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The Berkshire Company Blog

A Letter to My Senators About the United States Postal Service

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 22, 2014 5:30:00 AM

Like most people in our industry, I’m not hopeful that Congress will pass any meaningful reform for the U.S. Postal Service (“USPS”) in the near future. It will take tremendous effort and compromise by all parties to create a solution that will resolve at least some of the issues impacting the USPS. In the current political environment, that is highly unlikely.

Any changes will have to come from the leadership of the USPS. But key leadership positions on the USPS Board of Governors are vacant. President Obama has nominated 5 people to the board, including former President Bush appointees, but the Senate has not confirmed them. They haven’t even voted on any of them.

I want to know why. So I’ve emailed and mailed the letter below to my United States Senators. Please feel free to copy and send to your own senators. We deserve answers.

Dear Senator Markey / Dear Senator Warren:

My name is Mark Fallon, and I am one of your constituents. I’m also the President of The Berkshire Company, an independent management consulting firm that specializes in the print-mail industry. We help our clients use the best practices and available technologies to create and mail documents to customers. Taken as a whole, our clients produce over 500 million pieces of First Class Mail every year. And contrary to popular opinion, those numbers are not rapidly declining.

A recent study showed that the mailing industry employs over 9 million people in the United States, and contributes almost $1.2 trillion to the national economy. At the heart of that vital industry is the United States Postal Service (“USPS”).

The well-publicized financial struggles of the USPS are the result of a shift in mailing practices, an expanding number of delivery points due to a growing population, overpayments into the federal retiree system and an oppressive pre-payment requirement of future retiree health care costs. The last two problems can only be solved by an act of Congress. There’s been no indication of any solution that will be agreed to by both political parties.

The first two issues must be addressed by the USPS leadership. However, due to the inaction of the U.S. Senate, a significant part of that leadership is missing. As of today, there are 5 vacancies on the 9-member Board of Governors of the USPS. The terms of 2 additional governors will expire on December 31, 2014.

President Obama has nominated competent individuals for these positions, 2 Republicans and 3 Democrats. The 2 Republicans are men who served as members of the Board under President Bush. There’s been no public opposition to any of the nominees. However, there’s been no vote taken to confirm them.

The current nominees, and the months they were nominated are:

  • Hon. James C. Miller III (R) – March 2012
  • Stephen Crawford (D) – June 2012
  • David M. Bennett (D) – April 2014
  • Victoria Reggie Kennedy (D) – February 2014
  • Mickey Barnett (R) – July 2014 (his term expired last year, but still serving)

Mr. Miller and Mr. Crawford were both nominated over two years ago, and have testified twice before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. In their latest hearing on July 14, 2014, Mr. Bennett and Ms. Kennedy also participated.

Watching the hearings, I was impressed with the testimony of the nominees. While I don’t agree with them on every issue, it was clear that they had given serious consideration to the changes the USPS must make to remain viable. They’ve even been meeting informally as a group to exchange ideas. They’re ready to get to work.

Although Chairman Carper (D-DE) ordered the nominations to be reported favorably on July 30, 2014, there has been no vote taken on the Senate floor.

It’s time for the Senate to get to work. You should publicly call for the Senate leadership to hold a vote on the nominees. If there’s an issue with any of the nominees, then those matters should be made known to the public. If there are no issues, then a vote should be held as soon as possible.

We deserve to have a full Board of Governors for the USPS – one of the oldest and most trusted government institutions. We need you to take action.

Regards,

Mark M. Fallon
President & CEO
The Berkshire Company
36 Gilmore Rd
Southborough MA 01772-1721

 

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Color Print: The Future is Now

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 15, 2014 5:30:00 AM

In the late 1990s, we regularly heard two predictions about the print and mail industry: first – hard copy mail would decline by 50% by the year 2010, and second – color would replace black & white printing of transactional documents. As discussed in an earlier blog, mail volumes have declined, but not to the extent many experts predicted. Hard copy mail remains a vital component of customer communication.
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Operations Management

Metrics Matter in Print and Mail

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 8, 2014 6:30:00 AM

“If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” - Peter Drucker

All quality improvement techniques, including benchmarking, Total Quality Management (TQM), and Six Sigma, have one thing in common: accurate measurement. As Peter Drucker points out in his famous maxim, measurement is the foundation of good management.

