires oversight. Many larger firms now have formal data governance functions, including C-level managers such as a Chief Data Officer (CDO). Regardless of size, every business should ensure there is specific ownership for data hygiene responsibilities.

This blog is an excerpt from Service Objects’ 2019 whitepaper, The ROI of Address Validation, which is freely available for download.

Meeting USPS Requirements for NCOA Live Change-of-Address Processing

Every year, over 40 million people in the United States move and change their addresses with the US Postal Service. Keeping your contact data assets up-to-date with these changes can lead to substantial cost savings for your marketing and customer contact activities, including:

  • Qualifying for lower mailing rates for Standard and First Class mail
  • Meeting the USPS Move Update requirement for Marketing Mail
  • Reducing the costs of sending mail to bad addresses
  • Improving deliverability by up to 400%

Perhaps most important of all, when you automate your change-of-address processing with Service Objects’ DOTS NCOA Live product, your addresses are automatically standardized and corrected BEFORE being processed for change-of-address, resulting in much higher match rates.

However, because the USPS has very specific rules in place for the use of its NCOA services by end-users, there is some assembly required for using our NCOA Live service compared with most of our automated data quality services. This article is designed to walk you through these steps, as well as show you how we can help.

1) Sign a PAF form

What is a PAF? It stands for Processing Acknowledgement Form – a form required by USPS before you can access their NCOA database (including through our software). This step is pretty straightforward, and it provides accountability for who is accessing the USPS’s change-of-address data.

A link to a copy of this form can be found here. Note that you must list a full ZIP+4 code for your business, as well as, a NAICS business code. This form gets sent to us, and in turn we provide a copy to our NCOA licensee, who must keep it on file for the USPS. It also must be updated once a year.

2) Set up a JobID for each week

Every week, the USPS requires setting up an open JobID, which keeps track of the change-of-address lookups that you run. Opening a new JobID requires the following:

  • Building an array of 100-500 addresses (a minimum of 100 addresses are required to create the initial job)
  • Creating a personalized JobID, which is an alpha-numeric string of up to 50 characters
    • Our recommended format, like, SO20190114163904, is discussed in detail here.
  • Submitting the addresses, JobID, and license key to the “RunNCOA Live” operation

Each new JobID remains valid for one week, expiring at 11:50 pm Sunday evening. Once you’ve set it up for the week and done your initial run, subsequent runs can be anywhere from 1 to 500 records.

At the end of the week, this JobID closes, and the USPS updates their internal change-of-address data that powers our service. The following week, another NCOA Live operation can be initiated with a new JobID following the steps listed above.

Sound a little involved? Don’t worry: we’ll help you set this up and maintain it going forward. Just contact our technical team and we’ll be happy to help.

3) Plan ahead for bigger runs

As we mentioned above, your first request for NCOA Live each week must have a minimum of 100 records, and after that, each subsequent request can be for any number of records up to 500. But what if you have a lot more to process?

This situation brings up another advantage of working with NCOA Live: this service can be used to set up parallel requests for your larger jobs. Here as well, talk with our friendly technical team and we’ll walk you through the process.

A little planning can create a large benefit

As you can see, there are a few steps involved in using our NCOA Live so that you are meeting the USPS’s requirements for automated change of address processing. But once you get set up, the cost savings in lower postage rates, improved deliverability and fewer bad mailing addresses can really add up quickly.

Have no fear – we are experts at this and will help you through the entire set up process. It is what we do!

Address Validation’s Alphabet Soup

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has an acronym for almost everything and this leads to some pretty interesting conversations around the Service Objects’ water cooler. You might overhear our Director of Engineering saying, “I was surprised to see the RDI was ‘residential’ but SLK still returned a suite number” or “I was really happy to see their UAA rate drop below 1% with our validation service.”

Yes – we are address-validation geeks and we want to talk with everyone about it. So we put together this short primer on USPS acronyms, what they mean and why they are important. For us, it starts with being CASS-certified.

Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS)

CASS stands for the Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS). It was developed by the United States Postal Service as a certification process designed to improve accuracy in the mailing industry by helping developers improve and maintain their address validation software.

CASS evaluates and measures the accuracy of address matching software in the following areas:

  • 5-digit ZIP coding
  • ZIP+4 coding
  • Carrier route coding
  • Delivery Point Validation (DPV) 
  • Residential Delivery Indicator (RDI)
  • Locatable Address Conversion System (LACS)
  • SuiteLink (SLK)
  • Enhanced Line of Travel (eLOT)

To achieve CASS-certification, the software must pass a two-stage test and achieve a score of 98.5% or better in matching accuracy.

The Two Stages of CASS Testing:

Stage I is a self-administered and generally used to help developers test and diagnose their address matching software against a provided list of 150,000 test addresses. This is generally used to measure and see where your software can be improved before moving on to Stage II.

