As the customer communications industry continues to incorporate physical and digital production aspects, the functional processes of printing and mailing are sometimes being combined under the same roof by “single source” providers. Some providers in the printing industry are moving away from outsourcing mailing processes and, instead, are integrating the mailing processes into their operations. Today, even smaller printers can do a wide range of mailing processes themselves, saving time and increasing revenues. And if you're an in-house mail center, you have a lot at stake when it comes to your mail pieces' success. No matter which industry you are part of (in-house mailing or outsourced print providers), education is key to making sure your mail -- and your clients' mail -- succeeds.

Don’t Overlook the Importance of Planning

Issues that can cause havoc in any mailing department are often rooted in poor planning at the start of a project. Issues stemming from incorrect paper thickness or piece size (height and length (i.e., aspect ratios)), or stock incompatibility with processes like inkjet addressing — which can lead to issues with drying processes that cause smearing or address blocks that fall outside of the USPS’ OCR scan area — are the result of poor planning. Self-mailers can have multiple issues that cause a loss of production time in a mail department. Folds that do not feed effectively or are not on the leading edge as mandated by the USPS are examples that should not be overlooked in the planning stages of any project. The standards exist and are accessible by our industry — and they should be followed. If overlooked, these problems become issues that can quickly dip into and reduce your profit margins.

One issue that continues to be problematic is the printing of the “standard” #10 window envelope. These envelopes are far from standard. Printing them has long been a mainstay of the printing and mailing industry, but this was complicated by the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb). The bottom portion of most #10 window envelopes does not conform to the USPS’ OCR “clear zone” area when placed on the USPS Notice 67 Template. The envelope industry stepped up early at the onset of the IMb’s implementation and supplied the industry with a #10 envelope that has a wider/taller window that begins 5/8” from the bottom, allowing the complete window to fall within the USPS’ OCR scan area. This envelope is perfect for inserting a letter or other printed piece containing the IMb and allowing it to show in the window and be completely compliant with USPS specifications. There is no additional cost for compliant envelopes, and being mindful of the requirements when planning projects can save significant time and frustration in mail departments.

Education Is Key

We sound like a broken record, but it can't be overstated that the key to effectively controlling both labor and postage costs is education. Beginning with your sales, design, and bindery staffs all the way down to making sure your mail technicians are fully aware of USPS regulations is essential. Most graphic artists are not educated on regulations related to the USPS’ design requirements. One quarter of an inch can make a significant difference in postage costs, causing your piece to move from a USPS Marketing (formerly Standard) Mail Letter rate to a much higher Marketing Mail Flat rate. An alert and knowledgeable staff can catch and avoid these costs at a project’s planning stage, and all they need to know is where to find the information and use those resources. With USPS design regulations in their minds and at their fingertips, your staff can save your clients and your organization a great deal of money and time.

Is your staff aware of USPS design requirements? If you are a print provider, can they lead your customers toward printing and designing a piece that will become a successful mail campaign, saving labor and postage costs? Is your sales staff aware of the incentive programs offered most year by the USPS (of course, this year, nothing has been announced in regards to these incentives since we are still waiting for the Board of Governors issue to be resolved)? These programs can offset postage costs but do take planning. This planning is worth it, however, as it can make you a preferred vendor going forward for clients you enroll in these programs. And for in-house mailers, the reduction in postage costs that come as part of these incentives is a boon for any mail center manager.

Education in all departments remains critical. Making sure your mail technicians, print, and sales staffs are educated, communicating, and aware of USPS regulations and design requirements is essential. There are multiple industry events and associations that offer education. Locally, your Postal Customer Council (PCC) meetings are a great resource and free to join and participate in. These meetings are held regularly in your local area and in conjunction with the USPS. The PCC does offer regular meetings to share information and educate members on changing postal regulations to keep your staff educated and, again, it is all free! Another great source of education is the National Postal Forum (NPF). The NPF is held annually in different areas across the United States on a rotating basis (this year, we can’t wait to head to sunny San Antonio in early May!). This is the premier USPS industry trade show, and it offers certification classes in all areas related to mail. At the show, your staff can obtain the knowledge they need to become “mail professionals” to ensure they prepare mail that moves effectively and efficiently through your print, mail, and other departments. This also ensures your mail will move seamlessly into and through the USPS network, saving time and postage cost. Your staff can be USPS-certified in several categories from either of these organizations/resources. With those certifications, print providers can ensure their customers effective processing of their projects (printing and mailing) from a single source provider of these services, and in-house mail centers can rest easy at night, knowing their organizational costs are down and their mail is getting where it needs to be.

Donna Sue Tackett is a Customer Care Specialist and Franchise Development Manager at AccuZIP, Inc. Donna joined the AccuZIP team in 2013 and has played an active role in the development of AccuZIP’s boutique Franchise Development department along with training new users and providing daily support to customer partners. She has two Idealliance certifications, MailPro Professional Advanced Certification and MailPro Fundamentals Certification, as well as three PCC certifications Mail Center Professional Certificate, Mail Piece Quality Intelligent Mail Professional Certificate and Mailing and Shipping Services Professional Certificate. Prior to joining AccuZIP Donna managed a Mailing Department for a Printing Company in Knoxville, Tennessee for 17 years.