Unfortunately, most print and mail operations don’t have effective measurement programs in place. Some departments aren’t collecting any information at all, while others are only tracking production in a few areas. Managers should strive to implement comprehensive metrics programs wherever possible.

Today, computers and machine systems make it easy to collect and store volumes of data. Devices can be attached to most machines to record the number of pieces metered, copies made, or pieces processed. Software packages, like Access and Excel, allow anyone with minimal PC skills to manipulate and analyze data.

Collection devices and software don’t make a metrics program. To develop a successful program, a manager must decide: 

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Operations Management

What’s My Address?

Posted by Mark Fallon on Oct 1, 2014 4:50:15 AM

what's my addressMy friend Karyn is a high school physics teacher. To start the school year, she assigned her students a challenging project. She gave each pupil an unbroken Pringles potato chip. The assignment: package and mail the chip back to Karyn – unbroken. The goal would include creating the smallest and lightest package possible that would keep the chip intact.

As she was taking questions from the class, one student asked, “Miss, is that your home address?”

“No.”

“Then what address is that?”

“That’s the address of the building you’re in right now.”

It would be easy to dismiss this exchange as another example of the lack of awareness of the younger generation. After all, how could you not know the address of your school? Or your workplace?

After decades of working in the mailing business, I can assure you that there a lot of people that don’t know their correct business mailing address. And for companies that use internal mail codes, many people don’t know those either.

The mailing address for a company may be different than the physical address for many reasons. Companies may not use the street address, but instead use Post Office boxes to speed up delivery and sorting of the mail. Or, a person may work in one building within a complex, but the centralized receiving and mail center may be in another building. Sometimes a company may want all employees to use the headquarters’ address, regardless of where they work.

Internal mail codes add to the complexity of addressing. Many companies use a unique code indicating the physical location within a building. For example, a company may build a code based on floor, plus cardinal direction, plus aisle. If a person’s cubicle is located on the 2nd floor, west side of the building and the 4th aisle, then their mail code would be 2W4. Large companies may have more complex codes, depending on the number of cities or buildings.

The proper placement of the internal code for mail being received is important. If an internal mail code is placed on a separate line below the street address, the U.S. Postal Service’s automated sorters may decode it improperly, and send the mail to another company. Follow the guidelines set in the Mailing Standards of the United States Postal Service (aka Publication 28) to ensure your mail is processed accurately.

Clearly defined mailing addresses, combined with internal mail codes, help speed the delivery of inbound and interoffice mail. However, unless employees are properly informed about their proper addresses, and why those addresses are important, they won’t use them.

Mail center managers must take responsibility for educating their fellow employees. Not just on the first day of orientation, but on a regular basis. Growing up in the 60’s, I remember the ads from Post Office Department featuring Mr. ZIP, encouraging consumers to use the correct ZIP Code on their cards and letters. The ads may seem “basic” or “cheesy”, but they worked. A similar internal campaign may work for your company.

Physical mail continues to play an important role for businesses, government and educational institutions. Properly addressed mail will make sure that the right piece – will get to the right person – at the right time.

 

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management

Share Resources to Improve Service

Posted by Mark Fallon on Sep 17, 2014 5:30:00 AM

“Cooperation gets teams pulling together. Staying focused on the organization's mission ensures they pull in the right direction.” – Eric Harvey
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Operations Management

2014 National Postal Customer Council Week

Posted by Mark Fallon on Sep 3, 2014 5:00:00 AM

In the springtime, many mailers attend the National Postal Forum to hear from United States Postal Service (“USPS”) officials and fellow industry professionals about the current state and future of our industry. In the fall, the focus shifts to National Postal Customer Council (“PCC”) Week, which takes place September 8 – 12 at multiple locations throughout the country.

In the past, this event was called “PCC Day” and was held on the third Wednesday in September. The Postmaster General would participate in a live simulcast from the city that had won the PCC of the Year award. PCCs needed to hold their events at a location that could broadcast a satellite feed of the speech. Usually after lunch for the East Coast, and breakfast for the West Coast.

