Intelligent Mail®: Understanding MID’s and CRID’s

 

Anyone who works with the United States Postal Service® (USPS) knows their penchant for using acronyms, and the Intelligent Mail (IM) program is no different. One of the areas that causes confusion for mailers is the registration for and use of Mailer Identification numbers (MID’s) and Customer Registration Identification numbers (CRID’s).

 

The Mailer ID is a numeric identification number which is used by the USPS to identify a mail owner or mailing agent. The MID must be included in the IM barcode and in the electronic files and documents that are submitted to the USPS for IM. The MID is either a 6-digit number or a 9-digit number, based on historical mail volume or the need to maintain the 45-day uniqueness requirement. For example, mailers can manage the 45-day uniqueness requirement for 1 million pieces of mail using a 9-digit MID (9-digit MID’s allow for 6-digit serial numbers in the barcode), whereas it can be managed for 10 million pieces with a 6-digit MID (6-digit MID’s allow for 9-digit serial numbers in the barcode). Alternatively, multiple 9-digit MID’s can be assigned for increments of 1 million pieces as another method of managing the uniqueness requirement.

 

The Customer Registration ID is also a numeric identification number (up to 15 digits) which is used to uniquely identify a USPS customer at a location. Essentially it identifies the various physical locations of customers. For example, if a USPS customer has five different mailing facilities, they will be assigned five CRID’s, one for each physical location. The CRID’s are used in the electronic files and documents for IM, but are NOT included in the IM barcode.

 

These MID’s and CRID’s may be applied for using the Business Customer Gateway. Mailers should allow for 2 to 5 days for this application process. There are some situations which may require that these applications be made manually using hard copy forms; if applicable this will be specified on the Business Customer Gateway.

 

As part of the IM program, the various participants in a mailing are uniquely identified using these MID’s and CRID’s in the electronic files and documents, and also by specifying the relationship between the various participants. This is known as the “By/For” relationship.

For example, a mailing may involve a mail owner, a mail preparer, and a logistics provider. The mail owner designs the mailpiece and pays the postage, the mailing is printed, sorted and mailed BY the mail preparer FOR the mail owner, and the mail is transported and drop ship appointments are made BY the logistics provider FOR the mail owner to drop ship entry points. Since each of these participants is involved with some portion of the electronic transactions with the USPS for the mailing, they must all be identified.

 

Every mailer has their own unique needs, so it is important that mail owners work with mail service providers to determine which MID to use for the barcodes, and to correctly assign the BY/FOR relationships. In addition, delegation of data can also be done using what is called “Cast of Characters.” For example, if a mail owner utilizes a fulfillment bureau to handle their address corrections from the USPS, the mail owner can delegate the receipt of the Address Change Service (ACSTM) data to this fulfillment bureau.

 

The real key is to map out your process flow for your mailings, including all of your service providers. You can then use this information, along with mail volumes and frequencies, to help manage the uniqueness and to properly register for and utilize the appropriate MID’s and CRID’s.

 

The USPS has numerous guides and checklists available on their Rapid Information Bulletin Board Site (RIBBSTM), and has recently added a PowerPoint presentation specifically explaining MID’s and CRID’s. Mailers should access these resources and devote some time to reading and understanding these documents. Although this may seem tedious, it can actually help save you time as you go through the IM integration process.

Monica Lundquist, Postal Affairs Manager, Window Book, Inc.

Intelligent Mail®: More Than Just A Barcode

 

If you have been working on integrating Intelligent Mail (IM) your mailing processes, you already know that there is much more to this program than just a new barcode. In fact, printing the barcode may be the least complex part of the whole integration!

 

If you are just getting started with IM, or have not yet begun, you really ought to devote some time and planning to your integration process. If you think you can just ignore it, hoping it will all go away, think again. The United States Postal Service® (USPS) has invested millions of dollars in the IM program, and it really is the next generation of technology for mailing. Mailers who do not embrace this new technology will find themselves left out in the cold; unable to participate in the latest postal initiatives. Before you pooh-pooh the whole idea as not worthy of any investment in time or resources, consider the following:

 

The USPS is implementing a postal discount for mailers using IM, effective November 29, 2009. While the discounts don’t sound like much ($.003 per piece for First-Class and $.001 for Standard, Periodicals and Package Services mail), these small amounts can add up quickly for large volume mailers. This initial discount is only the beginning; at some point in the future, many discounts will be tied to the use of IM.

 

Use of IM allows you to take advantage of a number of mail tracking options. You can track individual pieces of mail or just containers of mail. This information can be extremely valuable to better pinpoint delivery dates of mail. This can help you or your clients in any number of ways:

  • Timing your direct mail message to related television, radio, newspaper or internet marketing messages.
  • Planning your staffing and other resources in call centers, product warehouses, shipping centers, retail stores, or internet sites.
  • Longer term analysis of direct marketing efforts to pinpoint the most successful times of the year, days of the week, etc.

IM also allows you to have proof that your mail has entered the postal stream and more importantly, you can track it through the USPS processing chain.

 

For mail service providers, if you don’t offer IM, your competitors will! Most businesses can’t afford to lose work for any reason, and never has that been truer than in this challenging economy. Before you dismiss IM as being too costly or time consuming to implement, consider the potential cost of lost revenue if you delay implementation or elect not to do so at all. IM is a critical part of just staying in the game at this point, so make sure you take this into account in your financial analysis.

