As with any department in your print shop, it takes a well trained staff to make a mailing operation run smoothly. Mailing requires these basic functions:
- Order entry performed by a CSR
- Mail list prep performed by a database technician
- Mail piece design performed by a graphics designer or prepress technician
- Addressing and mail prep done by bindery workers
Unfortunately, there is no good central source for training in all these functions. The USPS provides classes on mail preparation and entry that potentially are of use to bindery workers, but these are often too detailed and cover too broad a spectrum of mailing situations to be of real use.
To know where to look for training, you as the owner must first determine what is required of each function. In other words, you need a mini job description just for mailing services. In this column I’ll share with you what I think that job description should be.
Job Description for CSRs
The basic technical knowledge for a CSR is:
- Mail classification (the physical characteristics of that determine whether a mail piece is a card, letter, or flat)
- Mail piece design (how the physical characteristics of the mail piece and the size and location of the address panel affect postage)
- Postage rates (first class presort and standard)
- Mail list issues: address quality, mail list file formats
The August 2009 issue of QP provided detailed information about mail classifications, mail piece design, and postage rates. Another good orientation to mail classification and mail piece design can be found in the USPS Publication 95, Quick Service Guide. You can request a copy from the USPS Business Unit that serves your ZIP code. To find the business unit, use this link: http://pe.usps.gov/mpdesign/mpdfr_mda_intro.asp and click on Mailpiece Design Analyst Lookup Tool. (The MDA works at the Business Unit.)
Study QSG 201 to understand the physical standards for discount letters and cards and how the physical dimensions of the mail piece and the size and location of the address panel affect postage. QSG 301 provides the same information for flat mail. You can download PDFs of these and other QSGs from the USPS website http://pe.usps.com/text/qsg300/q000.htm.
Current postage rates can be found in Notice 123, available at http://pe.usps.com/PriceChange_May2009/PDF/PriceList/PriceList.pdf. The relevant pages are 10-15, Commercial Rates. (Commercial rates are for presorted, prepared mail while retail rates are for single piece mail.) Print a copy of pages 10-15 and provide them as a reference tool for CSRs.
Address quality is a comprehensive topic that includes the accuracy and completeness of each address in a mailing list, as well as verification that the individual or business is actually at that address—in other words, move update compliance. CSRs will need to explain the purpose of move update to customers and to secure completed, signed copies of the PAF (Processing Acknowledgment Form). The USPS has prepared a comprehensive guide to PAF, available at http://ribbs.usps.gov/FILES/NCOALINK/PAF_GUIDE.PDF.
CSRs need to understand what file formats are acceptable for mail lists and which are either unacceptable or require extensive work before they can be used for addressing. Mail list management software can import data in any of these formats: Excel (.xls), text (.txt), and dBase (.dbf). It cannot import a Word file or a PDF without additional work because these are images of the data rather than the data itself.
In addition to technical knowledge, CSRs must have customer management skills to:
- Estimate the amount needed for the postage deposit
- Secure the postage deposit prior to mailing
- Manage interim due dates for receiving the mailing list and printed pieces being provided by the customer
Postage can easily be estimated by asking the customer how many pieces are in the mailing, then multiplying by the applicable postage rate for the size and weight of the mail piece. To estimate conservatively, use the AADC rate sortation scheme unless you are certain most of the mailing will sort to the 3-digit or 5-digit level.