Trends in Print and Mail

The Berkshire Company Blog

Growing Together at the 2015 National Postal Forum

Posted by Mark Fallon on May 27, 2015 5:30:00 AM

Maybe some people don’t see the opportunities of using physical mail, but they weren’t among the approximate 3,500 attendees at the National Postal Forum (NPF) last week in Anaheim, California. Whether it was vendors in the exhibit hall or presentations in the classrooms, people were bullish about the benefits and the future of physical mail. And leading the charge was the Postmaster General (PMG), Megan Brennan.

For the last several years, the principal message from the leadership of the United States Postal Service (USPS) centered on the gloomy outlook for mail volumes, the fiscal crisis created by Congress and the need to reduce mail service to 5-days-a-week delivery. That was not the case this year. PMG Brennan and her team focused on the positive side of the narrative, emphasizing that physical mail is complementary to electronic communication.

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United States Postal Service

Preparing for the US Postal Service 2015 Rate Increase

Posted by Mark Fallon on May 20, 2015 5:30:00 AM

On May 31, 2015, the new postage rates go into effect, and mailers need to take action to be properly prepared for the new rates. For most companies, the first day of mailing under the new rates will be Monday, June 1, 2015.

As soon as possible, send an announcement to your customers. If you manage a corporate mail center, that means the departments you service. The notice should include an explanation of the new rates, and how the rates will impact your customers’ costs. If your department or company can help mitigate the expenses through better presort or changing classes of mail, this is the time to highlight those opportunities.

Also provide a chart on the new retail rates, and explain how the rates will impact personal mailings, such as bills. By providing this type of information, you reinforce your image as the expert on postal affairs, and that you add value to the process.

Meet with local USPS representatives, including the acceptance unit. Review the changes with the new postal statements, including electronic submission. If possible, meet with the Business Mail Acceptance unit manager or supervisor. Ensure that everyone is on the same page with any changes.

Talk to postage meter and software vendors. Include your programmers on the call, to make sure they understand when and how the updates will be delivered, how to properly install the updates, and how to test the changes. Establish a phone tree for reporting and resolving any problems with the installation.

Schedule training for your employees about the new rates. Review the new rates and forms for every category of mail your shop produces. Go over the update schedule for the meters and software, discussing any potential impact to production. Lastly, cover the actions the department will take directly before and after the new rates go into effect.

Prepare to implement all the changes at the end of the day on either May 29 (Monday through Friday operations) or May 30 (Monday through Saturday operations). Download and install meter and software updates. Post reminders around your mail center about the new rates. This includes putting printed notices at the meters, the inserters and the customer service desk. For corporate mail centers, also post reminders at internal mail stops. Replace all internal and postage statement forms.

On Monday, June 1, send out another notice to your internal and external customers about the rate change. At the daily huddle with your employees, remind them about the changes and answer any last-minute questions. Inspect every meter to make sure the settings are correct, and review the testing the programmers completed on the software updates. Conduct additional quality control checks throughout the day.

If possible, have a manager or supervisor accompany the mail to the post office at the end of the day. Rate cases are a significant change for everyone involved, and there may be confusion. Have someone with your mail who is authorized to resolve any problems and answer any questions.

To assist mailers with these changes, The Berkshire Company has published a new e-book, “Preparing Your Mail Operation for the U.S. Postal Service 2015 Rate Increase”. This free resource, which includes an implementation checklist, is designed to help managers ensure a successful transition to the new postal rates.

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United States Postal Service

NPF 2015: Anticipation and Expectation

Posted by Mark Fallon on May 12, 2015 5:30:00 AM

A new Postmaster General (PMG), new postage rate increases, and a new reporting system. Taken alone, any of these three topics would be reason enough to attend this year’s National Postal Forum (NPF), May 17-20, 2015, in Anaheim, California. With all 3 events occurring within months of each other, attendance should be mandatory for business mailers.

