Trends in Print and Mail

The Berkshire Company Blog

Holiday Shipping – The Time is Nigh

Posted by Mark Fallon on Nov 22, 2016 5:02:00 AM

This week, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving – a time to pause and reflect on our good fortune and prosperity. And while decorations have been up in some stores for weeks, it also marks the “official” start to the holiday season. For individuals and businesses, it means it’s time to start finalizing plans for shipping packages that we want to arrive by December 24th.

Our country has service members stationed all over the world – South America, Europe. Africa, Asia – and of course, the Middle East. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and the Military Post Office worked together to develop a schedule that takes into account the logistics and other conditions impacting delivery times. To ensure timely delivery to a service member, use the following dates.



While most of us will use First-Class Mail or Priority Mail, there are other options included in the chart.

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management

Scorecard Assessments and Service Providers

Posted by Mark Fallon on Nov 15, 2016 5:01:00 AM

On Monday, November 14, 2016, the US Postal Service (USPS) sent out their first assessments of Full-Service Mail Quality Metrics over an established threshold (based on October 2016 data on the Mailer Scorecard). It may look similar to a bill for postage due, because no matter how the USPS spins it, that’s what the assessments are. If you “remove the Full-Service Discount” for a mailing that took place in the past, you’re asking for postage that wasn’t paid at the time of mailing.

Sounds like a bill. Looks like a bill. It’s a bill.

Semantics aside – did your mail service provide (MSP) or presort vendor receive an assessment? Did they receive an assessment on mail they processed for your company? Do they plan on passing the assessment on to your company?

The USPS sends the assessment to whoever submitted the e-documentation that accompanied the mailing. In most cases, this is the MSP or the presort vendor. The recipient has 10 business days to challenge the assessment. One option is to refer the USPS to the vendor’s client, as identified by the Customer Registration ID (CRID). Or the vendor could pay the assessment, and bill the client separately.

As a reminder, the assessments are calculated under 4 categories:

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United States Postal Service

Reorgs, Rates and Reform: Musings from MTAC

Posted by Mark Fallon on Nov 8, 2016 5:01:00 AM

On Tuesday, November 1, 2016, the Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) held their open session at the US Postal Service (USPS) Headquarters in Washington, DC. This session is a great opportunity to hear from USPS senior officials on upcoming priorities and programs. Just as important, mailers can ask direct questions – and usually receive direct answers – from those same officials.

Leading off was Postmaster General (PMG) Megan Brennan. PMG Brennan’s tenure in office has been marked by a renewed focus on the business customer. In her remarks, Brennan reinforced this message and explained that as “structure follows strategy”, the USPS has implemented changes at the executive level.

Deputy PMG Ron Stroman will continue to oversee Government Relations, Sustainability and Office of the Judicial Officer. Stroman also will lead international efforts that involve public policy and oversee International Postal Affairs. Jim Cochrane, who has been the Chief Marketing and Sales Officer, will now become the Chief Customer and Marketing Officer.

Mr. Cochrane has implemented several changes in his organization. Most notably, Cliff Rucker, formerly the Sales Vice President, has become the Sales and Customer Relations Senior Vice President. He will continue to oversee Sales, and also now be responsible for the Business Service Network and Customer Care Centers. Steve Monteith, the Executive Director of Product Management for mailing products and shipping services, is now the Marketing Vice President.

This isn’t rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic or change for the sake of change. This is aligning responsibility for the customer within one organization, with a consistent, direct line to Mr. Cochrane, and from there to PMG Brennan. This is good for business mailers, and good for USPS employees. Because, in his words, Cochrane understands that the mission hasn’t changed – grow the business.

In his briefing, Cliff Rucker went over the issues with customer service and the USPS call centers. He didn’t shy from sharing that the current organization is broken. Customers aren’t sure who to contact, USPS representatives are wasting too much time on issues like tracking shipments and equipment, and the wait time is too long for people who call. Rucker explained his plan for proactive outreach, dedicated account management and improved inbound communication.

Sharon Owens, Vice President, Pricing and Costing, reviewed the highlights of the proposed 2017 postal rate changes. While most of the changes are either minor or positive for mailers, there are some significant adjustments in Standard Flats pricing. There was a concern raised about the branding transformation of “Standard Mail” to “Marketing Mail”. Specifically, many pieces mailed at the Standard rate aren’t marketing pieces, and a new indicia could create confusion for the recipients.

