Priority Mail: Training Your Staff on Mailing Services

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.

Job Description for Graphic Designers

The basic mail piece design knowledge for a graphic designer or prepress technician is:

  • The ability to size a mail piece correctly
  • Construct and locate the address panel correctly
  • Set up indicia for the correct postage classification
  • To provide the correct ancillary service endorsement wording when told what endorsement is being used.

The USPS Publication 95, Quick Service Guide, and especially QSG 201 and QSG 301 are as useful for graphic designers as for CSRs, so you should order two copies for the Business Unit.

Be sure your designers have these tools (also available from the business unit):

  • Notice 3-A, Letter-size Mail Dimensional Standards Template (other numbers could be PSN 7610-03-000-9053 or 1050251 Rev D)
  • Notice 67, a template used in conjunction with “Designing Letter Mail”

Both are physical templates—plastic imprinted with everything needed to be sure a card- or letter-size mail piece meets physical characteristics and has the correct location and size for the address panel.

Wording and format for indicia can be found in QSG 604d and also at www.usps.com/send/postagepermitimprintsandmeters/howtodesignapermitimprintindicia.htm.

QSG 507d provides information about ancillary service endorsements, or go to www.usps.com/ncsc/addressservices/moveupdate/ace.htm.

Mailing Job Description for Database Technicians

The skills for a database technician are analogous to a prepress technician. They must be able to:

  • Import a mail list in one of several file formats
  • Analyze the list to be sure it is appropriate for the addressing task
  • Check file structure and data hygiene
  • Submit a list for move update processing and provide a report of results, including CASS and DPV failures
  • Prepare the list for addressing

Advanced skills include the ability to merge more than one mail list and identify and purge duplicates using rules provided by the customer through the CSR, deal with foreign addresses, and improve mail list structure and data hygiene to give a better addressing results.

The best sources of training for database technicians are the software companies that provide mail list management software. Most have online tutorials and help desks, some have resident training classes, some have live online seminars, and some have listservs for users.

Job Description for Bindery Workers

Bindery workers are the ones who operate the bindery and mailing equipment needed to process a mailing: folder, tabber, inkjet addressing equipment (including dryer), and strapper. They may also deliver the mail to the USPS bulk mail acceptance unit that is located at the back of the post office.

USPS Publication 95, Quick Service Guide, and especially QSG 201 and QSG 301 will show bindery workers where to inkjet the address, where to locate tabs, and how many tabs are needed (depending on physical characteristics of the folded self mailer or booklet and where the final fold or spine is located). So you should order three copies for the Business Unit.

The bindery worker also needs to know the specifics about the bulk mail acceptance unit—what hours mail is accepted, how the clerk likes mail unloaded at the dock, and any other requests that the clerk makes of mailers. Train your bindery worker/delivery person to be polite and respectful of the clerk and to comply with all rules and requirements.

Mailing Job Description for Owners and Production Managers

The final job description is the easiest and the hardest: Keeping up with changing USPS requirements that affect mail preparation and postage. It is the easiest because the USPS provides a constant stream of up-to-date information about changes to the Domestic Mail Manual in its Postal Explorer website and through publications like DMM Advisory or MailPro.

Sometimes it is easier to search for information using a standard search engine rather than the search tool on the Postal Explorer site. If you preface a search string with “USPS,” you will often get a direct link to the Postal Explorer website or to www.usps.com in the first few returns from the search engine.

To subscribe to DMM Advisory, send an email to dmmadvisory@usps.com and indicate “subscribe” in the subject line. To subscribe to MailPro, send a request to mncsc@usps.com.

Despite easy access to information, keeping up with changing USPS requirements is hard because you must determine what and how it applies to your mailing operation, then teach it to your staff. One of the reasons QP includes this Priority Mail column as a regular feature is to assist with that process and help you run an efficient, profitable mailing department.

Nancy DeDiemar is the president of Printing Resources of Southern California, a quick print shop in Upland, CA, offering printing, copying, electronic prepress, and mailing services. Nancy is the co-publisher of Printips (www.printips.com), a newsletter subscription service for printers. Contact her at Nancy@printingresources.com.

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