Mailers Like Centralized National Cases Division

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Several large mailers are pleased with the centralized Pricing and Classification Service Center the U.S. Postal Service opened last fall.


The USPS established the PCSC in Manhattan on Nov. 27. The center assumes duties formerly covered by the New York, Chicago and San Francisco Rates and Classification Service Centers and the Memphis Nonprofit Service Center.


Centralizing these duties was meant to enhance the quality and consistency of decisions and customer assistance, the USPS said.


Though some industry pundits have suggested that the PCSC was set up to discourage mailers from shopping around with different postal employees to get the best rates -- a practice that is against USPS rules -- major mailers said they have never considered the practice. USPS officials said this practice does not occur regularly.


"We strongly believe that mailers are concerned with the consistent application of the standards across all USPS locations and fair decisions on their mail classification," said Greg Hall, USPS manager, centralized national cases, pricing and classification service center. He is working through the postal service's sales and national account managers to reach out to customers.


Industries most likely to use the division include financial services, mailing services, publishing and nonprofits.


The PCSC performs the functions of the former RCSCs, including: guidance on interpreting Domestic Mail Manual standards; handling customer requests for exceptions; processing periodicals and nonprofit applications; customer appeals, including disputes regarding refund requests and revenue deficiencies; and Merlin appeals.


R. Craig Cecere, director, global postal affairs at Reader's Digest Association Inc., Pleasantville, NY, has used the PCSC with great results.


"The centralization of these postal functions minimizes inconsistencies and mitigates disruptions," he said. "Instead of addressing inquiries from the field regarding our campaigns, my time and attention are directed to other priorities."


Diana Don, a spokeswoman for McLean, VA-based Capital One Financial Corp., which has used the new center, called it an improvement over the old system "because we can now go to one location for rulings on our mailings. It has created a more efficient process."


The PCSC also offers a division, Centralized National Cases, to give mailers a new voluntary option to receive decisions on mail piece design, preparation and rate eligibility on proposed mailings before they are deposited at the Business Mail Entry unit. The CNC staff also will monitor negotiated service agreements after they have been implemented.


The USPS said this option is suited for mailers who generate multiple types of mail pieces and enter mail at multiple USPS locations. Customers who mail in one location and have an established relationship with local Business Mail Acceptance offices should continue to submit inquiries to their local BMA contacts, the USPS said.


A single point of contact at the PCSC works with each customer to customize the procedures for participation in the program. The process works this way:


* Prior to a planned mailing, a customer submits a mail piece design and requested rate to the PCSC in electronic or hard-copy format along with information concerning volumes, locations and dates of mailing. This expedites turnaround time for review and issuance of decisions.


* The PCSC reviews the piece against USPS mailing standards and requests more information, if needed.


* If the design is approved for the rate requested, the PCSC issues a preapproved national decision that may be presented with the mailing at any USPS acceptance unit where the mailer is authorized to enter that mail. The PCSC communicates decisions by e-mail to the customer with hard-copy follow-up.


* If the piece is not approved for the rate requested, the PCSC gives the reason. The mailer may modify the mail piece and resubmit.


* Once the approved mail pieces are produced, the customer supplies a sample to the PCSC at least a week before mailing. The sample verifies what was agreed to in the decision.


These decisions eliminate questions at acceptance. Customers need only present their PCSC-authorized approvals at the time of mailing.


"The decision will not be made in the heat of the matter at the loading dock, where it is cold, noisy and busy," said Steve Kearney, USPS vice president of pricing and classification. "It will be made in a more calm situation with a single point of contact that really knows that customer and that industry."


The program also reduces the possibility of disputes and appeals as well as costly efforts to resolve them.


Cecere has used the CNC division as well.


"We benefit largely by utilizing the center for the numerous and various loose enclosures that mail with our Reader's Digest and Reiman Publishing periodicals," he said. "The CNC staff provided me with a customized program that fit my needs. I wanted a one-stop shop that offered an 'insurance policy' for our millions of mail pieces. Together, we developed a unique process and procedure that is both efficient and effective."


The USPS said it recognizes that many customers have relationships with their local Business Mail Entry personnel and/or mail piece design analysts. However, to ensure consistency in the application of mail standards and the decisions issued, participants in the program must submit future requests to the PCSC.


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