When the Postal Service designed Seamless Acceptance, they left something out – something critical to mail service providers and mail owners. They left out providing documentation of when mailings were actually accepted at the post office, or if the entire mailing was mailed complete. This has been a key component of the mail owner/mail service provider relationship for years. That proof provides credibility and confidence for both parties. There is a solution, but first let’s discuss the challenge.
Here's a 100,000-foot-view description of Seamless Acceptance: A mail service provider (MSP) produces a mailing for their client, the mail owner. For the sake of our discussion, let’s say it is a 50,000-piece mailing. The MSP creates an electronic document, an eDoc, that describes the mailing, including identifying every piece in the mailing using a unique Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb). When the mailing is ready to go, the MSP uploads the eDoc to the USPS PostalOne! platform. A postal clerk audits some randomly chosen samples to check that the mailing was prepared as required, and OKs the mailing. From that point forward, the MSP can drop off the mail at the local post office or drop ship to other post offices across the country as required.
Here's the challenge: No one verifies that all the pieces are there – there is no weigh-in of the mailing. The MSP has a 45-day window from eDoc submission to drop the mail, and Seamless has no mechanism to share when mail was inducted. So, with our 50,000-piece mailing the MSP most likely dropped all pieces on Friday, just like they promised. Or maybe they mailed 45,000 on Friday, and the rest on the following Monday. Or maybe they mailed 40,000 on Friday, 5,000 on Monday, and the other 5,000 pieces were still sitting in a rack in the warehouse. It happens. Seamless Acceptance will not reveal any of these scenarios. Seamless will collect postage for 50,000 pieces based on the drop date in the eDoc. If a mailer submits a mail piece that is not listed in the eDoc, they will be assessed postage for that “undocumented” piece, but if all the pieces listed in the eDoc never show up Seamless doesn’t care.
There is a solution to this problem: Informed Visibility (IV). Seamless Acceptance without Informed Visibility is only half of the equation.
When a mailing is inducted at USPS, an entry scan is generated by the post office and reported through Informed Visibility, generally of a placard on the pallet of mail. This scan will link back to the eDoc and identify the pieces of mail are on that pallet, and when they were inducted. If a pallet is inducted the next week, the pieces on that pallet will be identified with their correct induction date. That pallet left in the racks? It will show as missing in IV, and the MSP will know they need to resolve the missing mail.
The IV system only provides raw scan data, which is difficult to interpret. This is why so many mailers count on SnailWorks and other IV service providers to help make sense of the data. I repeat IV generates data; IV service providers turn that data into usable reports.
Closing the circle on mail acceptance with IV serves all parties in the process. MSPs can protect their integrity by providing evidence to their customers that they are meeting their commitments, as well as benefit from an additional quality control checkpoint for when a skid may be left behind. Mail owners have the reassurance that their needs are being met, and a tool for researching irregularities.
Of course, the other benefits of mail tracking go on and on. Not only are you closing the acceptance circle, but you are also tracking every piece to delivery, so you can coordinate other marketing efforts, prepare for response, and just get the peace of mind that you message is being delivered.
There are a couple of important points that should be added:
- MSPs universally recognize the importance of mail dates and an honest client relationship. This simply reinstates the relationship that was already there, have the Postal Service as the trusted third party to document acceptance.
- Just because there is not a scan does not necessarily mean the mail wasn’t presented. Interpreting IV data requires expertise and experience. That’s why it is so important to have SnailWorks on board.
When something does go awry with a mailing, without IV there is really no way to confirm much about the mail except that postage was paid. This brings up all of the doubts of the bad old days: “Did you really produce my mail?”
Informed Visibility is much more than a tool to see when mail is being delivered – it is an essential part of the mail acceptance process.