Mr. Cochrane stepped back into the conversation to handle this question. He made it clear that mailers will not be required to use the word “Marketing” in their permit imprints. The USPS understands that any changes must add value - not detract value - from the mailpiece. Going further, he stated that as the service type is in the Intelligent Mail Barcode, it isn't as important to have the class of mail appear in the permit. This represents an opportunity to review what information should be required in the permit imprint. Expect more soon.

This display of leadership should encourage business mailers. First, Cochrane took responsibility for the question and didn’t deflect or dodge the problem. Second, the answer shows that USPS leadership are listening. I’m sure that this wasn’t the first time the issue with using the word “Marketing” on business mail was raised. While continuing to move forward with branding changes, the USPS is recognizing the valid concerns of their customers. And developing answers that may improve service for all mailers.

On December 8, 2016, the term of the one remaining appointed member of the Board of Governors, James Bilbray, expires. When asked about this, PMG Brennan said that she was confident that the Senate would confirm President Obama’s nominees when they return after the elections. She also expressed optimism around the legislative reform bill currently in the House of Representatives.

An important job of a leader is to encourage positivity – especially in the face of challenges.

The full presentations from these speakers, as well as the rest of the afternoon, will be posted on the RIBBS Industry Outreach page in the coming weeks. The next MTAC meeting is scheduled for February 28 - March 2, 2017. If you can make it to Washington, DC, it’s worth the trip.

PS – The meeting ended with a special presentation by the National Association of College and University Mail Services (NACUMS). The past president of NACUMS, Richard Boudrero of Utah State University, presented the John P. Wargo Industry Partnership Award to Ernie Harris of the USPS. Any mailing industry veteran will agree that this is a well-deserved recognition. Mr. Harris has been a tireless supporter not just of higher education, but of all business mailers. Congratulations Ernie!


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United States Postal Service

2017 Postage Rate Increase: Good News for Commercial First-Class Mailers

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 26, 2016 5:01:00 AM

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has filed the rate case for Market Dominant products with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). Set to go into effect on January 22, 2017, the new rates represent about an overall 0.87% increase over the current prices. For Commercial First-Class Mail, the prices actually drop in some categories. And that’s just the start of the good news.

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United States Postal Service

Different Approaches to Similar Solutions

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 19, 2016 5:02:00 AM

Recently, I had the opportunity to lead a workshop at the Operational Excellence in Insurance Summit in Hartford, CT. The summit brought together executives, directors and managers from across the insurance industry to discuss different ways of meeting challenges in a disruptive business climate.

I was joined by Jeff Heigert of Lexmark to moderate a session entitled "Managing Customer Communications: Outside and Inside the Mailbox". Our attendees included a Chief Information Officer, Operations Managers, and Directors of Continuous Improvement. In addition to varied responsibilities, the class included people from the United States, Canada, Bermuda and South Africa.

We began by talking about the traditional paper workflow for communicating with customers and the many changes that have been introduced over the last several decades – scanning, OCR, email, customer portals and mobile devices. Customers expect more choices for receiving and sending information, and companies can improve efficiencies with the right applications.

But new technologies aren’t enough. Organizations need to redesign their communications and processing workflows to maximize the benefits. With that in mind, we broke the class up into 3 teams and addressed the following case study:

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Operations Management

Twenty Tips for You and Your Organization

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 12, 2016 5:01:00 AM

Not every change has to involve a major project with capital expenditures. Consistently making small enhancements leads to lasting improvements. Here are 20 tips for your operation:

People

1. Managers of multiple-shift operations need to regularly come in early and leave later in order to maintain contact with your employees.

2. Partner with adjunct departments to develop cross-training programs. Mail operations, document services and shipping/receiving employees share similar skill sets. A joint training program helps everyone.

3. Develop a succession plan for all positions. You need to prepare for both planned and unexpected departures. Including your own.

4. Merge the print and mail organizations. All printed documents need to be delivered or mailed. One group focused on the entire process will improve results.

