How to Tackle Stacks of Returned Mail in the Office

I’ll never forget the day I returned from vacation to see a sign taped to a cupboard door. “Open at your own risk,” it read. As a Ninja, I left no door unopened. So with one swift tug, an avalanche of envelopes whacked me in the head—and I suddenly discovered where my co-workers had been stashing all the returned mail.

No one wants to touch envelopes marked “return to sender.” When the postal carrier drops mail off, the Ugly Undeliverables get tossed in a box or drawer until someone finds time to deal with them.

The obvious solution is to have the mailroom clerk handle returned mail, but not every workplace has dedicated staff for that department—or clerks are swamped with a slew of other daily obligations.

So how can you better handle returned mail and demolish that overflowing box of returnees that needs to be addressed (pun intended)? We’ve got some suggestions.

Take Immediate Action

No matter the reason, returned mail can cost a company big time—think postage, materials, lost profits, duplicate work, and possibly the company’s reputation. Though it may be easiest to stash this mail behind a cupboard, you, Ninja, are used to tackling tasks the rest of the office runs from. Start with these guideposts:

  1. Undeliverable addresses should be immediately removed from future mailings until investigated.
  2. Stop any outgoing mail using your in-house program by pulling the customer’s account and switching off the mail option.
  3. Check for obvious mistakes first. Was this a simple keying error or did the postal worker deliver it to the wrong address?

Implement Preventative Measures

When mailing errors require a bit more investigating, focus on resolution and preventative measures.

  • Check for a second co-worker’s signature on the letter, or look to see if it was sent from another department. If so, toss that baby in the outgoing tray so the originator can decide what’s next.
  • Determine if the envelope’s contents are critical to the client and prioritize appropriately. Past due invoices are urgent, but flyers about cupcakes on customer appreciation day can hit the recycle bin.
  • Run the address on file through NCOALink Systems to catch address changes before sending—especially if it’s a customer or co-worker who seldom gets paper mail from your office.
  • Find the hidden recipient! Email works best, especially if you have a first and last name. If you’re met with a disconnected phone number or a bounced email, try the online yellow pages.
  • Most importantly, update the internal database with your findings to prevent this from happening again. Depending on the action taken, you could write a message that looks like this:
    1. Waiting to hear back from the customer. Voicemail left or email sent.
    2. Can’t locate—client is MIA, noted on the account.
    3. New address found. Updated account information on 1/22/17.

Spending 15 minutes a day resolving returned mail issues will help keep this manageable but annoying problem from becoming an epidemic—or in my case, causing a painful surprise. The trick is to stay on top of informational changes and mailing lists by updating them regularly. Most clients are happy to provide new addresses—unless they’re hiding from an overdue bill!

Returned mail is a pain, but Ninjas know how to push envelopes. Just don’t let them push back!

How about you, Ninjas? Have you found any hacks for handling returned mail? Let us know in the comments below.

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