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March 11 2013 12:32 PM

Using postal mail has been a vital tool for organizations for hundreds of years. Whether for marketing, invoicing, or customer communications, postal mail is critical to businesses. Yet, it has many challenges.

Each year, more than 40 million people in the US change their addresses, resulting in more than one billion mailpieces returned to senders annually and another six billion discarded by the United States Postal Service as undeliverable. That's money and opportunity lost to businesses. Mail services can also be a guessing game when it comes to delivery. While there are generally agreed-upon delivery windows for mail - measured in days - it's difficult for businesses to anticipate exactly when to staff for increased call or transaction volumes.

That's all changing. With the advent of the Intelligent Mail barcode, businesses gain a valuable tool with which to better manage their mailings and access vital delivery data in real-time.

The Intelligent Mail barcode is a relatively new tool from the USPS used to track and sort letters and flats. The 65-barcode combines the data that were embedded in POSNET and PLANET Code barcodes into one compact, height-modulated barcode.

The Intelligent Mail barcode provides mailers with a much more powerful tool for encoding significantly more information than before. The Intelligent Mail barcode:
· Provides mailers with many more digits for their use, enabling unique identification of up to one billion mailpieces per mailing;
· Provides more accurate, detailed, and timely information to enable better decision making;
· Reduces the amount of space previously required for multiple barcodes, freeing up valuable real estate on the mail piece;
· Allows mailers to participate in several USPS service programs with a single barcode.

Effective January 28, 2013, Intelligent Mail barcodes are required to qualify for automation pricing - saving up to 50% off retail pricing. In addition, companies opting for the "full service" also get access to free "start the clock" information to track USPS delivery performance, free address correction and, in some cases, even greater discounts.

The real advantage for organizations that fully utilize Intelligent Mail barcodes is the ability to make more informed and timely business decisions. With powerful analytics to manage the data provided by the USPS, businesses can improve customer service, increase response rates to marketing efforts, expedite cash flow, and eliminate waste and redundancies.

Better Customer Care
Nothing frustrates a customer more than talking to a service representative that doesn't have complete information. The ability to track the status of mailed communications - including check disbursement, fulfillment kits, statements, and compliance notifications - provides call center representatives with the facts they need to better respond to customer inquiries, improving service levels.

Just as important in caring for customers is reaching out to them with timely information. Yet, companies often miss those opportunities because they send them to incorrect addresses month after month as they don't have a way to capture address changes in a timely manner. This not only wastes the cost of printing and mailing the correspondence, it is also a lost customer touch. Intelligent Mail tracing services notify businesses immediately if an address has changed or a mailpiece is undeliverable, helping to ensure that future communications arrive in a timely manner.

More Effective Integrated Marketing Campaigns
Intelligent Mail tracing further enhances the customer experience by synchronizing the marketing messages sent to them. Knowing exactly when a mailpiece will be delivered can trigger pre-arrival or follow-up e-mail or mobile messages. By coordinating the timing of those marketing messages, companies can boost anticipation of offers and special events, or direct customers to additional information on their websites, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the integrated marketing campaign.

With precise visibility into when mail is delivered, companies can staff up to handle increased traffic into stores or, for mail order, increased call center activity. Intelligent Mail tracing provides businesses with the tools to manage their resources more efficiently so the optimal number of employees is deployed at any given time.

Improved Revenue Streams
Most companies rely on postal mail for invoicing and remittance, yet the USPS estimates that 34% of mail contains address errors that delay or prevent delivery. Intelligent Mail services reduce the volume of undeliverable mail, but just as importantly, it provides companies with the data to better predict and manage cash flow.

For companies using lockbox services, the time it takes to process and post remittance checks can cost thousands of dollars in interest revenue. Intelligent Mail services enable companies to track the time a remittance leaves the customer's hand to when the revenue is posted, allowing them to troubleshoot any potential problems.
Knowing when a remittance is mailed also improves collections by prioritizing whom to call and eliminating "the check is in the mail" excuses. It also reduces unnecessary late notices being sent. At one leading credit card company, Intelligent Mail tracing reduced outbound collection calls by 18%, resulting in millions of dollars in savings annually without reducing the effectiveness of its collection operations.
There are other mailings that can also significantly affect a company's bottom line.
Documenting Compliance
Proxy mailings and product recall or safety notices are expensive and often disruptive for companies. Worse still is having no visibility into whether customers received the vital information or if they have taken the desired action. When a government agency is monitoring the compliance effort, mail operations intelligence is even more critical.
With Intelligent Mail services, companies can monitor compliance mailings every step of the way and document precise delivery information to support regulatory or legal requirements. It also provides the peace of mind of knowing that vital information was delivered to customers.
Managing the Data
Companies run on data, but the extra flow of data from Intelligent Mail services can be daunting to manage. Many companies choose to use their internal resources or hire programmers to interpret the raw data from the USPS and turn it into actionable reports.
More often, companies turn to experienced vendors who offer turnkey solutions to integrate the mail operations data with the overall company infrastructure. A vendor with years of mail management experience can help companies - no matter what their mail volume - reap immediate benefits of Intelligent Mail barcodes with powerful, easy to use analytics. These solutions let companies have as much detail as they need - even drilling down to the 5-digit Zip Code level to monitor delivery and identify problems. An experienced vendor can also help companies maximize the benefits of using Intelligent Mail barcodes.
A turnkey solution reduces risk to the company by requiring no internal IT resources or investment in hardware or software while delivering powerful, proven analytics. It allows companies to focus on improving their business processes, instead of developing applications from scratch.
Calculating the ROI
The argument for Intelligent Mail barcodes is obvious for large volume mailers - they're required for automation pricing, which can save up to 50% on postage costs. However, for mailers of any size, the investment in integrating Intelligent Mail tracing data into business processes is easily returned in better customer service, more effective marketing campaigns, balancing staffing with transaction volume, expedited cash flow, and eliminating waste, like postage on returned mail and unnecessary re-mails.
Christine Erna is Engagement Manager, Enterprise Postal Consulting, Pitney Bowes.

Intelligent Mail, POSTNET, PLANET Code, USPS and Zip Code are trademarks owned by the United States Postal Service.