Greening the Utility Bill-to-Cash Cycle, Part 1: Intelligent Mail

by Penni McLean-Conner, NSTAR

Utilities are greening the bill-tocash process by aggressively promoting electronic billing and payment, but more opportunities exist. Two promising greening tools are intelligent mail and electronic return mail processing. This two-part series will explore these two progressive approaches that create utility value in improved customer service and reduced costs.

The U.S. Postal Service notes that intelligent mail is the technology platform for the next generation of mailing services, features and products. Specifically the technology involves applying a new suite of bar codes to mail pieces, trays, pallets and other mailing containers. The Postal Service promotes intelligent mail because it expands the ability to track individual mail pieces and provides customers with greater visibility into the mail stream. When used with services such as address change, intelligent mail more easily can connect a mail piece back to a specific mailing, record or both within the customer database.

Utilities and other mailers quickly are moving to one of three intelligent mail options because they can gain an immediate benefit: mailing discounts. The Postal Service offers two other options: the intelligent mail full service and intelligent mail with confirm service, which builds on the benefits for mailers and adds to the complexity of implementation. Utilities implementing intelligent mail should look hard at implementing the full-service option to avoid leaving operational and customer service benefits on the table.

Basic Option

The Postal Service encourages transition to the basic option so mailers will be prepared once the basic option is a Postal Service requirement to maintain mailing discounts available today with the old Postnet bar code. Many mailers have moved quickly to implement the basic option.

In this option, mailers apply the intelligent mail bar code to mail pieces. In addition to the discount, mailers also gain a cleaner mail piece that offers more marketing space. Finally, the implementation of the basic option positions the mailer to upgrade to the more advanced intelligent mail options in the future.

Full Service

The full-service option is more complex to implement and requires mailers to apply the intelligent mail bar codes to each mail piece, tray, pallet or other container. Mailers also must submit electronic postage statements and mailing information.

According to the U.S. Postal Service, intelligent mail is the technology platform for the next generation of mailing services, features and products. It involves applying a new suite of bar codes to mail pieces, trays, pallets and other mailing containers.

Mailers receive more benefits and an additional mailing discount with the full service. With full service, mailers receive electronic change of address and undeliverable mail information.

In addition, mailers are positioned to implement electronic returned mail by electronically receiving the returned mail file and allowing the destruction of returned mail by the Postal Service. The full service provides insight into the mail stream, feedback on address quality and automated address correction information. Utilities can update customer service records electronically with this information, clean their mail stream and provide inquiring customers with timely information regarding why utility mail was not delivered to their address.

Full Service With One- Code Confirm Service

A final option is for mailers to implement the full service with OneCode Confirm service for an additional price. In this option, mailers receive the mailsorting machine scans for their mail as it travels through the postal network.

Mailers can track mail destinations and estimated in-home delivery of their mail pieces. Mailers implementing this option are interested in optimizing the supply chain, cash management and marketing efforts.

Utilities across the country have implemented or are implementing versions of intelligent mail. Those implementing the full-service option are wellpositioned to tap into other customer service and operational benefits.

Part 2 of “Greening the Bill-to- Cash Process” will explore electronic return mail, which builds upon full-service intelligent mail to improve return-mail processing.


Penni McLean-Conner is the vice president of customer care at NSTAR, the largest investor-owned electric and gas utility in Massachusetts. McLean-Conner, a registered professional engineer, serves on several industry boards of directors, including the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and CS Week. Her latest book, “Energy Efficiency: Principles and Practices,” is available at http://pennwell

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