Postal optimization and handling is one of the most critical services provided by a printing and mailing vendor. Optimization generally means two things: (1) an “efficient” process: ensuring your mail is processed efficiently to streamline the work of the U.S. Postal Service and (2) “clean” mail: keeping your customer database current with the most updated address information to ensure actual delivery of your customer communications. While using the National Change of Address (NCOA) and the Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) are parts of this, there is a lot more you can do to streamline your mailing process.
The U.S. Postal Service provides mailers with a meaningful financial incentive to provide clean and efficient mail. For example, a single first-class mail piece can be delivered at a postage cost of $0.63 per piece. However, sending that same first-class mail piece at the lowest presort automated postage rate can be delivered with a postage cost of $0.47 per piece, a savings of ~25%. Further, the actual amount of those savings can often exceed the cost of the paper going into the envelope itself.
For over twenty-five years, Information Outsource has been an expert at helping its customers deliver mail at the lowest automated presort postage rates; it is a core element of our service offering. Below is a list of postal optimization processes that Information Outsource undertakes to ensure your mail can be delivered in the most cost-effective way possible:
- Presorting – At its core, the printing and mailing process is a highly-advanced mail merge. Presorting mail is the first, and one of the most significant ways, that this printing and mailing process becomes more complex. Consider how mail is delivered: USPS mail carriers drive and walk through neighborhoods across the country delivering mail pieces by hand. When vendors like Information Outsource send mail to the USPS, it is far more efficient for the USPS to receive this mail in order of location (zip code) rather than any other feature (for example, in alphabetical order). Presorting, then, at its most fundamental level is reordering your data by zip code and then ensuring throughout the printing and mailing process that your mail arrives at the USPS in this order.
- Barcoding – The next part of the postal optimization procedure is barcoding. This is where the printing and mailing process diverges from a mail merge: the addition of tracking information, the most vital of which is the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb). An IMb is a 65-bar Postal Service barcode that the USPS uses to track mail from receipt to delivery. Printing and mailing vendors rely on USPS-certified software to create these barcodes and place them on your documents so that the USPS can scan and track those mail pieces. Barcoding is required by the USPS to qualify your mail for the lowest automated presort postage rates as the barcode itself enables the “automation” to be done within the USPS system.
- Preparation – Now that your mail has the appropriate barcode and is placed in the appropriate order, then the USPS has requirements for how those stacks of mail are received. This is another area in the postal optimization process that must adhere to the specifications of the USPS in order to reap the full benefits. In general, first-class mail must be banded, strapped, and placed in mail trays. There are regulations dictating how much mail can be placed in each tray, what types of trays to use, and how those trays can be banded and strapped (effectively securing the mail inside the tray). Information Outsource has a long-tenured Production team that is highly familiar with how to physically prepare your mail to comply with USPS standards. Further, because we physically deliver mail to the USPS with company-owned delivery trucks – rather than using a presort vendor as a middleman – we get constant feedback from the USPS about how that mail is delivered.
- Other criteria – In addition to these elements, the USPS has additional criteria to qualify for the lowest automated presort postage rates. These include: the size and shape of the envelopes, the weight of the resulting mail piece, and the amount of mail pieces submitted for a particular job (200 pieces for marketing mail, 500 pieces for first-class mail). The last of these criteria – qualified addresses – will be addressed in the next section.
One of the primary goals of the postal optimization process is to ensure mail is “clean”. A mail piece is clean if it is certain to reach its destination, or in simpler terms, the address is correct. Why is that difficult? It is easy to ensure a perfect address when you’re dealing with one recipient. But when you are a city, utility, business, or any other organization with critical mail being delivered on a monthly basis, you manage a constantly changing database of thousands of recipients. A customer’s name might be correct but a digit might be missing in their zip code. Or they might have moved without telling you. There are generally two ways to ensure your mail is clean:
Address Qualification – To ensure the lowest automated presort postage rates and your postal optimization process is saving you the most money, addresses must be CASS-certified. CASS stands for the Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) which verifies the accuracy of an address by matching it with the current USPS Address Information Systems database. Information Outsource utilizes USPS-certified software to complete this process for every mailing and has developed tools to provide automated reporting of addresses that are not CASS-verified, thereby providing you with an opportunity to fix these inconsistencies in your database and ensure lower postage rates in the future.
National Change of Address – To ensure you are still mailing to the same customer, the USPS also maintains a customer-supplied database of address changes. Utilizing USPS-certified software, Information Outsource can process your addresses through the NCOA database to ensure that you have your customer’s most updated mailing information. If they have recently notified the USPS about moving, this process will further update you so you can have their latest information on file for future mailings.
An efficient process for clean mail – that is how you can achieve the lowest automated presort postage rates and achieve significant savings on your mailings. Information Outsource is here to help you do that as this is a core element of our service offering. Reach out to one of our experts today and start saving on your printing and mailing costs.