Undocumented errors in USPS Seamless Acceptance mailings can incur additional expenses as verification errors are reported on the USPS Microstrategy Scorecard report. Resources are already limited across the commercial mailing supply chain, and the costs to mailers to review, investigate, and respond to the USPS can be high when assessments (penalty fees) are made. Contrary to common misconceptions surrounding Full-Service mail, Undocumented errors are only tracked for mailers who are certified as Seamless Acceptance mailers. An Undocumented error occurs for a Seamless Acceptance approved mailer when the barcode that is attached to a mail piece (letters, cards, flats) is processed through the United States Postal Service (USPS) mail processing equipment (MPE) and there is no electronic payment record available for the IMb® mail pieces. These Undocumented errors can result in assessments for the mailer by the USPS and many mailers have paid the penalties and incurred additional investigation costs.
Mailers can quickly upload the electronic documentation (eDoc) and payment information required to resolve Undocumented errors with little time or money lost. The USPS reports on Undocumented errors on the eleventh day of the calendar month for errors that occurred during the previous calendar month. The trouble arises when the proof of payment is difficult to find. Mailers who use de-centralized presort and post presort data management systems have a higher risk of assessments. Mailers can spend a lot of unnecessary time, money, and other resources trying to find the electronic data needed to satisfy the Seamless program’s requirements and prove that payment for the shipment has been made. And if the data simply can't be found within a mailer’s system—a rare but not unheard-of occurrence—then the mailer is responsible for paying the USPS's Undocumented invoice in full. This article outlines some strategies for avoiding Undocumented errors.
View the Video: Seamless Acceptance and Undocumented Errors for Full-Service Pieces
Presenter: Shariq Mirza, CEO and Founder of Assurety Consulting
Causes of Undocumented Errors
There are several reasons Undocumented errors occur. The most common root cause is an error made at a co-mingling facility. Here, mail pieces from several mailers are consolidated to achieve economies of scale. In this process, sometimes the wrong Mailer IDs (MIDs) can be attached to certain mail pieces. Other reasons Undocumented errors occur include:
- Simple user error—someone at the mailer simply forgot to upload the electronic data.
- Manually presorted mail accidentally entering the mail stream before payments are made.
- Sortation hardware malfunctions, like double feed.
- Previously lost mail showing up in the mail stream long after it was paid for.
- National Change of Address (NCOA) mail pieces being reprocessed in the mail stream by mistake.
The Postal Service will generally only assess penalties for “repeat violations” of Undocumented errors. Appropriately, the USPS wants to ensure it gets paid for all deliveries processed, and that any mailer dispute resolution processes about deliveries or charges doesn't drive up its costs. At the same time, the Postal Service doesn't want to nickel-and-dime the commercial mailers, it depends on for its financial livelihood. It is unlikely that minor, occasional errors will result in an assessment.
For Seamless Acceptance Full-Service mailers, the USPS evaluates seven mailing metrics each month. If one of those metrics exceeds a certain allowable threshold, an assessment will result.[i]
Mail Metric Thresholds
- ”Undocumented” (.3% threshold): Mail pieces tied to a Seamless Acceptance mailer that doesn’t have any electronic payment record found in eDocs.
- Delivery Point (2%): The Delivery Point information or 5, 9, or 11 digit routing code in the IMb is invalid.
- Nesting/Sortation (MPE) (1%): Nesting Sortation information driven by MPE scans that reconstruct a tray does not match the eDoc preparation or destination ZIP information provided by the mailer.
- Postage (Sampling) (PAF* 1.05%): The Postage affixed amount or postage payment method of the sampled piece does not match eDoc information.
- Weight (Sampling) (PAF 1.05%) Weight of a sampled piece does not match the weight provided in the eDocs and crosses a weight threshold for pound prices.
- Mail Characteristic (Sampling) (PAF 1.05%): The shape, class or non-profit eligibility of the sampled piece does not match the eDoc information.
- Barcode Quality (Sampling) (PAF 1.05%) The barcode is absent or un-readable on a sampled scanned piece.
- *PAF = Postage Adjustment Factor
These metrics are reported on a mailer's Mailer Scorecard, so it's important to check it often to ensure allowable thresholds aren't being routinely exceeded.
Unless a mailer consistently demonstrates an egregious number of errors, the assessments imposed may be financially negligible. Even so, disputes with the USPS can be costly and time-consuming, distracting mailers from their core business. Most importantly, though, Undocumented errors, however minor or infrequent, can reveal systemic issues with a mailer's processes. In this sense, Undocumented errors are an important quality control check that should not go unaddressed and represent an opportunity for process improvement.
Tackling Undocumented Errors
Mailers need standard operating procedures, robust data collection, and reporting systems in order to participate in the Full-Service and Seamless Acceptance programs without issues and to be able to tackle Undocumented errors when they occur.
Larger, more sophisticated commercial mailers generally compile and analyze data to prove whether or not the USPS's claims of Undocumented errors are valid. But smaller to mid-size mailers that have become part of the Seamless Acceptance program (not all small mailers are) often do not have access to the same level of visibility required to help them verify and resolve an Undocumented error.
Plan for the Future
The best course of action for an organization of any size is to create a plan for dealing with and resolving Undocumented errors. Even if you are a small mailer who is not yet a part of the Full-Service (There are six distinct Full-Service errors separate form Seamless Acceptance errors that the USPS tracks and scores mailers on quality) or Seamless program, knowing how to avoid and handle Undocumented errors is important for future plans. Data trends show that more and more mailers are adopting the Full-Service program—which is a pre-requisite of the Seamless Acceptance program—and you may find your own organization switching over someday to take advantage of the benefits it offers, such as discounts, free change of address data, free tracking data, and better visibility into postage expenses and trends, as well the ability to participate in new incentives and process simplification programs such as Mail Anywhere.
The best way to resolve an Undocumented error is simply to find and upload the payment data for the mail pieces in question within the first ten days of the next calendar month. And the best way to make that job as efficient and accurate as possible is to bring all of your postal presort and consolidation information into a single repository for the entire mailing enterprise, such as AIMS™ from Assurety built on a scalable, centralized Microsoft SQL server platform. By centralizing all postal information, reporting and addressing payment disputes becomes dramatically easier, and a mailer can create a single workflow that supports all aspects of your postal processes and functions. The co-minglers can work with their hardware vendors to capture piece images to be able to prove that the undocumented pieces did not come from the co-mingler. A single system that allows seamless communication between your presort team, co-minglers or co-palletizers, transporters and other parties enables organizations to have ready access to the information necessary to prevent Undocumented errors from occurring in the first place, and to resolve them quickly should one occur.