A few years ago, “PCC Day” transformed into a week-long event. The Postmaster General pre-records his speech, and distributes it to the districts. This allows PCCs greater flexibility in selecting the location – and the day of the week – that works best for their organization. The result has been better turnouts across the country.

PCCs are an underutilized resource – by both the USPS and mailers. I know of no other industry where the customers volunteer to organize, and then pay for, educational events on how to use a vendor’s service better. USPS management needs to better use the PCCs as a two-way communication platform. The PCCs are a great way to distribute information to business customers, and educational seminars are needed.

But management needs to listen to the customers as well. Not just parry comments with prepared defenses of postal policy, but attentively listen and react to what the customers are saying. Large mailers may be represented by professional organizations, but the PCCs represent the small and mid-sized mailer as well. Business mailers – First Class, Standard, Package and Periodical mailers – represent the overwhelming majority of the USPS income. Their voice deserves to be heard, and their opinions matter.

Too many mailers don’t take advantage of the opportunities presented by their local PCC either. There are classes on postal regulations, USPS initiatives and industry trends. We’re in an era of transformative changes on how we create, print and prepare mailings. We owe it to our organizations to keep ourselves educated. And PCCs provide that educational opportunity.

To find more about your local PCC and their National PCC Week event, check out the PCC Locator on the USPS website. Or, call your local USPS District Business Service Network representative for more information. Most of the events are more than reasonably priced, so bring some of your co-workers with you. The benefits far outweigh the expense.

PS – I believe in practicing what I preach. I’ve been a member of the Greater Boston PCC for decades, and currently sit on their Executive Board. During National PCC Week, I’m presenting for 3 different PCCs – the Omaha PCC Advertising Expo on September 10, the Greater Kansas City PCC event on September 11, and the Carolinas (all 5 PCCs) Postal PCC Forum in Charlotte on September 12. As always, I’m waiving my speaking fees for these mailing organizations.

Hope to see you at a PCC event soon!

 

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United States Postal Service

Planning for the 2015 Postage Rates

Posted by Mark Fallon on Aug 27, 2014 4:30:00 AM

For most corporations, the budgeting process for 2015 has begun. Managers are calculating changes in volumes, adjustments to vendor contracts and requests for new equipment or software. One factor that’s difficult to estimate this year – postage rates.

Last December, the Postal Regulatory Commission (“PRC”) conditionally approved the US Postal Service’s (“USPS”) request for an exigent rate increase. That meant on January 26, 2014, postage rates increased an average of 6.0%.+ Read More

United States Postal Service

I Toured the Morgue, Not the Mail Center

Posted by Mark Fallon on Aug 20, 2014 5:00:00 AM

Last week, I was visiting with friends I hadn’t seen for a while. While catching up on each other’s lives, I shared some good news about my business. Recently, we’d been selected to design the mail center for a new hospital.

One of my friends, a nurse, asked, “Hospitals have mail centers?” Of course, how else do you think they handle all of the incoming and outgoing mail? I’m sure that they have a mail center at your hospital.

Her response – “I don’t know. When I started, we toured the morgue, but not the mail center.”

After I stopped laughing, I explained the different services the mail center at a hospital performs. Sorting and prepping inbound mail for delivery to the floors. Processing patient bills and other outgoing correspondence. Imaging documents for the hospital’s records department. My friend agreed all of this work had to get done, but she never thought of the hospital having a “mail center”.

Her attitude isn’t unique – and not just among people who work in hospitals. When we visit companies, many of the employees don’t realize that there’s a mail center for their organization. Even when their department receives or sends large volumes of mail. The mail arrives and the mail goes out. No one gives a second thought on how it happens.

Often the mail center is so physically removed from the rest of the company, that no one ever has a reason to go near the shop. In many cases, the operation is located in the basement, next to the loading dock or in a separate building (at one hospital we worked with, the mail center was next to the morgue). Out of sight, out of mind.

