ACS Full Service: Will it REALLY work?
Some recent mailing industry discussions have involved all the uncertainties regarding Address Change Service (ACSTM) services under Intelligent Mail®. There is still a lot of confusion and miscommunication surrounding this topic. However, one element which is very fundamental is not being discussed, and unfortunately it could be a real show-stopper.
Many mailers do not realize that the USPS handles address corrections differently for the various processing categories of mail. One of the methods the USPS utilizes is a system called Postal Automated Redirection System (PARS), which reads the address during postal processing, bounces it against the USPS Change of Address (COA) database, and then automatically applies the new address and forwards the mail (depending on the class of mail and service endorsements) to the new address. The processing equipment used to process this mail is predominantly for letter size mail.
For mail that is not forwarded, the USPS uses a different method. In these cases, the address corrections are triggered at the mail delivery carrier level. When the carrier determines that the recipient is no longer at the address on the mailpiece, or that the mailpiece is otherwise undeliverable as addressed, the piece is sent to a Computerized Forwarding System (CFS) center for further processing. The CFS sites are where the ACS notices are generated. Before this is done, however, the mail carrier manually crosses out the barcode on the mailpiece so that the piece does not get re-directed to the old or bad address. Therein lies the problem. If the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) is obliterated by the mail carrier, it will not be able to be scanned at the CFS centers, which means that the USPS will not be able to process the address corrections in the Intelligent Mail environment.
Theoretically, it should be as simple as training all the mail carriers to stop crossing out the barcodes on this Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) mail. However, since there are tens of thousands of mail carriers across the country, the likelihood of this training getting accomplished quickly and thoroughly is not very high. This is particularly true given the financial straits of the USPS.
The November implementation date for the Intelligent Mail postage discounts is not all that far away. This problem is not being actively discussed, so how can mailers be assured that they will be receiving their address corrections when they convert to Intelligent Mail? This is particularly concerning for Periodicals mailers, who are required to receive and pay for address corrections through the USPS. Many Periodicals mailers have adopted the ACS service over the years as a method of reducing the cost of the address corrections. Since these mailers are already paying for address corrections through the USPS, very few utilize other methods of obtaining address corrections, such as NCOALink®, because of the additional costs. The free ACS service as part of Intelligent Mail Full Service is particularly attractive for these Periodicals mailers since they can now obtain these corrections free of charge, whereas in the past there was a charge per correction. Getting corrections for free, however, is no deal if the process results in not being able to get any address corrections at all.
An alternative is for mailers to continue to print the ACS participant codes and keylines on the mailpieces. This would allow the USPS to access this human readable data in cases where the IMb is obliterated or otherwise unreadable. However, this does not address the issue of the type of service requested by the mailer. Traditionally this would be indicated in the type of ancillary endorsement printed on the mailpiece (e.g. Change Service Requested). Under Intelligent Mail, however, the only endorsement permitted is Electronic Service Requested, so that would not be of any help in cases where the IMb is not readable. Also at issue is how these address corrections would be charged. Theoretically if the IMb is unreadable, the ACS notices would no longer be free but would rather be charged at traditional rates. However, if the USPS causes the barcodes to be unreadable, how will that be charged?
Mailers who plan to use Full Service ACS should be working with their mailing associations so that this concern can be communicated to the USPS. These mailers should also be working with their fulfillment suppliers or database managers to be actively participating in testing for the Full Service ACS program so that any potential problems can be identified quickly.
Everyone in the mailing industry wants Intelligent Mail to be successful, and only through timely communication can potential problems be identified and corrected quickly.
Postal Affairs Manager
Window Book, Inc.