When Susan Pinter meets with a new client, she typically asks a lot of questions you'd expect someone from a large mail center to ask. Among the most basic: Which of the following is most important to your business postage savings, freight savings or precisely timed, in-home delivery?


Armed with this knowledge, Pinter along with her staff can set in motion a full range of mailing services, from data cleansing and address enhancement to mail preparation and destination entry.


There's one noteworthy caveat to this scenario: Pinter does not work for a mail house; she's the director of Postal Systems at a catalog printing company called Arandell Corporation based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. In fact, Arandell processes such a high volume of mail for its clients, it boasts an on-premise post office, staffed by U. S. Postal Service verification clerks from the Milwaukee Bulk Mail Center.


In Lisbon, Maine, another catalog printer, The Dingley Press, has steadily expanded the mailing services offered to its customers. "Our customers like having everything in one location and dealing with one vendor," says Howard Fogle, list services manager. Managing the mailing process, he adds, gives his company greater control over process quality, as well as timelines. "Quite often, we're dealing with time-sensitive mail, and there are in-home windows we have to make. If there's a problem with an address file, we can't wait two to three days for an outside provider to fix it and turn it around. We have to take care of it right away."


Arandell Corporation and The Dingley Press typify a growing "one-stop shopping" trend among commercial printers. But they also demonstrate the need for careful consideration before embarking upon a mailing services venture."It has to be a total commitment to providing quality mailing services," maintains Pinter. "You need capable people who understand postal regulations and are able to handle any situation that arises."


For Arandell, this commitment includes participation in industry workgroups and forums excellent opportunities to stay current with the steady stream of USPS changes. Arandell takes its relationship with the USPS even further by regularly participating in the testing of new initiatives.


Creating an Advantage with Technology

At The Dingley Press, Fogle contends that having the right technology is essential. "When it comes to issues related to mail preparation," he states, "I put a lot of trust in the software and the software development company. I'm confident that what they provide is correct and current and that they've done the quality checks. Also, if I have a question about a regulation and can't find the answer quickly, I call the company. They generally know the answer or can help me get it." ·


Across the industry, commercial printers are involved with mailing services at varying levels. Some concentrate solely on mail preparation while others pursue a more comprehensive portfolio of services. Some printers assist their clients on the front end. For example, a catalog retailer may need help targeting its customers. Services offered within this phase may include:


  • Data matching and consolidation also known as merge/purge, the process which consolidates records from multiple sources to create a single view of each customer.

  • Householding uncovering relationships between companies and individuals to increase marketing leverage.

  • RFM (recency, frequency and monetary value) analysis identifying a company's best customers and prospects.

  • Geospatial analysis identifying addresses which fall within a certain distance from a specific location.


    Most commonly, mailing services within a printing operation focus on data cleansing and mail preparation.


    It is important to run data through Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS-certified) software, which will help ensure that addresses are in a proper format and are deliverable by the USPS. Data cleansing most often consists of these steps:


  • Parsing identifying and isolating elements within an address file.

  • Standardizing reorganizing parsed data into the USPS-accepted format.

  • Correction appending or updating data to keep it within a USPS-prescribed range; and applying a delivery point code to make the mailpiece eligible for sortation discounts.


    Printer-based mailing services may offer additional address enhancement opportunities. This is part of an effort to reduce "undeliverable as addressed" mail, which is a $1.8 billion annual problem for the Postal Service, not to mention a drain on mailers' resource. Optional services may include Delivery Point Validation (DPV), which confirms whether an address is deliverable by the USPS; Residential Delivery Indicator (RDI), which reveals whether the address is a residence or business; Early Warning System, a weekly listing of new addresses; and various move update tools such as Address Change Service, National Change of Address, FASTforward and NCOALink.


    The final major phase of a mail service provider's offering is the mail preparation itself. And, while this phase may seem quite obvious, there can be some interesting variations from one company to the next.


    Presort, in which common mail addresses are grouped to various sortation levels, is certainly a staple among many printers, in large part because of the postage savings mailers stand to reap. The more granular the level of sortation, the greater the postage discounts.


    Another popular service is containerization, in which packaged mailpieces are placed into sacks, trays or pallets. Compared with sacking the mail, palletization can yield additional postage discounts as well as improved delivery.


    A smaller number of printers have become savvy providers of drop shipping and destination entry, this includes transporting a customer's mail deep into the postal system, as close as economically possible to the final delivery points. The trade-off is higher freight costs. Companies with extremely time-sensitive mail are excellent candidates for drop shipping because it increases the probability that it will achieve it in-home delivery windows.


    Arandell is a prime example of a printer that uses drop shipping extensively. "Several of our clients must know when to ramp up staffing in their call centers or stores," says Pinter. "Drop shipping gives them greater confidence that consumers will receive their catalogs or coupons at exactly the right time."


    Making the Right Choices

    Fogle and Pinter agree that the level of service their companies are able to offer customers directly correlates with the capabilities of supporting technology and the company behind it. Both mention the vendor's track record in responding to, and preferably anticipating, new rules and opportunities as a critical attribute. Other factors to consider include:


  • Solution breadth and depth Does it cover the full range of mailing processes and support the newest USPS initiatives?

  • Scope and timeliness of certifications Find out how many categories the vendor's software certification covers.

  • Collaboration with the USPS and customers Proactive vendors will work with clients to explore all possible avenues for postage savings and delivery improvements, even going so far as to present ideas to the USPS.

  • Software scalability The software should be able to accommodate the mailing service's growth, without requiring the switch to a whole new systems.


    Commercial printers who do their homework and make the right choices stand to gain substantial rewards from a mailing service: Increased revenues from existing and new customers and, perhaps more importantly, strengthened long-term loyalty from customers who see the printer as responding to their needs.


    Stacey Mentzel manages Firstlogic, Inc.'s Postalsoft line of software solutions. For more information, visit www.firstlogic.com or call the company at 888-215-6442.

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