Trends in Print and Mail

The Berkshire Company Blog

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:


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.


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."


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

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

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

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