5. Reward your employees as a team. Build unity through joint recognition of successes. Throw pizza parties, always have small incentive items to hand out, or give bonuses to the entire department.

6. Write down good/bad employee experiences when they happen and file them for future reference. Don't rely on your memory at review time.

Process

7. Have your shop open before the company opens and close after the company closes. People are always looking for deliveries early in the day or are sending out mail at the last minute.

8. Establish written Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). People should have clear directions on what to do. Whether you are present or not. SOPs are also the best training tools for new employees or for cross-training staff.

9. Have senior management review your shop's SOPs. Having your bosses see your procedures lets them know everything your department does.

10. Create a production report to track activity in your shop. The information will tell you what you're doing and how well you're doing it. And, it will help justify more employees or new equipment.

11. Review the production report with your manager to ensure that he/she understands it. Not everyone knows mail as well as you do. Make sure your message is getting through.

12. Write a complete disaster recovery plan. Address all threats – internal, external and natural disasters. Have short-term and long-term contingency plans.

13. Develop a communications plan for any disaster. You need to know who to call, and what to say in the event of a disaster.

14. Track your inbound mail volumes by classes and categories. In the words of Peter Drucker, "If you don't measure it, you can't manage it."

Technology

15. Use automated systems to track accountable mail. If your shop signs for something, get a signature from the final recipient.

16. Use automated systems to collect postage information. This information needs to be 100% accurate.

17. Keep your employee database up to date by linking with the phone system. People can move without notifying mail services, but they need to get their phone turned on.

18. Investigate voice-activated or automated sorting systems. This technology is improving rapidly, and is very helpful with high turnover – both in the mail center and in the departments you service.

19. Implement a work order or job tracking system. Managers and employees are more efficient when they know what work needs to be completed and where jobs are in the process.

20. Talk to your staff before you buy equipment. Don't assume you know what your staff needs. Involving your employees in the process will ensure their buy-in later.

Do you have a tip to share? Please join the conversation and leave a tip in the comments section below.

For more ideas, download our free eBook: 110 Tips to Improve Your Mail Center + Read More

Operations Management

Postal Reform October Update – No News Is Bad News

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 5, 2016 5:01:00 AM

There was a ray of hope for the mailing industry this summer, when the House Oversight Committee unanimously approved H.R.5714 - Postal Service Reform Act of 2016, a bipartisan bill with support from leadership. But Congress took a long summer break, with the House recess ending on September 5, 2016.

Perhaps representatives would take action? Maybe even pass a reform bill before the election?

After all, there have been over 125 bills or resolutions with a direct impact on the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Of course, 79 were just for naming – or renaming – post offices (apparently Congress takes Article III, Section 8 of the Constitution – “To establish Post Offices and post Roads” – very seriously). Another 18 resolutions were related to providing suggestions about stamps.

Of the 31 bills that focus on USPS reform or operational changes, only H.R. 5714 had been reported out of committee. And with bipartisan support.

Yet alas, it was not to be. On October 1, 2016, the House went back into recess until after the election. The lame duck Congress will return for 5 days in November, and then take another recess until the 28th. The current calendar lists December 18, 2016 as the “Target House Adjournment”.

With no action being taken by Congress, I thought I’d reach out to the presidential candidates from the major parties. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m an unenrolled voter – meaning I receive solicitations from both candidates. Since neither website mentions anything about the USPS, I completed the “Contact” form for both. Perhaps one of them could offer us hope.

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United States Postal Service

Getting Your Message Across

Posted by Mark Fallon on Sep 28, 2016 5:30:00 AM

"What we've got here is failure to communicate" – Strother Martin (as the Captain in “Cool Hand Luke”)

Thanks to technology, we have more ways to communicate than ever before. Then why do we still have a problem getting our message across?

The most common problem is choosing the right medium for your message. Instead of capitalizing on technology’s ability to foster closer relationships, people are using technology to distance themselves from others: leaving voicemails instead of having a conversation; sending broadcast emails instead of holding a meeting; or posting a notice on a website instead of distributing the information to everyone concerned. Are you using the wrong medium for your messages?

The reason most people use the wrong medium is to avoid conflict. They don’t want to get into a long discussion, so they leave a voicemail when they know someone won’t be in the office. They don’t want a debate, so they send a broadcast email. A notice may cause dissension, so it’s posted on the company’s intranet, but no one’s told where to find the information.

