Trends in Print and Mail

The Berkshire Company Blog

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

What Are You Responsible For?

Posted by Mark Fallon on Aug 24, 2016 5:00:00 AM

The best part of business travel is the people you meet. Maybe it’s in the line at airport security. At the gate waiting between long layovers. Or eating alone at a restaurant. Sometimes, I meet an interesting person seated next to me on the plane. When that happens, the flight always seems too short.

Last month, I was very lucky. As I took my seat, I said “Good afternoon” to the man next to me. He responded with, “Good afternoon. How are you today?” I could sense a good conversation, and a short flight.

I asked if he was heading out or heading home. He said that he was going home. But, he had one more stop to make. The gentleman explained that he owned a small company in England, and was visiting customers in the United States. Before returning, he was making a detour to South Carolina to play golf with a friend.

For a while, we talked about his company, their products and customers. He turned the conversation back to me with the question, “What are you responsible for?”

Wow! What a great question, “What am I responsible for?”

In most cases, people ask, “What do you do for a living?” or “Who do you work for?”. Simple questions requiring little thought. As a consultant, I usually answer with some information on how I help my customers, including sample projects. But “what are you responsible for?” carries deeper meaning, and requires more thought.

As managers, it’s a question we should ask ourselves on a regular basis. And, we should reflect on how well we’re fulfilling those responsibilities. A self-review that we can keep to ourselves or share, depending on your preference.

For example, before starting The Berkshire Company, I was the Vice President, Document Technology and Delivery at State Street Corporation in Boston. This is how my biography describes my job:

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Operations Management

USPS Full Service IMb Assessments: Ready, Set…..Wait

Posted by Mark Fallon on Aug 17, 2016 5:00:00 AM

For several years, mailers have been reading reports and receiving briefings about the US Postal Service’s (USPS) about postage assessments based on results of the Mailer Scorecard. When the Mailer Scorecard was introduced in 2013, the probable date for assessments was July of 2014. However, there were issues with the reliability of the quality metrics. In presentations to Postal Customer Councils (PCC) and Mailers' Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC), the USPS proposed assessments to begin in April and July of 2015. Those deadlines came and went.

Early this year, it seemed that the bugs were worked out, and the assessments would begin in July 2016. But in May, the USPS announced another postponement. Under the current plan, the assessments will begin in November 2016, based on October mailings. Unless there’s another delay. And there may be.

The principles behind the assessment are good. Establish metrics that can be verified in 4 key areas:

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United States Postal Service

The Trip Worth Making

Posted by Mark Fallon on Aug 10, 2016 5:00:00 AM

Selecting the right business partner for customer communications is an important task. Savvy organizations use the Request for Proposals (“RFP”) process to make the best decision. After receiving vendor responses and calling references, an important step before your final selection is to conduct a site visit to the finalists’ production centers.

A well-crafted RFP will help gather information about the prospective vendors. Technology, performance standards and pricing can be compared. Calls with references will reveal how relationships are managed and sustained. Follow-up meetings show how well the vendor responds to special requests and handles tough inquiries.

A site visit adds important insight about the vendor. Seeing the actual equipment, layout and work environment allows one to compare what is written in a bid response to what takes place at the facility. More than one RFP has been won or loss during a visit.

It’s important to bring the right members of the RFP team along for the visit. As a minimum, the project sponsor, sourcing manager and a print/mail subject matter expert (“SME”) should attend. The vendor will have a team of folks on hand to impress the prospect, so multiple attendees helps level the playing field. The SME’s focus will be on the equipment and processes used in production.

A tour of the production floor is mandatory – don’t settle for a view from a conference room or balcony. As you walk through the facility, takes notes on how work is staged, the make and models of equipment used, and the general atmosphere of the workplace. Look for security controls, including cameras. While the vendor has probably taken extra preparations for the visit, the truth is right below the surface. And easily spotted.

Take a moment to talk to the employees. Not just to the people who the vendor has hand-picked for briefings, but any employee you pass. Don’t conduct an interrogation, but just carry on a conversation. “Good morning.” “How are you, today?” “What are you working on?”

At the same time, the SME should be talking with machine operators. Do they understand how the system works? What is their awareness about printing technology and postal regulations? How do they handle jams or misfeeds? As in the example above, don’t just have discussions with the operators at the machines the vendor spotlights, but talk to as many people as possible.

When the visit is finished, the RFP team should discuss what they learned. Specifically:

  • Does the processing equipment live up to the description in the RFP response?
  • Does the facility have the proper security measures in place to protect personal information?
  • Is the work culture at the facility consistent with your company?
  • Do the employees reflect the values you’re searching for in a business partner?
  • Is this a facility that you would trust to produce critical communications for your company?

The business partner awarded the outsourcing contract will impact the relationship with your customers for the length of the contract. RFP responses will provide a lot of information, but not everything you need to know about the vendors. Site visits take a commitment of time, resources and funding. The investment is minimal when compared to the knowledge gained in helping you make the best possible decision.

