Nov. 12 2008 09:14 AM

In almost every industry, there are certification requirements. Professionals in fields that range from medicine, to the law, to even spas must be certified by an industry association or the government. What this means is that professionals in almost every sector are required to demonstrate to an independent expert panel they have the knowledge and expertise to do what they claim they can do - and what their clientele expects of them. In some cases, certification helps to prevent fraud and even possible injury to consumers. In the mailing industry, certification ensures enterprises, or their trusted vendor, are deploying the quickest, most accurate, cost-efficient mail delivery.


MPTQM Sets a Standard

The MPTQM (Mail Preparation Total Quality Management) program was launched in 1995, developed by business mailers from ideas borrowed from three major sources: the International ISO 9000 standards, the Malcolm Baldridge Performance Excellence criteria and the much-respected Total Quality Management procedures. The program is very different from the technical specifications set by the USPS because it was devised to help business mailers go beyond basic requirements to ensure that a "workshare" mail preparation operation meets - and even beats - common quality standards in delivering automated mail efficiently and safely. When a business mailer can demonstrate that it has successfully implemented these standards in day-to-day operations, it is a company that qualifies for the certification.


However, the MPTQM certification process isn't simple and easy, and it isn't meant to be. Rather, achieving certification is an endorsement from an independent agency that says the certified mailer is truly among the best in the business.


Why Go for This Certification?

Though it may not always seem so, the ultimate goal of automation is to make our professional lives easier and more productive. However, as new technologies are introduced, we face an unavoidable period of adjustment while we struggle through the difficult stage of trial-and-error, finding out what these technologies can and can't do, how to get the most from them and how to improve our processes with them. Through experience, business mailers determine the "best practices" inside their own businesses and/or across the industry, finding the most productive and efficient way to use the new technologies.


Determining best practices requires measuring and recording the results of what we do in an accurate and appropriate way. For example, for moving materials from one end of the plant to the other, speed in getting this done would be a likely measure to decide if it's being accomplished in the best possible way. However, when it comes to sortation, 100% accuracy would be the target to reach and the measurement gauge. And no matter what a company deems best practices are, they are always subject to change with the introduction of new hardware, new software or maybe just the need to rearrange the warehouse to make shipping and receiving easier.


MPTQM offers a comprehensive system of quality control measures and standardized assessment procedures that apply to all aspects of the mail preparation process, from the initial development of the mailpiece, to the generation and barcoding of a letter, to the final sorting and containerizing of the mail before it is presented to the USPS. While MPTQM processes don't dictate exactly how to perform every step needed in the processing of mail, it does provide the tools and skills needed to determine what mailers need to consider and do to consistently produce quality results.


The Certification Process

The USPS recognizes two categories of mailers who can qualify for MPTQM certification: list mailers and presort service bureaus. According to the USPS, a list mailer is involved in all aspects of the mailing piece, from preparation, to production, to presentation at the post office. Typically, list mailers perform sortations from a computerized list or an automated letter sorter or Multiline Optical Character Reader (MLOCR). By contrast, presort service bureaus have expanded standards for managing mail preparation and presentation to the post office. They collect the mail they produce from many customers and combine these mailings in order to take advantage of postage discounts.


The certification process begins when a company registers as either a list mailer or presort service bureau with the USPS. The mailer can then expect to receive self-assessment guidelines to start the process in-house. Subsequent steps include:


Performing three self-assessments at a minimum of 30-day intervals

Documenting and submitting three sets of procedures

Correcting inconsistencies and making necessary changes

Selecting a team to meet with reviewers

Participating in an on-site assurance review

Submitting a final report


The whole process usually takes seven to 10 months from registration to the final review and report. Scoring 95% or more on MPTQM criteria qualifies a business mailer for certification. With a score of 90% to 94%, the mailer will be asked to make some corrections and most likely will be reviewed again. A score of less than 90% means that the company goes back to square one and begins the process all over again.


After a mailer passes all preliminary testing and achieves MPTQM certification, it is still subject to ongoing surveillance reviews to verify that the mailing facility is still operating within the high standards of the program. Reviewers will pay specific attention to the facility's dedication to reduce mailing costs, decrease undeliverable mailing pieces and maximize their resources.


The certification process essentially requires documenting the step-by-step production procedures utilized in your facility, and this alone can help to isolate problem areas and indicate ways to improve. For example, there may be a high level of errors on a particular job. Carefully tracking that job from workstation to workstation and recording errors and waste at every stop can correctly pinpoint where the problem is. Maybe the size of the mailing makes it awkward to handle and subsequently results in a high number of damaged pieces. Or perhaps only one employee is recording errors with the job. The purpose is not to lay blame and point fingers, but to find out exactly what needs to be done to improve processes. In this case, the solution might be in suggesting a different size mailpiece or providing additional training for an employee. These efforts will ultimately streamline the mailed article's acceptance process by reducing the frequency of USPS verifications.


Rethinking Operations

The most important benefit of the MPTQM program is that it compels a company to closely examine all of the facility's production procedures. The longer anyone performs a task, the more he or she develops a habitual method of doing it because it seems to be the quickest or the most convenient way. But sometimes - and especially as new technologies are introduced - it is no longer the best way. MPTQM makes all employees take a fresh look at what they do and how they do it and come up with creative solutions to become more efficient and productive.


While certification takes time and effort, it is also a way to give employees a greater sense of control over their own workspace and more pride in what they do. At DATAMATX, we've found that the net result of achieving this certification has further enhanced our culture of teamwork, resulting in higher efficiency and productivity. Our customers benefit as well, knowing they can depend upon our knowledge and commitment to do the best job possible. Finally, the USPS gains a more reliable business partner that is fully aware how to reduce cost and waste associated with returned mail and undeliverables.


Just as the USPS increasingly migrates to automated systems to save money, improve accuracy and reduce waste, those in the private sector who prepare the mail must keep pace - and even exceed the minimum quality standard of acceptability - in order to provide the most cost-effective and accurate mail processing services to their customers to ensure timely delivery to the final destination. To say that a business mailer is MPTQM-certified guarantees that the company has done its homework and is ready and able to provide the very best service available to the USPS - and its valuable customers.


Harry Stephens is President/CEO and founder of DATAMATX, one of the nation's largest privately held, full-service providers of printed and electronic billing solutions.