In reality, these choices lead to even greater conflict. The recipient thinks that the sender is ducking the issue. And because the issue isn’t resolved quickly, there’s more time for frustration and distrust to build.

Before sending your next message, consider the potential outcomes. If there’s the possibility of confusion, then talk face to face. If there’s the possibility of conflict, then talk face to face. If there’s the need for immediate feedback, then talk face to face. If there’s the need for collaboration, then hold a meeting (where people can talk face to face). If distance prevents face-to-face meetings, then schedule a conference call.

Voicemail, email and the Web are excellent tools for sharing information quickly. However, these tools shouldn’t be used to resolve issues. Resolution can only be accomplished by talking directly with those involved.

Don’t use voicemail to level charges or express anger. Take the time to discuss any issues in person. If you decide to leave a voicemail, remember that the recipient may not be listening to the message at their desk. Speak clearly, and leave a phone number and time when you can be reached. Repeat the number, so they can write it down. Don’t assume that they have immediate access to your number or have your phone number memorized.

With email, remember to be polite. People often forget that writing in all caps means you’re shouting (not only that, it’s hard to read). Don’t use multiple fonts or colors, as many email programs only output as straight text. If you need to emphasize text, bold it. If the email is printed out, your bold text will still be visible. Always include a clear description in the email subject line. In a world where people receive hundreds of messages a day, this is an easy way for the recipient to understand the importance of your message. Blank subject lines, or subject lines such as “FYI” will not help you or the recipient refer to your message at a later date.

Reply to emails promptly. And use “Reply to All” judiciously. Does everyone who received the original email need to see your response? To keep your inbox “clean”, store messages by using the “Folders” option in your email program. You don’t allow paper mail to overflow your inbox, do you? (If you answered yes, then that’s another blog for another time.)

To reduce travel expenses, many companies have expanded the use of teleconferencing, videoconferencing and Web conferencing. Again, politeness is essential to success. Give the call your full attention, and act as if everyone is in the room with you. This isn’t the time to catch up on your emails or surf the Web. Allow others to finish their thoughts before jumping into the conversation. And if one person has been silent too long, check to make sure that they’re still on the line. Appoint someone to follow up with a brief email documenting major points and any assignments made during the meeting.

For any meeting, virtual or otherwise, always set and publish an agenda ahead of time. When the discussion strays too far from the agenda, politely return the focus to the issue at hand. Ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate. Remember that many people are uncomfortable in groups, or may be intimidated about expressing their opinions in front of a senior person. Draw them into the conversation by asking direct and open-ended questions.

Regardless of the type of communication—email, voicemail, teleconference or meeting—remember to be polite. Everyone loves the sound of their own voice, so make sure that everyone is allowed to be heard. Listen attentively, especially if someone’s opinion conflicts with your own. Learn to disagree without being disagreeable. Criticize the idea without criticizing the person who expressed it.

The way you communicate is as important as the idea you’re trying to express. Technology is great for information sharing. Personal communication is best for issue resolution. Make sure you choose the right medium for your message.

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Operations Management

Looking for Input on New NPF Sessions

Posted by Mark Fallon on Sep 14, 2016 5:00:00 AM

The next National Postal Forum (NPF) is scheduled for May 21-24, 2017 at the Baltimore Convention Center. The NPF has announced their call for proposals for sessions and workshops for the conference. The deadline to complete the Workshop Presentation Form online is Friday, October 7th, 2016.

The Berkshire Company has been a proud supporter of the NPF since we started the company in 2001. Our president, Mark Fallon, has been an NPF presenter for over 20 years. We also deliver those same presentations – at no charge – to Postal Customer Councils and other professional mailing associations around the country.

We’d like your input on what classes we should propose for the 2017 NPF. We’ve set up a very brief poll – only 2 questions – on SurveyMonkey. The first question asks what past sessions we should present again, and the second asks for your ideas on what new classes we should develop. We request that you consider what presentations you’d like to attend, as well as what training will be helpful to new attendees.

With a deadline of October 7th for us to submit proposals to the NPF, we’re asking that you complete the survey by Friday, September 23, 2016. Responses can be submitted anonymously, or you can add your name and email to be eligible for a $50 gift card. We’ll draw 2 names from all responses received by 5:00PM PDT on September 23rd.