PMG Megan Brennan is taking charge of the United States Postal Service (USPS) during a time of uncertainty. The “Network Optimization” program begun under her predecessor has produced mixed results. Expenses have decreased, but so have service levels. Mailers are seeing unprecedented delivery delays across the country. Congress has still failed to take up any bills to reform the disastrous impact of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. The U.S. Senate hasn’t confirmed any of President Obama’s nominees to the USPS Board of Governors for the last 5 years.

In her first few months in office, PMG Brennan has already begun to make changes. The closures of many processing plants have been delayed. The senior leadership team has seen the first of several needed departures. There seems to be more outreach to the mailing community.

On Monday, May 18, 2015, Postmaster General Brennan will deliver the keynote address to the NPF attendees. We’re hopeful that she will address the issues facing the USPS and mailers with concrete ideas, and not platitudes or “marketing-speak”. We also look forward to the opportunity to ask questions of her and her leadership team. And receive straight answers.

In addition to getting the chance to meet with vendors at the exhibit hall, there will be many new classes and sessions for attendees. We’re planning to learn more about the metrics, the Mailer Scorecard (and potential fines and penalties), mailers’ groups working together, and the migration to Internet-based production. A few specific classes that stand out are: Measuring ROI of Multi-Channel Direct Mail on Sunday morning, PCC + MTAC = Gr8 Synergy on Monday, and Cloud 101 on Wednesday.

Mark Fallon, President of The Berkshire Company, will be presenting 4 classes:

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The Mismeasure of Mail

Posted by Mark Fallon on May 6, 2015 5:30:00 AM

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." – attributed to Benjamin Disraeli

The U.S. Postal Service’s Office of the Inspector General (USPS OIG) recently released a report entitled, “Declines in Postal Service Mail Volume Vary Widely Across the U.S.”. It’s unclear how much expense and effort was spent producing the report – a report with a misleading title, flawed data analysis and an ineffectual conclusion.

The title suggests the OIG has studied all mail volumes. In fact, the study only focuses on one small category of mail – Single Piece First Class Mail (FCM). These are the individual pieces of stamped mail given to the USPS by individuals and small businesses. Most of that mail is business related – invoices to customers, notices, bill payments, applications, etc. A small portion are letters and personal correspondence.

What’s important to note is that Single Piece FCM represents only about 14% of all mail volumes (Source: USPS: A Decade of Facts and Figures). The remaining 86% of the mail is composed of transactional documents (bills and statements) from companies to their customers, advertising mail (Standard Mail), media mail, periodicals and parcels. The volumes for transactional documents and Standard Mail have been fairly level the last 3 years, or experienced small growth. Those are the areas that the USPS and the USPS OIG need to focus their efforts.

The data collection methodology for this report is flawed. The report is supposed to show changes in the use of mail by geographic area. As pointed out by the website, the report fails to take into account the USPS facilities that have been closed or expanded in the last several years. That means that mail that used to be processed in one area has now been moved to another. Because of this change where the USPS processes mail, the OIG analysis shows that the volumes in the area where I currently live has declined by 96%, and where I used to live the mail has increased by 128%! That would be shocking, if it was true.

In the report, the OIG added a footnote that states “These areas may have data issues or may have experienced significant changes to mail processing operations.” In reality, most of the country has experienced changes to mail processing operations as part of the USPS Network Optimization initiative. Once these data discrepancies were noticed, the researchers should have stopped and found a better method of measurement.

The stunning conclusion of this flawed study: “More research is likely needed to explain why these trends in mail use exist and how they are evolving.” That’s right, the research concludes what’s really needed is more research.

I couldn’t agree more. Except this time, the study should be conducted by someone who understands the true nature of mail, includes the larger categories of mail, and doesn’t use flawed data.

Focusing on Single Piece FCM is a distraction from the real issues facing the USPS. Business mailers produce the overwhelming majority of mail processed by the USPS. Most of that mail has the Full Service Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb), which allows for piece-level tracking from point of entry to the delivery unit. That data, with proper analysis, would provide useful information for the USPS and their customers – businesses and individuals – as they deal with the issues of today, and plan for a successful future with mail.