The mail center manager needs to accept some of the responsibility for this mindset. While we may not be able to change the physical location of the operation, we can work on changing the attitude of the people around us. We can promote the department through an internal customer communication plan. Using email, the company’s intranet and newsletters, we can inform them about the services we provide for the company.

We can make sure that the department’s space is kept tidy and neat. Even though large quantities of paper, packages and mail pass through the shop, the area can be organized. While employees are required to perform physical labor, they should be dressed neatly and professionally. Equipment, counters and shelving must be kept clean when not in use.

The department should offer regularly scheduled tours promoting its capabilities. Managers can volunteer to brief all new company employees during orientation. In addition to explaining how to use inbound and outbound addressing, the briefing could end with a tour of the mail center. Separate tours could be held for new officers or executives.

We live in a digital age, but physical mail is an integral part of any company’s communication plan. Make sure your fellow employees – your internal customers – understand how you contribute to the company’s success. And make sure they know where the mail center is located.

 

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Invest In Your Future

Posted by Mark Fallon on Aug 13, 2014 5:00:00 AM

"You can finish school, and even make it easy--but you never finish your education, and it's seldom easy." -  Zig Ziglar

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Operations Management

The Domestic Mail Manual: Good, Not Great

Posted by Mark Fallon on Aug 6, 2014 5:00:00 AM

When I started in the mailing industry (way back in the 20th century), the Domestic Mail Manual (“DMM”) was a bound, hard-copy reference book. Having the look and feel of a phonebook for a major metropolitan area, the DMM was regularly criticized for the small print, lightweight paper and dizzying cross-references. Updates and corrections had to be stored in a separate binder.

However, being a true “mail geek”, I looked forward to its annual publication. I would spend a weekend reading all the sections impacting First-Class Mail, adding tabs for key areas on mail preparation. I would carry the DMM with me when meeting with US Postal Service (“USPS”) representatives. This was very helpful if there were any disagreements on a particular mailing my company had submitted.

In 1994, the USPS announced it was streamlining the DMM, making it more accessible, easier to use and more convenient to update. The new format included the migration from bound book to a 3-ring binder, larger font sizes and heavier paper stock. Updates would be sent as shrink-wrapped packages to replace entire sections.

Unfortunately, this also meant increasing the physical size of the DMM. The hefty 3-inch binder wasn’t as easy to flip through, nor simple to put in a briefcase when going to a meeting. I created an “alternative DMM” binder, containing only the sections that impacted my mailings.

About this same time, the first digital copy of the DMM was produced by Window Book, Inc. Available as a package of 3.5-inch diskettes, the digital DMM could be loaded onto the hard drive of a computer, and then searched by key terms. Although basic by today’s standards, this was a significant leap forward for DMM users.

That lead to the current on-line DMM, available through the USPS Postal Explorer website. Now, when users search for a particular term, the website not only returns DMM citations, but also information from Quick Service Guides and Customer Support Rulings. And for people like me, you can download a complete DMM to your hard drive.

In addition to the improved search functionality, updates to the online DMM are seamless through the DMM Advisory system. Users can see the latest up dates by visiting the DMM Advisory website, or they can sign up for email alerts by sending a request to dmmadvisory@usps.com. The alerts include proposed changes to the DMM, as well as price adjustments or USPS filings in the Federal Register.

Overall, the new DMM is much better than the hard copy “phonebook” we used 20 years ago. The USPS continues to streamline the manual by eliminating duplicate sections or conflicting regulations. The DMM Advisory alerts help conscientious mailers stay up to date with new and proposed changes.

But the system still needs improvement. Any search engine is only as good as the terms users enter. Mailers still need to read through not only the Quick Service Guides, but all the related DMM sections when preparing a mailing. And some requirements, like the Intelligent Mail Barcode and e-Doc specifications, aren’t in the DMM, but are separate publications on the National Customer Service or “RIBBS” website.

Individual interpretation of the DMM – by mailers and USPS acceptance clerks – can still differ. For example, I recently participated in a discussion about a multiple choice question. Here’s the question and responses:

Question: Effective January 28, 2013 mailpieces bearing a POSTNET barcode are eligible to claim the ________ discount.
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The Berkshire Company improves business processes in your print & mail operations, helping you solve real problems.

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