The time is now for mail tracking and reporting. The USPS wants to shake its long-standing image as a “black hole” where mail gets lost and cannot be seen until it shows up in the delivery address receptacle. It no longer wants to deal with anecdotal issues related to opinions or subjective criteria that cause friction internally and cause customers to complain about negative interactions with network facilities staff. Instead, the Postal Service has worked to create visibility that allows it to correct issues proactively and address them with data-based actions to drive efficiency in its vast network. The platform is called Informed Visibility and it is delivering a great deal of actionable data to USPS management. USPS execs have been piloting delivery scans to the mailbox for letter-sized pieces since August of 2015, and that will continue to expand as the Informed Delivery platform continues to deploy. All good news… as long as it is used internally to deliver a more stable and predictable network where service performance is the primary factor considered.
Why Mailers Should Pay Attention
Let’s change focus to why all mailers must integrate this service into their operations. The USPS has made the transition and is ready with the data. All mailers search for ways to differentiate their services. Today, the competition we all face is fierce, and without a way to differentiate ourselves, our jobs grow increasingly complex. Mail tracking and reporting is that differentiator. This will not be the case forever. The early adopters who take the opportunity now will benefit. Those who wait will lose business to those already providing the service and will be driven out of business or face significant obstacles.
Tracking data adds relevance to mail and reinforce its value as a communication, marketing, and sales tool. People who track their mail will no longer need to wonder about or project "in-home" dates; they will be known. The data available today allows mailers to increase service by proactively resolving issues before mail performance is negatively impacted. They can track performance by USPS network facility and develop detailed distribution plans to avoid underperforming facilities. Mail tracking and reporting is the next level of personalization that all customers need and deserve. Mailers can now see how their mail performs through the facilities they use in real time.
Marketing and accounting will be your new best friends. Marketing will have the in-home statistics lacking in the past. They will be able to more accurately calculate their ROI for each project and see what issues may be causing delivery issues as they are occurring. Providing them this information will make them your biggest supporter, and (fingers crossed) they will probably even pay for the solution. Accounting departments like cash flow. Tracking incoming mail for them will provide visibility into when payments will arrive. Capturing the “float” more effectively is essential to their operations. Your data and reports make all of this possible, so they will support and pay for the solution as well. Both of these allies are important to you professionally and strengthen your position as the subject matter expert in the organization.
Expectations do not only come from customers. Vendors like the USPS also have expectations. As mailers, we are expected to utilize the data provided. No longer will employees entertain calls about a distinctive white mail piece that has not reached its destination. Even if it is a pallet or pallets of mail, without data to support your claims, the USPS will be slow to help. And who can blame it? Given the enormity of what the USPS does every day, it cannot effectively help without information and data. USPS employees trust the data, so why not use it when resolving issues? You build a stronger relationship and receive full attention throughout the process. In my opinion, our industry will have a new motto when working with the USPS: In God we trust, and in all other things, bring data!
But What About…
I have heard it all as I talk to people about this. Many report that mail tracking is “too expensive, and my customers are not asking for it.” I am telling you now that it is not expensive. Cost should never be a barrier to entry for this service. There are services available today for a little as $0.04/thousand pieces. I also tell people that they should not allow this service to be “commoditized” or done as an option. This has happened far too often in our industry. Make it a part of your services that is “baked in” without option. People will value it when they see the reports and information generated. As for customers asking for it: If you wait until they ask, it will be too late!
I also hear people telling me that they hear the USPS’ piece scan percentages are low, so what good is the data? All I can say to that is that there are areas where improvements can be made (Flats, particularly) without question. On the other hand, even if the scan percentages are low (say 70%) the data is valuable and much more reliable than the zero visibility you have if you are not tracking your mail. The choice is yours. Do you want to be proactive, productive, and progressive, or do you want to wait and see? In short, stop guessing and start measuring!
Build or Buy?
Invariably people ask this question. The USPS is very quick to point out that the data is available to everyone for free. Do not mistake this as saying that mail tracking and reporting is free. It is not. The USPS depends on industry to support all of its programs. Mail tracking and reporting vendors take all the data from the USPS for their clients and make it useable. They answer all the questions their clients have and act as an intermediary with the USPS to resolve issues. They allow their clients to use the data and take appropriate and timely action. All of this is valuable and should be considered if you choose to build your own solution. Some in our industry have successfully built solutions and have dedicated the necessary long-term resources to maintenance and upgrades.
In closing, I wish you my best and hope you will be proactive and start tracking all of your mail going forward.
Mark Rheaume serves as a Postal Solution Architect at Novitex Enterprise Solutions. He has over 30 years of experience developing, designing and implementing mailing solutions for the companies he has worked for. Mark is and has been active in several postal industry associations, such as MTAC, Idealliance, NPOA, PCC, MSMA, and Printing Industries of America.