 

IM helps improve address accuracy. With Full Service IM, mailers receive free ACS (Address Change Service). This service, which currently has a price of $.26 per correction, is FREE with Full Service IM and can provide up-to-date address information for your customers and prospects who have moved. Moreover, this service also provides helpful error codes on addresses which may not involve a move but may not be entirely accurate for postal delivery purposes. Keeping addresses current and accurate not only saves postage, but helps you stay in contact with your customers.

 

IM helps streamline mailing processes and reduce paperwork. Part of the USPS cost savings of the IM program comes from the requirement to submit electronic documentation via the internet. This cost savings accrues to mailers as well, in reduced costs for printers, paper, toner, etc. and reduced administrative costs of processing and storing all the hard copy documentation. This can also result in reduced amounts of time to process and present mail to the USPS and reduced time for mail verification and acceptance by the USPS.

 

If you are still procrastinating on integration of IM, don’t be afraid. There is plenty of help available. The USPS has numerous online guides and other information available, including recorded tutorials. Many of your suppliers, such as software vendors, logistics suppliers, mailing equipment manufacturers, etc. can offer all kinds of assistance and educational materials. Mailing and other industry associations can also provide a wealth of information. You need look no further than your local Postal Customer Council (PCC) for help and interaction with other mailers in your area who are also implementing IM.

 

The November 29 implementation date for IM discounts is just around the corner. The full impact of IM will go far beyond that date however, and the sooner you get on board, the sooner you can take advantage of the many benefits of IM. Don’t delay!

Monica Lundquist, Postal Affairs Manager, Window Book, Inc.

Eight Tips for Implementing Intelligent Mail By Monica Lundquist Postal Affairs Mgr, WindowBook, Inc

                     Eight Tips for Implementing Intelligent Mail

Go ahead and admit it. You have been procrastinating on the whole United States Postal Service® (USPS) Intelligent Mail® (IM) thing, and now you are starting to panic. The November date for introduction of the IM discounts is just around the corner, and you have not even started your implementation plans.

Don’t worry, you are not alone! There are lots of people who have been putting this off, just like you. Some were skeptical about the whole thing and wanted to wait and see if it was actually going to happen. Others figured there would be lots of changes and revisions to the USPS plans, so they wanted to wait for the dust to settle a bit. And for many of you, quite frankly, IM just scares the bejezzus out of you!

Regardless of what category you fall into, you really ought to start thinking about your implementation plans for Intelligent Mail. Here are some tips for getting started:

1) Do some detailed analysis to determine which level, if any, of IM that you will be using. You will need to do this analysis to first identify whether IM will be of benefit to your organization, and if so, whether Basic Service or Full Service is right for you. The USPS does provide some on-line benefit calculators to assist in this process, but you will likely need to enlist a number of members of your team, possibly in various departments, to get a complete picture. Keep in mind that while IM is currently voluntary, that may not always be the case. There have been statements made by the USPS that the current automation discounts will in 2011 be available only for mailers using the IM barcodes.

  • 2) Once you have determined which level of IM service is best for you, you will need to obtain a Mailer ID (MID), or if you use service providers, Customer Relationship ID’s (CRID). Virtually everything under IM will be transacted using the Business Customer Gateway, so you will want to access the USPS presentation on using the Business Customer Gateway if you are not already familiar with it. Once you have reviewed the presentation, you can then go online to apply for your ID’s.
  • 3) Start printing the IM barcode on your mailpieces. Even if your internal systems are not yet completely set up to handle the IM transactions with the USPS, you should start printing the IMb’s on your mailpieces as soon as possible. Before you do that, however, you should have some printed samples of your mailpieces containing the IMb reviwed by your local Mailpiece Design Analyst to make sure there are no problems. This includes any sack, tray or pallet tags as well as mailpieces if you are the physical preparer of the mail.
  • 4) Become familiar with Mail.dat and Mail.xml if you are not already. These are the two primary means by which electronic transactions with the USPS take place. You will need to make sure that your mailing processes are capable of producing at minimum mail.dat files, and ideally both mail.dat files and mail.xml.
  • 5) Investigate your internal mailing processes, including any software or hardware, to insure that they are IM compliant. Work with your hardware and software vendors and service providers to assist you with this process. You may need to do some testing and possibly some hardware or software upgrades or replacements. If you have very sophisticated, automated mailing processes, IM integration may require some custom designed systems to insure seamless integration.
  • 6) If you plan to take advantage of the free Address Correction Services (ACSTM) in the IM Full Service Option, you should work with your database administrator, fulfillment house, or other service providers to determine how to incorporate the address corrections back into your database. ACS is much more complex under IM Full Service, and there is the potential to receive three different types of corrections, in three different formats, and at three different prices (not all ACS corrections will be free of charge).
  • 7) Once you have your mailer ID, you should begin testing some transactions with the USPS using the Business Customer Gateway and the Test Environment for Mailers (TEM). This will allow you to work out any bugs in your internal systems and is also required for USPS authorization for IM Full Service. Once you have passed the TEM testing, you will be running tests in a parallel environment for a period of time until the USPS authorizes you as an IM Full Service mailer.
  • 8) If you plan on implementing the IM Full Service option, consult the USPS checklist for IM Full Service mailers. It is an exhaustive list of all the points you need to do in order to qualify for Full Service.

Intelligent Mail is indeed very complex, but it is not as scary as it seems. Take one step at a time, and you will make it through the integration process. Take advantage of the knowledge of others, such as colleagues, service providers, vendors and suppliers, USPS representatives and mailing associations. Most importantly, don’t procrastinate any longer, get started TODAY!

ACS Full Service: Will it REALLY work? By Monica Lundquist, Postal Affairs, Window Book Inc.

 

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.

Monica Lundquist

Postal Affairs Manager

Window Book, Inc.