This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2018 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.
As more mailers participate in the United States Postal Service (USPS) Seamless Acceptance program, the topic of undocumented mail pieces is worthy of review. For many mailers, any assessments for undocumented pieces could be the most expensive ones they face. Unlike some of the other assessments that are passed onto the respective mail owners, assessments for undocumented pieces will usually come right out the mail preparer’s pockets.
What Is an Undocumented Mail Piece?
An undocumented piece is one with an Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) that has been scanned by USPS mail processing equipment (MPE), but it can’t be associated with any eDoc. For validation purposes, the USPS checks against the eDoc submitter customer registration ID (CRID) and submissions within the last 45 days. The current error threshold is .3%; however, mail preparers must explain any errors over the .1% level. The mail piece barcode data is populated in your eDoc during the presort process, whether you’re using presort software or an multi-line optical character reader (MLOCR). So, what causes these undocumented mail pieces, and how can mail preparers prevent this issue?
One common reason is that many mailers have small jobs, usually single piece-rate First-Class Mail that have been printed with IMbs and metered but not be presorted in any way. By definition, these pieces will be undocumented since no eDoc was provided. The resolution is to presort these small mailings. Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) 604.5.1.2 allows for presort of these small jobs that are less than the minimum for a bulk mailing. The Mail.dat files for these small jobs may be merged using post-presort software, so that there is a single submission to PostalOne! rather than numerous small submissions.
Another common cause is use of an incorrect mailer identification (MID), either in the barcode on the mail piece, or in the piece detail record (PDR) or piece barcode record (PBC) of the Mail.dat file. To prevent this, it is important to implement quality assurance (QA) steps in your workflow to provide a checkpoint to ensure that this data matches between the physical mail piece and the eDoc.
Regenerating Mail.dat files after the barcodes have been printed on the mail pieces is another common cause of undocumented pieces. While this may be necessary for a variety of reasons, it is critical to make sure that when these files are regenerated, new IMbs are not being generated. Again, having QA procedures in place to verify that the barcode data in the newly generated file matches the barcode data printed on the pieces is vital.
Another very common culprit is a mailing submitted using a hard copy statement during a PostalOne! outage. This is not a problem when mailers follow the PostalOne! Contingency Plan, which calls for a daily log from the mailer of the jobs getting submitted, followed by uploading the files to PostalOne! once it becomes operational. It is when mailers do NOT follow this contingency plan (submitting a hard copy postage statement) that it becomes a problem. When no files are submitted to PostalOne!, that means the USPS can’t link the mail piece barcodes back to your eDoc, and voila! There are your undocumented pieces!
Unauthorized use of MIDs by another mail service provider or mail owner can also cause issues. Likewise, removing physical pieces from the mailing due to production issues, such as spoilage, can also cause issues. If those pieces are removed from the eDoc, but inadvertently get left in the physical mailing, the USPS won’t be able to match up the scanned barcode. Again, solid QA procedures to validate MIDs and ensure physical removal of spoiled or pulled pieces helps prevent undocumented piece issues.
MLOCR environments can have their own issues that potentially lead to undocumented pieces: double feeds of pre-barcoded mail, one-pass mail, improperly fed rejects, and Move Update pieces culled from the mailing are some common examples. Here, too, QA procedures can help to minimize these occurrences.
There can also be USPS-caused issues that create the illusion of undocumented pieces, when in fact they can be documented. Examples of this are “loop” mail that loops through automated processes multiple times, or technical/maintenance issues with MPE that cause mis-reads.
There are numerous causes for undocumented pieces, so it is a good idea to start identifying why you are seeing undocumented pieces on your Mailer Scorecard and then develop plans to eliminate those issues and be able to provide the USPS with the information required to successfully challenge an incorrect assessment.
Contesting an Assessment
There is only so much you can do to avoid undocumented pieces on your Scorecard because sometimes — even though you’ve done everything right — the USPS can't locate the barcodes in your eDoc. When this happens, the burden is on you to prove that these mail pieces were, indeed, paid for.
You can download the barcode data of your undocumented pieces from the USPS. The next step is to determine if you mailed these barcodes and, if so, when. To contest an assessment, you will need to supply the USPS with the submission date, Job ID, and either the file name or the "historical header sequence number" of the Mail.dat file that contained these “undocumented” barcodes. You will also need to supply the USPS with the Postage Statement ID(s) generated by PostalOne! for that submission. While this research can be tedious, it behooves you to put a plan in place to provide for this process now, since high undocumented scores will keep you out of Seamless Acceptance (for a while). Oftentimes, reducing this count requires considerable process change as described above.
Another good idea is to establish a logging system for your system of generating, printing, and submitting barcode data. Keeping a daily log of IMbs may seem like overkill, but if you are hit with an assessment, this log will be an invaluable resource for the research process. This can also serve as a great foundation for your QA procedures.
The USPS provides information regarding your undocumented pieces on your Mailer Scorecard, available on the Business Customer Gateway. The USPS Guide to Mailer Scorecard includes instructions for drilling down into the error reports to locate the details of undocumented piece errors. Some software and other mailing services vendors have solutions to help you with reducing your undocumented pieces or to help with the research and documentation for contesting the assessments. Now is the time to develop an understanding of the issues you may be facing and work with your vendors to implement a cost-effective solution.
With over 20 years of innovative postal solutions that make using the Postal Service easier and more profitable for mailers and shippers, Jeff Peoples, Founder & CEO of Window Book, has done presentations at industry events, GraphExpo, MAILCOM, the National Postal Forum, Postal Customer Council meetings, Harvard Business Expert Forum, and other industry and direct marketing events.