We remain dedicated to providing the most relevant training for industry professionals. Thanks in advance for your input in developing the next workshops and sessions.

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National Postal Forum

USPS and Mailers: Top 5 Keys to a Successful Partnership

Posted by Mark Fallon on Sep 7, 2016 5:00:00 AM

The American Heritage dictionary defines “partnership” as: A relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal.

For me, the key words are “mutual cooperation and responsibility”. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and mailers must mutually cooperate and share responsibility for both parties to be successful. So, in a format many of have seen on late-night television, let’s review the Top Five Keys to a Successful Partnership.

Number 5: Talk with each other.

Three words – communicate, communicate, and communicate.

Notice that this tip is titled “Talk with each other.” Not “Talk to each other.” A conversation involves speaking and listening.

What does this mean for the mailer? If you have an issue with a mailing or a delivery, don’t start the conversation with accusations and demands. If you begin with an adversarial approach, then you aren’t leaving the other person much room for a successful solution to your problem. It may feel good yelling at someone, but it doesn’t help the situation.

Instead, ask what went wrong, and how do you prevent it from happening again. If you think a rule or regulation has been unfairly used against you, explain why you feel that why, and then ask another question. Why does the clerk, manager, whoever, think you are wrong? Asking questions allows the other person to help you find an answer. Listen to the answer – it will help you in the future.

What does this mean for the Postal Service? Again, start a conversation by explaining the situation and asking questions. If a customer has a mailing that doesn’t qualify for a certain discount, explain why, and then ask how you can help them prepare for the future.

Seek out problems, before they arrive on the dock. We’ve seen a lot of changes over the last few years, and we’re going to see even more in the immediate future. PCCs and webinars provide information to USPS customers. That’s great. Time to take it another step. Business Network managers need to talk with the customers and make sure they understand the changes. Ask the customers what additional information they need, and ask what additional help they need.

If we talk with each other, we’ll have the mutual understanding needed for success.

Number 4: Respect each other.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Men are respectable only as they respect”.

Our industry isn’t always the most respected profession. Much of that is due to unfounded stereotypes – whether humorous, like “Cliff the Mailman” from Cheers. Or perhaps relatively benign, like the concept of starting your career in the mailroom, and then working your way up the corporate ladder. And then the hurtful, like saying “going postal” to describe violent behavior.

How do we change this perception? First by being the true professionals that are the hallmark of this industry. Professionals who are experts at what they do, and demonstrate that through knowledge gained and industry certification.

Another important way to gain the respect of people from outside the industry is to respect each other from inside our industry. Mailers must respect the men and women of the US Postal Service, and postal employees need to respect the people who produce the mail that keeps them in business.

For mailers, respecting the USPS includes recognizing them as fellow professionals. As the son of a career Postal Service employee, I had the benefit of getting to know clerks, carriers, mail handlers, and postmasters as I was growing up. I’m not going to say that these groups got along with each other 100% of the time, but I did get the feeling that they knew they were on the same team.

As mailers, we need to be part of that team. When there’s an issue with your mail, inbound or outbound, you need to work with the USPS members of your team to resolve the problem. Don’t immediately assume that the “Postal Service screwed up.” Instead, show respect for your team members, and ask for help.

Similarly, at all levels, the USPS has to respect the professionalism of the mailer. An error in a mailing doesn’t mean the mailer is incompetent or is trying to “get away with something.” A mistake is just that, a mistake. How can you and the mailer work together to not only solve the problem, but also prevent it from happening again? Isn’t that a real win-win?

Mutual respect leads to mutual success.

Number 3: Look out for each other.

Watching out for each other is taking respect to the next level. In this step, you let each other know about what’s happening and help each other prepare.

What does this mean for mailers? If you have an extra-large mailing scheduled on the calendar, let your postal representative know ahead of time. Or, you may have a lot of returns coming in from a solicitation. Again, let the USPS know before the mail shows up. Work together to make plans for handling the volumes.

What does this mean for the USPS? Look out for your customers.

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management

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The Berkshire Company improves business processes in your print & mail operations, helping you solve real problems.

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