Trends in Print and Mail

The Berkshire Company Blog

Selecting the Right Software

Posted by Mark Fallon on Apr 4, 2017 5:00:00 AM

Back in the 1990s, I developed a presentation entitled “Information Technology for Mail Center Managers.” The section on purchasing software was pretty basic. Were your applications on a mainframe, a server or desktop? If a server, what version of Microsoft? If desktop, were you Microsoft or Apple? In the main categories – document composition, address management and package tracking – there were just a few vendors to consider.

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Industry Vendors / Operations Management / Technology

A Culture of Service – Still Indispensable After All These Years

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jan 31, 2017 5:01:00 AM


This weekend, I had to search through some records from the 1990s. Among the papers was the first speech I ever gave for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The District Manager for Boston asked me to present to a gathering of his postmasters and station managers. In particular, he wanted to hear about how my company was impacted by the service we received from the USPS.

While I wrote this speech over 2 decades ago, the message holds true today. The industry and the USPS must work together to provide the best possible service to our mutual customers.

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United States Postal Service / Industry Vendors / Operations Management

Implementing the US Postal Service 2017 Rate Changes

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jan 10, 2017 5:01:00 AM

On Sunday, January 22, 2017, the new US Postal Service (USPS) postage rates and rules go into effect, so mailers need to take action now to be properly prepared. For most mailers, the first day of mailing under the new rates will be Monday, January 23, 2017.

Even with the increase, postage rates are a great deal. The USPS retail rates for letter mail remain lower than our trading partners – including the countries that have privatized their posts. Take a look at the price for one-ounce stamps:

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management

Trends in Print and Mail - The Top 10 Posts from 2016

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jan 3, 2017 5:00:00 AM


Exigent postage rate increases were repealed. The upcoming rates changes will have some positive impact for First Class Mailers. Selecting vendor-partners, for technology or outsourcing services, remains a challenge. And legislative reform was seriously considered by Congress – before ultimately deciding to do nothing. These were just a few of the major stories impacting our industry over the last year.

We here at The Berkshire Company can't predict what changes 2017 will bring, but we do know more changes are on the horizon – from the implementation of “USPS Marketing Mail” to new technologies to reinforcing good management practices. We plan on covering those, and other issues, in the coming year. If there’s a particular topic you’d like to see covered, leave a note in the comments, or send me an email at mmf@berkshire-company.com.

In case you missed them, here are the 10 most read posts from 2016:

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United States Postal Service / Industry Vendors / Operations Management / National Postal Forum / Technology

The Extra Ounce

Posted by Mark Fallon on Dec 20, 2016 5:01:00 AM

* Actually, it’s an extra 1.5 ounces!

At the 2016 National Postal Forum in Nashville, Postmaster General (PMG) Megan Brennan announced that the US Postal Service (USPS) would file to expand the weight allowances for commercial, presorted First-Class letter mail. For some time, mailers have been able to add a second ounce to this weight category at no additional charge. In Nashville, PMG Brennan stated that the USPS would increase the weight limit to 3 ounces. Well – she more than delivered – as the 2017 rates include letter-sized, automation mail up to 3.5 ounces.

This is a great opportunity for mailers. This weight increase means savings of between $0.25 and $0.37 per piece for many mailers. Additional pages, heavier stock, more inserts – the opportunities are substantial. What should mailers do?

To start – print and mail operations managers should schedule meetings with the marketing and sales departments of their companies to explain the new rate structure. Print/Mail service providers should be setting up similar briefings with their customers. For example, additional inserts in bills, notices and statements are an easy method of increasing the value of the mail.

But that’s just the beginning. Mailers should reconsider the design of every mailpiece and exploit the prospective ways to take advantage of this rule change. Are there flat pieces that can be redesigned as 6 x 9 letter mail? The savings would be substantial. As a reminder, commercial, automation letter mail must meet the physical standards set in the Domestic Mail Manual, specifically Section 201.1.1.1:

Machinable letter-size mail is:

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management / Technology

Implementing Quality Control in Mail Operations

Posted by Mark Fallon on Dec 6, 2016 5:01:00 AM

In a competitive environment, “good enough” isn’t “good enough”. Customer expectations continue to rise. They want to receive their documents with the correct information, and expect a printing job to be error-free. They want the right statement, with the right address, in the right envelope to be delivered at the right time.

The first step of introducing quality control into an operation is to document the existing process, including process maps displaying the individual steps and the hand-offs between teams and operators. Even if written procedures exist, it’s important to validate the steps with the employees who do the actual work.

Using the process map, you need to identify key areas where errors can occur. Based on this information, you can formulate the objectives of your quality control program. Then, you must clearly state which errors will be reduced or eliminated through the implementation of quality control, and identify the factors required for success.

Reduce Opportunities for Error

The common errors that take place in mail operations include:

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Operations Management

Holiday Shipping – The Time is Nigh

Posted by Mark Fallon on Nov 22, 2016 5:02:00 AM

This week, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving – a time to pause and reflect on our good fortune and prosperity. And while decorations have been up in some stores for weeks, it also marks the “official” start to the holiday season. For individuals and businesses, it means it’s time to start finalizing plans for shipping packages that we want to arrive by December 24th.

Our country has service members stationed all over the world – South America, Europe. Africa, Asia – and of course, the Middle East. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and the Military Post Office worked together to develop a schedule that takes into account the logistics and other conditions impacting delivery times. To ensure timely delivery to a service member, use the following dates.



While most of us will use First-Class Mail or Priority Mail, there are other options included in the chart.

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management

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:

People

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.

Process

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."

Technology

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

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