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Salting the Snail

Snail mail is too slow, too expensive and too inaccurate. Savor the benefits of automation.

July 19, 2011 Photo
Problem: USPS Has Complex Rules on Sorting
The Postal Service has many complex rules on how to sort mail for maximum discounts, requiring a very tedious and time-consuming process, particularly when you are dealing with tens of thousands of letters.

The process includes four main steps.
  1. The insurer must obtain the correct supplies from the business mail entry office at the post office, including various trays, tray "sleeves" or lids, bundle labels, container labels, labeling lists, Quick Service Guides, postage statements and strapping material—all of which are required by the USPS. Once you have your materials, you're ready to sort.
  2. The insurer then sorts the mail by ZIP code. All pieces going in the same direction are grouped into the same bundle or tray.
  3. Next, the containers of mail are prepared. Once the mail is placed in the correct tray, the trays must be sleeved and strapped.
  4. After all the containers are prepared, the insurer fills out the postage statement. A postage statement is a special form produced by the Postal Service that documents the number of pieces in your mailing and the postage price that you're paying for those pieces.

Solution: Simplification Boosts Efficiencies 50%
An automated mail system, however, can save staff hours of tedious work. Case studies have shown that automating the process can be at least 50% more efficient than a traditional, manually operated mailroom. This presents substantial, hard-dollar savings in postage, paper, labor, equipment and supplies.

Ideally, an automated system would keep detailed records of user login, reviewed documents, bills paid and much more. This information can be used when assisting customers with questions or problems. The system should generate reports to help companies know their monthly and yearly postage costs, track mail pieces and address failures for database clean-up.

The claims process is a demanding process, with numerous documents and communication moving around. Working with the USPS has its challenges, but automation is clearly the key to improving the process—improved accuracy of claims, simplified processing, faster delivery of customer communications, all while reducing production and postage costs.

Harry Herget is co-founder and director of Marketing for SynTel, a provider of USPS certified mailroom automation and document design software. www.syntelllc.com; Twitter @SynTelLLC
The typical carrier's mail process presents problems for the efficient management of claims. Speed, accuracy and cost are begging for improvement, but the solutions sometimes appear so complicated that many managers prefer to stick with the systems they have, even if it means sacrificing efficiency.

It is possible, though, to have your cake and eat it, too. In fact, for each problem, there is a solution that can be attained through automation.

Problem: Postal Mail Is Slow
Often referred to as "snail mail," sending documentation through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) can be time-consuming—at least by today's standards. In addition, the internal process of moving a letter out of the company can hamper efficiency. Expectations have changed for almost all customers who, in this age of e-mail and text message, are accustomed to receiving information almost immediately. Acceptable response times have shrunk, and quality customer ratings depend on fast turnaround of information, authorization and money.

Solution: Electronic Delivery Options
Starting with the insurer's internal mail process, automation allows for increased speed of movement and archived electronic records of each person's involvement or approval of a document. Automation also provides enhanced choices for how documents, even checks, can be delivered.

An automated system works for all customer communications. An insurance company from the point of sale enters data into a core software system. Once the information is entered, it is available to be used and distributed in various ways, and it can be integrated within the automated system. Such a system offers print-to-mail, e-mail, Internet and mobile capabilities. Incoming mail is managed through the insurance company's remittance product.

While mail remains the preferred method of communication for many documents produced by claims departments, more consumers are embracing electronic channels, such as e-mail—a lower cost option. An e-mail can be sent to customers to notify them that an electronic document pertaining to their account(s) has been posted. SMS (text messaging) can also be used. These forms of communication, however, are used only as a notification to the end user to let them know document(s) are available.

The use of PDFs and certified e-mail delivery further ensure the integrity of the document and its delivery.

Problem: Inaccuracies and Confidentiality
Mailing errors and breaches of confidentiality can expose a carrier to stiff penalties. Erroneous mailing labels could result in damaging personal information falling into the hands of total strangers or, worse, criminals or the public forum.

In addition to the severe penalties of violating data protection laws such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), serious lawsuits can spring up. If it's a systemic problem—meaning there's a widespread occurrence at your company or your department is found to regularly make mailing errors—you could face state or federal regulatory action.
Solution: Auto-Verify
With an automated system, claims departments can easily and automatically verify addresses, identify incomplete or incorrect data, and calculate and assign the appropriate postage for mailed pieces.

Using the automated system, each mail piece produced has a unique postal sequence number that is tied back to a particular customer account number. This helps to ensure every piece was mailed and improves quality control processes.

Insurance companies utilize internal or third-party software that allows them to store and use data, and this software generally integrates with the companies' billing software. The company's data storage system is able to produce files for the automated system to utilize in producing print-to-mail, e-mail, Internet and mobile customer communications.

The automated system generates PDF documents of all mail processed for archival and document research. Some companies can pull these PDF documents back into their data storage system for future research. Custom index files are created (if needed) for the insurance company's data storage system.

Companies can use coding—including OMR, 3 of 9 or 2D barcodes—for tracking and to drive smart folding/inserting equipment. Applying the USPS Intelligent Mail barcode allows companies to track their mail from point of entry into the USPS mail stream to the final delivery destination post office.

Problem: Expense
Not only is manual processing prone to errors, it can also be expensive in terms of postage and labor.

Solution: Save 25% in Postage
With computer-driven software systems, claims departments can produce custom-designed documents and can sort communications into mailing groups. Printing systems should be able to drive statements through the printer at rated speeds, selectively insert additional materials and ensure that all pieces were accurately printed. This eliminates the need for staff to manually stuff statements, thereby significantly reducing costs.

Just how much money can be saved? For one insurance company in San Antonio, an annual cost savings of more than $100,000 in postage expenses was realized through automation. Automation can reduce effective postage rates by nearly 25% and eliminate the need to purchase and maintain a meter.

Other delivery channels, such as e-mail, can be integrated into the automated mailing system. Many communications between client and insurer can be handled via e-mail, and validation and certification systems now allow for verified delivery and filing of e-mailed documents.
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