Intelligent Mail barcodes – are you ready…?

Do you print your bills in-house using CASS Certification and POSTNET barcodes? If so, has the Postal Service contacted you with a deadline for making the change to Intelligent Mail barcodes? If not, they will be soon.

Even if you don’t print your own bills, have you heard of and wondered what Intelligent Mail barcodes are?

Continue reading to learn about Intelligent Mail barcodes and what will be involved in making the switch…

What is the difference between POSTNET and Intelligent Mail barcodes?

POSTNET and Intelligent Mail barcodes (IMb) are both barcodes that enable optical scanning equipment to read and sort mail at much faster rates than humans can. As you will see below, an Intelligent Mail barcode contains much more detail about the mailpiece than does a POSTNET barcode.

POSTNET explained

POSTNET is an acronym for POSTal Numeric Encoding Technique and has been in use since ZIP+4 was introduced in 1983. A POSTNET barcode includes the following data elements:

  • ZIP code (5 digits)
  • ZIP+4 (4 digits)
  • Delivery Point Code, also known as DPC or DPBC (2 digits)
  • Check digit (1 digit)

We all know what a ZIP code is; but the other elements of a POSTNET barcode are less well known.

Each ZIP+4 uniquely identifies the even and odd sides of the street for a block. For example, neighboring addresses 100 N Main St, 102 N Main St and 104 N Main St would all share the same ZIP+4. In most cases, for post office box addresses the ZIP+4 is the last four digits of the PO box number.

The DPC is the last two digits of the street address or PO box number. In the above example, the DPC for 100 N Main St is 00 and the DPC for 102 N Main St is 02. As you’ve probably figured out by now, the 11 digits represented by ZIP code, ZIP+4 and DPC represent a unique value for every address.

The check digit is a single digit that is used to verify the first 11 digits of the POSTNET using a sum of the digits modulo 10 algorithm. This is a fancy way of saying a value that when added to the sum of the first 11 digits yields a value that is evenly divisible by 10.

A POSTNET barcode consists of a series of half and full bars. All bars in a POSTNET barcode are ascenders, meaning that no bars drop below the base line. Each bar is a binary value (0 for half bars and 1 for full bars) and five bars comprise a digit. Here is an example of a POSNET barcode:

Intelligent Mail barcodes explained

The Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) is a 31 digit barcode that includes the following data elements:

  • Barcode identifier (2 digits)
  • Service type identifier (3 digits)
  • Mailer ID (6 or 9 digits)
  • Sequence number (9 or 6 digits)
  • Delivery point ZIP code (11 digits)

The barcode identifier represents the level to which the mail piece has been sorted (i.e. carrier route, 5 digit ZIP, 3 digit ZIP prefix, etc).

The service type identifier is a value that identifies both the class of mail (first class, standard, priority mail, etc) and the services requested (address service requested, change service requested, etc).

The Mailer ID is a six or nine digit number assigned by the USPS that identifies the business sending the mail. High volume mailers will be assigned six digit Mailer IDs to allow a larger range of sequence numbers.

The sequence number is mailer assigned value that uniquely identifies each recipient. If claiming the full service discount, the sequence number must be unique for at least 45 days after the mailing, meaning the sequence number cannot be duplicated within 45 days.

The delivery point ZIP code is the same 11 digits that make up a POSTNET barcode.

Rather than the two symbols that make up a POSTNET barcode, IMb includes a central tracking region and both ascenders and descenders. This allows for four distinct symbols (tracking region only, ascending, descending and both ascending and descending). Here is an example of an Intelligent Mail barcode:

Intelligent Mail barcode

What is CASS Certification?

CASS is an acronym for Coding Accuracy Support System, the USPS’s process for insuring that all mail has a valid delivery address. CASS certification is a process that improves the accuracy of ZIP codes, ZIP+4 codes, delivery point codes and carrier routes. Mail that is presorted using CASS certification qualifies for postage discounts from the USPS. Essentially, the Postal Service is paying you to ease their workload with what they call “worksharing discounts”.

  • Processing a mailing that qualifies for the CASS certification discount involves several steps:
  • Insure your mailpiece (postcard bills or full page bills inserted in a window envelope) meet the requirements of the Postal Service
  • Process your mailing list with CASS certified software and generate a CASS report
  • Print your bills with POSTNET or IMb in the presorted sequence determined by the CASS certified software
  • Prepare your mailing in trays and grouped in packages as determined by the CASS software
  • Prepare a postage statement that includes the date of the most recent CASS report for your mailing
  • Deliver your mail and the postage statement to the USPS at the prescribed time and place

Obviously, the process of preparing a mailing to take advantage of these “worksharing discounts” involves a fair amount of work.

What is involved in making the change to IMb?

As we’ve seen, a utility bill mailed with IMb includes much more information than one mailed with POSTNET. This additional information provides the ability to track and trace individual pieces of mail.

To take advantage of the ability to trace mail using IMb, mailers must first complete an application and be approved by the Postal Service.

You must also purchase and pay the ongoing maintenance and support for CASS certified presorting software. If you are currently printing bills with POSTNET, you already have the CASS software. However, the difference is how often the list must be processed with the CASS software.

