USPS Assures Mailers On Classification Changes

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The U.S. Postal Service assured commercial mailers yesterday that they were in for no surprises on June 1 with the implementation of a new process for determining Standard mail eligibility.


Under the postal service's new interpretation of the Standard mail eligibility rules, the rules governing how personalization can be used in Standard mail are much clearer, said Steve Kearney, USPS vice president of pricing and classification, in an interview with DM News.


The rules cover the conditions under which mail that contains personal information qualifies for the Standard rate and in what cases the more expensive First Class rate must apply, he said.


At the heart of the new interpretation is the idea that all personal information in mail being sent at the Standard rate must relate directly to a solicitation or sales pitch. Personal information used in mail for any other purpose - for example, a warranty notice or a billing statement - must be sent at the First Class rate.


The USPS has rewritten the language of the rules to clarify them and make sure they are applied equally, Kearney said. Previously, Standard mail eligibility was a complicated process, in part because it had developed gradually after hundreds of individual customer support rulings.


"Call it our 'consistency strategy,'" Kearney said. "Our goal is to be more consistent in the way we apply the different mailing standards to all our customers."


The USPS unveiled its new strategy in late October 2004 at a Mailers Technical Advisory Committee meeting. Since then, the USPS has opened a central Pricing and Classification Service Center in New York to handle questions on rate eligibility, and has also made efforts to improve communication with both mailers and employees who will make eligibility decisions.


The USPS has encouraged its national customers to submit mail samples to the New York service center for advance rulings, with a goal of responding within 72 hours, said Greg Hall, USPS manager of customer rulings. A hotline to the New York service center is available to USPS business mail entry unit managers for guidance in eligibility disputes with mailers.


Customer support rulings and announcements are available online at pe.usps.gov/dmmAdvisory.asp. That page includes a link, dated May 17, to a flow chart showing how eligibility decisions are made.


The changes should not come as a shock to many, Kearney said. In addition to its communication efforts, the USPS has notified virtually all customers who could see mail volume shift from Standard to First Class after June 1.


"Everything we've been doing is designed to avoid those surprises," Kearney said. "We waited seven months to give people a much longer time than usual to adapt."


The June 1 implementation of the new mail eligibility rule interpretation initially was controversial among non-profits that feared they would be forced to pay higher First Class rates for many common types of non-profit mail unrelated to fundraising. Under a compromise issued by the USPS in a customer service ruling on May 18, the postal service indicated that personal information used in mail that related to any kind of solicitation qualified for the Standard rate.


These included non-monetary requests for volunteers or even prayers in addition to traditional sales and fundraising solicitations.


Scott Hovanyetz covers telemarketing, production and printing and direct response TV marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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