“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:
- Workflow Integration
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 about the correct mailing address for their company.
Whenever possible, use Post Office boxes to speed up delivery and sorting of the mail. Require that all proofs for Customer Reply and Business Reply envelopes are approved by mail operations before printings. Follow the guidelines set in the Mailing Standards of the United States Postal Service (aka Publication 28) to ensure your mail is processed accurately.
Mail center security is paramount to protect your employees and the inbound mail they process. Working with corporate security, local law enforcement and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, managers should draft comprehensive security plans, training and testing. Those plans should include policies around access to the Mail Center, receiving personal mail at work, as well as the X-raying and opening all mail and packages received at the company.
Two excellent resources are USPS Publication 166 - Guide to Mail Center Security and USPS Poster 84, Suspicious Mail or Packages. Every mail center employee should be required to read the guide as part of their employee orientation. At least once a month, leaders should walk through the steps to take when a suspicious package is identified. Managers can download free copies of the manual and the poster from the USPS website.
Without the documents being sent to them, business units can’t meet the needs of customers. Effective operations get the mail to the correct recipients as soon as possible. Mail needs to be properly inspected, sorted and delivered in the shortest amount of time possible. For large volume operations, that may mean providing more than one delivery per day to select units. For example, some checks could be delivered to accounting 30 minutes after the mail arrives, with the remainder distributed later.
Mail operations should work with the business units to integrate processes and workflows. That includes the opening and preparation of mail before it is delivered downstream. A procedure that may add a few minutes in preparation, may save significantly more time in the processing. If feasible, mail operations should introduce scanning – either images or data – directly into an electronic workflow program.
Companies are aggressively seeking to use digital solutions when interacting with customers. However, for the foreseeable future, many customers will continue to choose physical documents as the preferred method of communication. Most of those physical documents will be delivered by the US Postal Service. Mail operations managers need to develop strategies for processing inbound mail effectively and efficiently today, with an eye on tomorrow.