Currently, when printing bills with POSTNET, a CASS report is valid for up to six months. With IMb, each mailing must be processed with the CASS software because the results of the CASS presorting process are incorporated in the barcode identifier of the IMb.

Finally, you must have a printer that can print Intelligent Mail barcodes. This doesn’t sound like much, but most printers do not include the IMb font as a resident font, so an additional font package must be purchased. For Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printers, this requires the HP Barcode Printing Solution, available either as a font card or a USB device. Either of these options are only available for a limited number of printers as seen by clicking on the corresponding compatible products link. If you are currently printing bills using an HP LaserJet printer that is not on either of these compatible products lists, you will need to purchase a new printer in order to print IMb.

Is it time to switch to outsource bill printing?

If all this sounds like a lot of expense and work, that’s because it is! Outsource bill printing removes this responsibility, and the headaches that go along with it, from your office staff. The outsource printing vendor is responsible for meeting all of the requirements of the Postal Service and you still get the benefits of being able to track your mail using IMb.

If you are still printing bills in-house, now is a prime opportunity to consider outsourcing!

If you would like assistance preparing a cost/benefit analysis of in-house printing vs. outsourcing, please contact me by calling 919-232-2320 or e-mailing me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com.

Please contact me as well if you would like my recommendations of outsource printing vendors.

© 2012 Gary Sanders

Do you have a formal customer service policy?

Does your utility have a formal customer service policy? If you do, how recently have you reviewed it? Not just read through it, but reviewed it with an eye for revisions that reflect updated policies and procedures?

A formal customer service policy outlines the rights and responsibilities of both your utility and your customers. It describes what is expected of your customers and what actions you will take if they don’t comply. It should also define what your customer’s remedies are if they are billed incorrectly or treated unfairly.

If you don’t have a formal, published customer service policy, you have no way of insuring that all customers are treated fairly. Your customers, in turn, have no way of knowing what to expect from your utility.

Let’s look at a few key elements of an effective customer service policy…

Application for service requirements

When applying for service, do you require new customers to present photo identification or a lease agreement? If so, this should be stated in your customer service policy.

Will you activate service for a new customer the same day if the application is made before a certain time? Or will the customer have to wait until the next day to be turned on? Is there a fee for same day service?

Answers to these questions regarding initiating service should be listed clearly in your customer service policy.

Security deposit policies

Likewise, security deposit policies should be clearly defined. This is especially important if you don’t require the same deposit amount from every customer. For example, if you offer variable deposits based on a customer’s credit rating this should be clearly defined in your policy.

Policies regarding refunding deposits should also be included. Do you refund deposits after two years of good payment history? Or do you hold all deposits until the account is closed? Either way, your customers should be able to find this information in your policy.

Fee schedule

Similarly, your fee schedule should be clearly defined in your customer service policy. Customers should have no doubt how much you will charge if they bounce a check or are cut off for non-payment.

If you revise your fee schedule regularly, your customer service policy should be updated at the same time to reflect the revised fees.

Payment options

While it isn’t necessarily important to list all the different ways customers can pay their bills, many customer service policies include these. What is important, however, is to describe any expectations of your customers if they choose a particular payment option.

For example, if, after a certain number of returned checks in a specified period of time, you will no longer accept checks from a customer, this should be clearly noted in your policy.

Likewise, if you charge a convenience fee for certain types of credit card payments or require good payment history to sign up for bank drafts, these should also be included.

Delinquency and cut-off policies

One of the most important topics to be addressed in a customer service policy is your delinquency and cut-off policy.

How many days from the date of the bill does your customer have to pay before a late payment penalty is applied? How many days after that do you disconnect for non-payment? Will they receive a second notice? How much is the reconnect fee if an account is cut off for non-payment? Is this fee assessed to all accounts or only to accounts that are cut off? Will you make payment arrangements to allow customers to continue to receive service while paying off large bills?

The answers to all these questions should be clearly answered in your customer service policy.

Adjustment policies

If you offer leak adjustments for water leaks, the terms of such adjustments should be stated in your customer service policy. Likewise, if you offer summer sewer adjustments, these should also be addressed.

What if a customer is underbilled due to an error on your part? How far back will bill them and over how many months do they have to pay the difference. On the other hand, if a customer is overbilled, what will you do to correct the overbilling?

Again, the answer to all these questions should be addressed in your customer service policy.

Make your customer service policy available

In an effort to be customer friendly, I encourage you to make your customer service policy available to all customers, especially new customers.

Provide a copy to all new customers as part of a new customer packet. If it is a lengthy document, consider publishing a pamphlet with a synopsis of the key elements and give this to new customers.

And, of course, post it on your website, preferably as a downloadable link so your customers can print the full document if they so desire.

Do you have a formal customer service policy?

Does your utility have a formal customer service policy? Is it up-to-date? Please take a minute to respond to this quick survey on my Facebook page.

Is it time to review your customer service policy?

Is it time to review your customer service policy (or to develop one if you don’t have one)?

If so, please contact me by calling 919-232-2320 or e-mailing me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to see how I can assist you.

© 2012 Gary Sanders