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United States Postal Service

Inbound Mail – Still Critical to Businesses

Posted by Mark Fallon on Apr 29, 2015 5:30:00 AM

“No one sends important documents through the mail anymore.”

“First Class Mail is disappearing.”

“'Snail Mail' is an anachronism is the ‘Age of the Internet’.”

We hear these phrases, or ones that are very similar, on almost every consulting engagement that involves inbound mail. Of course, these opinions are normally from people who don’t work with many physical documents (e.g., IT professionals) or people who are far removed from the daily workflow (e.g., executives). It then becomes part of our assignment to educate everyone on the importance and impact of physical mail on their business.

Of course, there are some truths in these statements. Many documents are sent via email or other electronic transfer methods. The volumes of First Class Mail arriving at businesses have declined. And any mail being delivered by a dawdling terrestrial mollusk probably isn’t that important.

However, the letters, flats and packages arriving at corporate mail centers each day are important. For many customers, the only communication they have with their vendors is through the mail. Companies must develop policies and strategies to service those customers. A sound strategy that includes:

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management

Twenty Questions To Ask When Purchasing Equipment

Posted by Mark Fallon on Apr 15, 2015 5:30:00 AM

A successful operation is built around people, process and technology. In print and mail operations, the equipment used to process inbound and outbound documents is becoming faster, more accurate and more expensive. Upgrading your systems will mean a significant investment in dollars and other resources.

In past posts, we’ve encouraged the use of a Requests for Proposals (RFP) for major purchases. Companies can use the RFP to fully explain their existing situation and challenges, as well as the goals to be met with the new technology. We recommend that our clients provide as much detail as possible about their current operation – volumes, file formats, processing times, paper types, information technology infrastructure, etc. If possible, give vendors physical samples of the “typical” documents in their final form.

As with RFPs for outsourcing, most companies have standard questions from the purchasing, procurement or legal departments. In addition to those questions and pricing information, here are 20 questions you should ask when purchasing equipment:

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Industry Vendors / Operations Management

Mail and the Misinformed Media

Posted by Mark Fallon on Apr 8, 2015 5:00:00 AM

Last week saw the release of two important reports regarding the United States Postal Service (“USPS”). The first was the annual Financial Analysis of United States Postal Service Financial Results and 10-K Statement by the Postal Regulatory Commission (“PRC”). This lengthy report is representative of an audit a public corporation would present to its stockholders. On page 2 (of 76), the PRC summarizes their findings stating:

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United States Postal Service

20 Questions When Selecting a Print/Mail Service Provider

Posted by Mark Fallon on Mar 25, 2015 5:00:00 AM

Choosing a vendor for print or mail services (or both) can be similar to buying a new car. First, a lot of research on the internet. Checking out vendor websites, searching for news stories and reading online reviews. Next you reach out to people you know, and ask for their recommendations and experience. Then, you start contacting vendors.

After you’ve narrowed your selection, it’s time to start finding out more the finalists. If your company is looking to find a long-term partner, your best tool would be the Request for Proposals (RFP) process. For a “one-off” project, you may request bids from the vendors. In either case, you still need to learn more about the vendor than just their pricing.

When we help companies draft RFPs for outsourcing, there may be dozens of questions. Usually, there are standard questions from the purchasing, procurement or legal departments. There are application-specific questions – file formats, service-level requirements, postage costs, presort availability, materials, etc. Then there are questions that appear in almost every RFP.

In addition to pricing, here are 20 questions you should ask when selecting a print/mail service provider:

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Industry Vendors / Operations Management

When Should I Consider Outsourcing?

Posted by Mark Fallon on Mar 18, 2015 5:30:00 AM

When evaluating a function as a candidate for outsourcing, the three most important factors to consider are:

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Operations Management

The Myths and Realities of Outsourcing

Posted by Mark Fallon on Mar 11, 2015 5:30:00 AM

Outsourcing may be the most emotionally charged issue facing print and mail operations managers today. If it's a knee-jerk reaction by companies desperate to cut costs, or to get rid of bothersome employees, outsourcing will probably result in failure.
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Industry Vendors / 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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