Are you a mail owner with a mailing on the way to important customers, and you’re wondering where the mail is within the postal network? Or maybe you are a Mail Service Provider and want to offer mail owners better intelligence on the progress of a mailing. IMb Tracing from the United States Postal Service (USPS) helps attain these results and much more. Piece-level tracking data can assist any mailer to better staff call centers, project inventory requirements, kick off follow-up marketing endeavors, identify and resolve potential service issues, or simply measure response rate and the success of the mailing. This kind of visibility and intelligence from the use of IMb Tracing achieves a higher competitive edge and greater customer satisfaction for all in the mailing supply chain.


    The best part of IMb Tracing it that it is a free service for Full-Service First-Class Mail, Standard Mail, Periodicals, and Bound Printed Matter. The unique Intelligent Mail barcode allows for mail piece tracking for origin or destination. To check compliance with Full-Service preparation requirements, review the Electronic Verification section of the Mailer Scorecard. The Mailer Scorecard is a free mail quality tool available on the Business Customer Gateway. Some areas of concern that may impact the quality of IMb Tracing results are specific barcode quality issues, such as Service Type ID (STID) errors and barcode uniqueness piece errors. A STID error may occur when the Service Type ID is missing or not valid for the particular class of mail. In order to select the correct STID to receive IMb Tracing data and address correction services, refer to the Service Type Identifier (STID) Table on PostalPro (https://postalpro.usps.com).


    For the most accurate tracing data, barcodes must remain unique for 45 days and follow all applicable specifications. If issues are identified on the Mailer Scorecard, focus efforts to remedy problem areas and monitor results before beginning IMb Tracing. A couple of easy options to get started: sign up online at http://postalpro.usps.com/node/1489 or talk with your Postal Service account representative. Inquiries may also be submitted to IMb Tracing Customer Support at IMbTracing@usps.gov.


    IMb Tracing reports the date, time, location, and processing information for each mail piece each time the mail runs on automated equipment. Keep in mind that the raw data delivered from the United States Postal Service will require some tweaking before the deep dive of intelligence is reached. Before the creation of usable reports, take time to consider the best format to align with your business process. Is it best to track single jobs? Do you need the ability to drill down from batch jobs to individual orders? Would geographical location or USPS processing facility be the best way to explore your data results? Do you have an internal IT partner to develop reports built off this information? Use them! Also, consider the option of visual analytics software. My team used both internal IT resources and visual analytics software to create our deep dive reports. The use of visual analytics allows the team to focus on potential service issues proactively with preset alerts based upon expected in-home arrival dates. If internal resources or visual analytics software are not an option, there are also third party IMb Tracing vendors. A simple internet search will return vendors and the tracing capabilities offered.


    Previously, I have shared ways IMb Tracing can reduce costs, enhance marketing efforts, and improve relationships with customers. When my company embarked on our mail piece tracking endeavor, the number one objective was to have concrete information to share with our customers when in-home dates were at risk. Previous to mail piece tracking, the mail owner was the first to alert of a delivery issue. As any mail owner or mail service provider can imagine, this was of great inconvenience and major frustration for both the customer and our company. Six years later, we have full visibility for each mail piece ran on processing equipment from induction date, to entry facility, through stop-the-clock automation processing. Stop-the-clock operation codes indicate the last run on processing equipment before disbursement to carriers at the delivery unit. Stop-the-clock data is key to predicting delivery. This is where IMb Tracing visibility ends. If you plan to design reports in-house or utilize the services of visual analytics software, I highly recommend understanding which stop-the-clock operation codes apply to your mail class and category. With approximately 170 operation codes, there is no simple way to read and refer to all the codes. The full list of IMb Tracing operation codes can be found at: http://postalpro.usps.com/node/2667. Once the applicable stop-the-clock codes are identified, all other processing scans are merely a stop along the way.


    As I began to dig into reports and analyze the data, I found some reoccurring themes in the operation scans. Fifty-six percent of mail pieces reported by the recipient as undelivered also did not receive the expected stop-the-clock scan code of 919. Why was this? The new found ability to correlate feedback from my customer and the feedback of the USPS gave us the power to question the data. The data was discussed with local, district, and national Network Operations management. After many discussions, research, and test runs, we discovered the design of our mail piece, in some cases, results in “fly outs” on the mail processing equipment. Often times when the “fly out” occurred, the mail piece was damaged. This would prevent the piece from completion of the Delivery Point Sequence (DPS) sort on the equipment. Thus, the mail piece was not delivered within the date range expected nor would it receive the stop-the-clock processing code expected.


    Not only has IMb Tracing provided insight into stop-the-clock inconsistencies, I have been able to identify processing facilities with the largest volume of customer complaints. In many cases, my Business Service Network representative arranged a face-to-face meeting with the Plant Manager, District Manager, and Marketing Manager to present the facility’s performance data on my mailings. However, a face-to-face meeting is not necessary. A phone call can work as well. The United States Postal Service has been most gracious to review, discuss, and collaborate to improve adherence to service standards and customers’ expectations throughout and after these meetings. Furthermore, customers with reoccurring late delivery or mail that is never delivered are thrilled to know their Mail Service Provider is fully invested to not only track the mailings but resolve issues as they arise.


    The future of IMb Tracing becomes even more robust with the introduction of Informed Visibility. This enterprise system expands business intelligence for end-to-end visibility for mailers and the USPS. Real-time reporting, flexible data provisioning, and customer specific mail performance are all benefits available to mailers. The first release of Informed Visibility was set to begin in January 2017. Full program information is available on PostalPro: https://postalpro.usps.com/visibility-and-tracking/informed-visibility-iv.


    Imagine the ability to contact a customer, warn of a possible delayed mailing, and at the same time ensure efforts are already underway to get the mail moving days before the mailing was even expected. I can imagine it. This is the reality of the intelligence achieved through this service. I provide this level of customer service to over 3.5 million pieces of mail a month. It was not without some blood, sweat, and tears to get there. But with all hard work come great results. I recommend any and all mail owners seek out this kind of competitive edge from vendors as well as challenge mail service providers to provide this level of customer satisfaction to the mailer owners.


    Trista Niswander is the Postal Manager at Our Sunday Visitor, the nation’s leading Catholic publishing and offering envelope provider. Ms. Niswander is involved with preparation and payment, postal compliance and records management, continuous improvement, and postal relations. She is a representative for the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers on the Mailer’s Technical Advisory Council (MTAC). She can be reached at TNiswander@osv.com.