Stage II uses a test file supplied by the USPS with 150,000 static addresses that present more difficult use cases for correction and address matching. The results are graded by the USPS’ CASS department and certification is granted on accuracy scores above 98.5%. The USPS charges a fee for the certification process.

We are proud to say that our DOTS Address Validation – US service has achieved a score of over 99% for the past 10 years.

But don’t stop at CASS. If you really want to catch our attention, pull out some of these key terms and facts at the next Service Objects holiday party:

Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP) and ZIP+4

Although ZIP code might seem pretty ubiquitous with addresses now, you might be surprised to learn that it has only been around since 1963. The ZIP+4, which added 4 additional digits after the ZIP code for even greater address accuracy, has only been in place since 1983.  Our address validation service ensures accurate ZIP+4 coding, and when combined with carrier route coding, results in significant postal discounts and stronger delivery rates.

Do you know what each number in your ZIP code represents?

Want to bring some obscure ZIP code facts to the party, check out “Fun Facts About ZIP Codes“.  (Good luck getting the ZIP code song out of your head!)

Delivery Point Validation (DPV)

DPV is a product provided by the USPS that determines whether an address with a ZIP+4 currently exists within the USPS’ delivery dataset. Said another way, it determines if an address exists and can receive delivery from the USPS. It is one of the core elements when seeking CASS-certification.

Residential Delivery Indicator (RDI)

RDI is another product provided by the USPS and indicates if an address is classified as ‘business’ or ‘residential’. This was specifically designed for shipping packages or parcels and allows for more accurate and cost-efficient shipping practices, especially to businesses. 

SuiteLink (SLK)

This USPS product enables customers to improve their business addressing information by appending known suite information to a business address. This is used to help better sort and improve delivery ‘sequencing’, especially in high-rises and office buildings, which results in less expensive postal costs. This product cannot be used as a standalone process and must be included in CASS processing (and is part of our Address Validation – US service).

LACSLink (LACS)

The USPS offers the Locatable Address Conversion System (LACS) product to convert rural-style addresses to city-style addresses. This is especially important for the delivery of emergency services and primarily arose from the implementation of the 911 system. The information has also benefited mailers, as it can be used to derive more accurate and deliverable addresses from rural addresses, reducing duplicate and undeliverable mail and packages. 

Enhanced Line of Travel (eLOT)

The USPS eLOT product allows mailers to sort their mailings in carrier-casing sequences. For those who do not speak USPS-ese, eLOT contains a number, which indicates the first occurrence of a delivery made within a mail carrier route, which can be used to presort your mailings. The more presorting you can do, the better your mailing rate discounts.

Commercial Mail Receiving Agency (CMRA) 

CMRAs are private businesses that accept mail from the USPS (and other delivery services) on behalf of recipients. There are both larger ones you may have heard of like, The UPS Store and FedEx Kinkos, and many, smaller, independent businesses that provide the same services. 

CMRA’s offer ‘private mailboxes’ (PMB), not to be confused with post office boxes (PO boxes), which are provided by the United States Postal Service. PMBs can also accept deliveries from non-USPS, commercial delivery services like UPS, FedEx and DHL. Our address validation service can help identify when these types of boxes are being used.

Undeliverable-as-Addressed (UAA) Mail

UAA mail is our mortal enemy and where it all got started for Service Objects!

UAA mail is all mail that cannot be delivered to the name and address as specified on the mailpiece. UAA mail must be either, forwarded, returned to sender or properly treated as waste. UAA results in substantial costs to businesses, the USPS (which ultimately get passed on to consumers), the environment, and customer satisfaction.

Although there are a number of reasons that mail may be Undeliverable-as-Addressed, over 86% of it is correctable. Our services can improve and correct insufficient address details and even help identify a vacant premise/lot.

Change-of-Address (COA)

Which naturally bring us to the last acronym of the day, COA. Besides validating and correcting bad addresses, detecting and replacing a change-of-address is one of the best ways to prevent the dreaded UAA designation. The USPS provides NCOALink, their change of address dataset, that tracks approximately 160 million permanent change-of-address records for both residential and businesses. Our DOTS NCOA Live service is a simple-to-implement API that provides secure access to this data, so you can keep your addresses up-to-date, ensuring your mail reaches your intended target, without delay.

We Speak the ABCs of Address Validation

Our flagship address validation services bring together all of the above USPS products, combines them with our proprietary AI, additional datasets and expertise, to create a simple-to-integrate API that corrects, standardizes and verifies US addresses.  We also have services for Canada and International addresses.

Want to try on your new-found address validation vocabulary or have questions about one of our services? Drop us a note or give us a call, we would love to chat!