Choosing a software solution is like any other major purchase for your business. While software is not tangible in the form of a folder, a stitcher, an inserter, or a binder, it is just as critical as any one of those components, arguably the most critical. At the end of the day, it is your software solution and the provider that stands behind it that will ensure that you have properly prepared postage documentation that comports with the law. The certified mailing software and team behind it are there to ensure discounts are earned and costs avoided while staying in compliance.
Even Bad Drivers Have a Driver’s License
What are you getting when you purchase software from a certified, reputable provider? One of the most important capabilities you are getting is address quality processing. Pursuant to section 708.3.1.2 of the Domestic Mail Manual, any mailing claiming automation mail rates must have a ZIP + 4 applied using CASS-certified software. However, CASS-certified software seems to be somewhat ubiquitous – there are many CASS-certified products, but that doesn't make them all equal. Perhaps the best analogy for CASS-certified software is a driver’s license. Most of us carry a driver’s license. But, do we all drive the same? Certainly not. Some of us parallel park better than others. Some can back up trailers. Some knocked over the cones four or five times during their driving’s test before they finally obtained their license. The same is true with CASS-certified software.
At one point in time, and often after numerous attempts, address assignment software products that were able to correct 100,000 USPS-provided addresses according to a minimum assignment level, resulted in the Postal Service approving that product as "CASS-certified." However, the address assignment capabilities are not all the same. Some products can assign carrier route addresses better. Some can find hyphenated addresses better. Some can assign grid-style addresses better. Each product is unique because of its ability to parse, match, correct, and standardize addresses in a unique manner. It’s important to be aware that changing from one product to another will likely mean an impact to the type and number of ZIP + 4 assignments that you will be able to achieve for you or your customers. So, be prepared for a change that could result in increases in postage or difficult conversations with your customers if you choose to downgrade your CASS-certified software product.
Differences Abound in Presort Capabilities
The second thing you are getting from postal software is presorting. This is the heart of what mail optimization and mail preparation is all about. Sequencing, sorting, containerizing, and documenting how the pieces are going to be assembled are all critical pieces of the presort process. Here too, each product is different. While the Postal Service has a PAVE certification program, the fact is that each program is slightly different in how it can presort. Some products support many different types of presorts options for their customers and some only support a few. Attempts are being made to try and facilitate PAVE certification by using the electronic file submission known as Mail.dat. While that could simplify presorting processes, it still doesn’t change the fact that each product is unique because it is developed by engineers that have unique approach. Moreover, exposure to thousands of astute customers over decades have enabled software vendors to improve their products so that they can earn the most number postal discounts available, reducing the overall cost of postage.
Be aware that changing your presort software from one to another will likely result in changes. Choosing a better quality software could positively impact eligibility discounts or containerization changes, which can result in lower postage costs.
The Pieces Need to Fit Together
Workflow optimization is another consideration. How the product fits into your overall workflow is essential. Are you looking for an interactive product where a human being will be selecting and choosing the options for each job that they set up, thus requiring you to staff an individual or individuals? Or, are you looking for a solution that can be automated in a 24 x 7 x 365 approach, tightly integrated into your other workflow solutions for reduced costs and improved inefficiencies and allow you to re-purpose your employees for future growth opportunities? Here also buyers have to be careful. Not all products work seamlessly with other solutions, including your print production capabilities. Print manufacture interfaces can be different. Labels can be different. Data interchange can be different. Thus, downgrading your software solution could ultimately result in having to hire more staff or integration specialists to ensure a productive workflow and that will certainly cost more than the anticipated savings you thought you might realize. Investing in highly compatible software with prebuilt integrations with other up and downstream products saves money long term. IT resources can optimize your workflow processes, rather than spending time on costly custom integrations.
Support Is More than a 'Nice to Have’
Another area of concern is training and support. These aren’t mutually exclusive, and in many cases are intimately tied together throughout the life and use of the software. United States Postal Service prices and rules change on an annual basis, and sometimes can change substantially. You need to be working with a provider that not only understands their software technology but the complex rules of the Domestic Mail Manual (DMM). The DMM, while no longer printed, is thousands of pages of complex mail preparation and sortation rules that can at any moment change. Even the smallest change, which on the surface seems innocuous, can represent a substantial impact to your business and your productivity. It’s imperative to have a software solution expert with USPS and industry certified training that knows mail, knows their product, and knows your business as well. Knowledgeable, certified support becomes especially important when processing a job that’s a bit unique from your typical jobs. Be sure to select a provider that can offer training, either on-site, at their location, or through the web. Take advantage of any training that’s being offered. This will help you to stay current on using the solution and allow you to maximize the value of your investment.
Customer support is arguably the most valuable resource of any investment you can make. Having access to live customer support -- trained experts in mail who are USPS and industry certified -- is the only way you can be sure that you’re preparing correct mailings, resolving acceptance issues with the Postal Service, and staying informed on USPS regulatory changes. If the software provider offers venues such as customer portals, training, or additional webinars – use them. They are valuable resources that complement the live customer support you deserve and should expect. If you don’t have access to live customer support by USPS and industry certified experts, you are on your own and the risks are substantial with you on the front line.
Total Cost is More Than Renewal Price
The total cost of ownership of software is far more than the upfront purchase or the annual renewal. There can be a high cost to cheap software. Baked into that number is a multitude of components that are essential – arguably critical – to your current and future success. Pulling on any one of those threads can unravel a tapestry of carefully constructed workflow solutions. Next time your software comes up for renewal, ask yourself and your vendors the right questions. You can't afford the high cost of cheap software.
Chris Lien is President, BCC Software, and a frequent contributor to industry publications.