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Industry Vendors / Operations Management

Politics, Print and Mail

Posted by Mark Fallon on Aug 3, 2016 4:30:00 AM

Please note: This blog post isn’t about any political candidate, party or campaign.

Over the last few weeks, I watched both the Republican and the Democratic National Conventions. Throughout the broadcasts, one question kept running through my mind – “Who was the lucky company that got the contract to print all those signs?”

Almost every new speaker meant another set of signs for the attendees. Some speakers had multiple themes, which meant multiple signs with different messages. Each convention had about 50,000 attendees. With just one sign per attendee over 4 nights, that’s 400,000 printed signs.

Less than a week later, my mailbox is being filled with letters from both camps. I’m an independent – or “unenrolled”– voter, so I belong to neither party. Anyone cross-referencing mailing lists will find it’s difficult to fit me into a specific profile. I’m a small business owner. A veteran and a member of the American Legion. A proud supporter of the Southern Poverty Law Center. I’ve voted for Republicans and Democrats. So everyone tries to get my vote and my campaign contribution.

While some people may complain about direct mail, especially political fundraising mail, I love it. Yes, I maintain a presence on social media – beginning with this blog. I’m also on LinkedIn, Twitterand Facebook. And while I try to curate feeds that provide multiple perspectives and opinions, I know that my personal bias impacts my choices. But the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) makes sure that I receive different viewpoints.

The USPS realizes how important their role is during this election, and has developed a strategy for maximizing the use of direct mail. Beginning last year, Jim Cochrane, USPS Chief Marketing Officer, put together a team to reach out to candidates and election officials. A special website, Deliver the Win, was launched to explain how campaigns can best use mail to reach out to potential voters. Including the ever-elusive millennials.

At the same time, more states are moving to vote-by-mail. The regulations differ by state, while the ballots are unique to each voting authority – either county or municipality. Many laws refer to postmarks, which may, or may not be applied by the USPS. In a close race, these votes may decide elections. David Williams, USPS Chief Operating Officer, has stated he’ll use the lessons learned during the way they successfully handled the high-volume 2015 Christmas season to meet the challenge. With the world watching, there will be no tolerance for error. Or delays.

Successful campaigns – political and marketing – understand the importance of multimedia communication. Supporters and customers respond differently to different types of messages. Savvy marketers don’t choose physical OR electronic interactions they choose physical AND electronic exchanges.

The 2016 election demonstrates the importance of print and mail in the marketplace of ideas.

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United States Postal Service

Build a Better Business Case

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

Do you plan on:

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Operations Management

Postal Reform Act of 2016: July Update

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

In what must be a speed record for the 114th Congress, the Postal Reform Act of 2016 (H.R.5714) was filed, marked-up and passed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in just two days. And with bipartisan support.

Most of the provisions introduced in the draft version published last month remain, including:

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United States Postal Service

Ignore the Experts and Pay the Price

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jul 13, 2016 5:00:00 AM

I was in New York City last week, having coffee with my good friends, Ray and Marv. After getting caught up on personal matters, we started to talk about what we’ve been seeing lately in the industry. We shared stories about misfortunate mailings that seemed to become more commonplace. Departments with address lists so bad, they needed manual coding. Improperly formatted letters that were returned to sender, because the bottom lines of the address didn’t show in the window. A marketing mailing that included a Business Reply Mail envelope, with the Courtesy Reply Mail post office box.

Ray observed, “Everyone is so focused on digital, it seems that no one can do physical mail correctly anymore.”

Interestingly, we shared almost 100 years of industry experience between the three of us. Ray and Marv have run successful projects for physical billing and e-billing for their company. Some of the other companies in the stories had certified mail center managers. However, in each case, the professionals weren’t consulted. The experts were ignored. And the results included thousands of dollars in misspent print and postage.

In the world of digital natives and Customer Communications Management (“CCM”), physical mail doesn’t get the respect it deserves. However, most customers still prefer to receive their bills in their mailbox. Marketing campaigns are more successful when they include a postcard or a letter. Many industries are required to use mail to prove compliance with government regulations.

So, why the disconnect? Probably because people are more attracted to what is new. The latest software or mobile device. Hosted solutions that bring together multiple platforms. The buzz words and acronyms used by consultants and pundits (anyone else remember when “CRM” was the mantra of the day?).

Besides, physical mail is “just mail”. There isn’t anything magical or exciting about printing a piece of paper, inserting it into an envelope and putting a stamp on it. Anyone can do that. The mailroom is down in the basement. Surely, no one important works down there.

The preceding paragraph may slightly exaggerate how the rest of the business world views print and mail operations. But it’s closer to the truth than many of us care to admit. We must work to be recognized as experts in order to prevent bad decisions before they’re made.

Steps to take to create the change in perception include:

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management

Developing an Employee Training Program

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

Training is something that I’m very passionate about. And you should be too. Unlike many management initiatives, the benefits of training are easy to explain for everyone involved:

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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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