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Getting Control of Your Postal Process

Not so long ago, producing a mailing meant printing addresses on labels, applying the labels, and taking the pieces to the Post Office. That was about it. Today, the requirements are far more stringent not only from a postal standpoint but also for achieving measurable results. Data and process integrity are the two main ingredients in a successful, and USPS compliant, mail program.

A Matter of Sequence

Each mail project comes with unique challenges. Some jobs are postcards, others featu­re six inserts enclosed in #10 window envelopes or variable page-count documents. Some are colorful, arty affairs, and others are black and white with a single typeface. However, they all follow a production process. The process may change from job to job, but the overall sequence remains relatively consistent and the document operations department can manage and monitor them. If a client asks “where is the invoice for a specific customer?” answering “it is on the inserter” is a much better reply than the way many print services must respond: “I don’t know, I’ll have to call you back.” The marketplace is demanding a higher level of control and transparency, made possible with cutting-edge process monitoring software.

The number of steps can vary depending on the job. However, many components in a print/mail workflow are consistent for most work headed to the mail stream. How organizations manage and verify that workflow are the keys to mailing success and customer satisfaction. The mailing process could include twenty or more steps, depending on specific requirements. A breakdown somewhere in the sequence is a problem but is fixable. Real issues occur when no one is notified that something has gone wrong. A print/mail production workflow dashboard solution monitors the steps in the production sequence and alerts the floor manager of a stall or interruption.

The steps in the mailing workflow described in the narrative below are not exhaustive of all functions, but they illustrate the processes nearly all organizations must follow as they prepare mailings. Knowledge about the status of each step in the sequence is the key to control and transparency.

Data Preparation

Address data comes from original sources and typically arrives in varied formats and file types. Combining them into one consistent list where the “city” is always in the “city” field, and so on, takes time and sometimes requires manual intervention. After data is imported and everything is in the right place, organizations have an opportunity to delete or combine duplicates. Mailers should avoid sending two or more identical mail pieces to the same address. Duplicate mail has many environmental, financial, and customer downsides.

Companies monitor the successful completion of prep work from a central point of control, the production workflow dashboard. As each step is completed successfully, the software automatically passes the job to the next process in the sequence.

If the Address is Wrong, Nothing Else Matters

Postal address information is foundational for profitable mail projects. Every mailing, irrespective of format, needs list maintenance to meet USPS regulations for postal discounts. More importantly, a mailing list requires maintenance to reach the customer or prospect with an offer or a bill. Postal address quality initiatives include CASS for address standardization, DPV to verify the address, NCOA for move updating, and PCOA (Proprietary Change of Address) for even more move updating. All are steps in an address quality workflow.

The Postal Progression

Presorting a list to postal standards saves significant postage. Presort software asks a series of questions about the document (weight, thickness, dimensions) so it can make trays and pallets. The by-products of this process are container and pallet tags and reports. Companies can print reports for internal use, but the USPS preferred method for communicating mailing information is paperless, using the Mail.dat format produced by the postal software. Mail service providers transmit the mailing information directly to the Post Office before the mail drop. The paperless submission process alerts the USPS Acceptance Unit that the mailing is coming, how many pieces to expect, and what kind of mail it is. The presort process can happen days or even weeks before the mail drops. Customers may change the original mail plan, which means mail service providers must sometimes amend the Mail.dat file.

Presort, tray tags, pallet tags, a compendium of reports, and Mail.dat origination and amendments are all steps in the mail process monitored and controlled from a central dashboard. Any undetected breakdown in the sequence not only slows the process but also jeopardizes acceptance by the Post Office.

Ramifications and Results

In the postal process, a stalled or slowed workflow isn’t just undesirable. It affects everyone involved: the customer, the mailing service provider, and the Postal Service. Mailers with specific sales dates, seasonal mail pieces, and invoices with due dates are essential to the company sending them. Some businesses only mail a few times a year. Their yearly revenue may depend on a catalog reaching their customers by a chosen date. Delay is not an option.

A postal workflow dashboard application like Racami’s Alchem-e™ system can prevent bad things from happening by providing insight into production KPI, equipment downtime, and work stoppage alerts. A highly visual dashboard ties the entire postal process together in one place and gives control to knowledge workers, allowing them to keep customers happy and the job profitable.