Trends in Print and Mail

The Berkshire Company Blog

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

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

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

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

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

Developing a Technology Investment Strategy for Print and Mail Operations (Part 2)

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jun 14, 2016 5:00:00 AM

With the rapid changes in the print and mail industry, it’s important to build a sound technology investment strategy. That strategy should consider:

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Operations Management

Developing a Technology Investment Strategy for Print and Mail Operations (Part 1)

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jun 7, 2016 5:00:00 AM

When I started working in the mailing industry over 30 years ago, postage amounts were set by turning small dials on a meter. The latest model copiers included two paper trays, instead of the standard single tray. Word processors produced output using a daisy-wheel printer. Fax machines, cell phones and personal computers were unknown to the general public.

Back then, it was easy to make technology purchasing decisions. There were few choices, and many of the products were so expensive, few companies could afford to make the change. It was difficult to make a business case for changing. Why would an attorney ever want to edit something with a keyboard and a screen, when they could mark up paper copies with a pen, and then have their secretary retype the document?

It may feel good to have a laugh at our attitudes in the early1980’s, but none of us know what awaits us in 2046. In fact, few of us know what new technologies will hit the market in 2017. With so many unknowns, it’s important to build a sound technology investment strategy. That strategy should consider:

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Operations Management / Technology

Planning for Tomorrow with the USPS

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jun 1, 2016 9:02:33 AM

Recently, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) filed a request with the Postal Regulatory Commission to establish the 2017 Promotional Program. The first of the 2017 promotions will begin Jan. 1, 2017. There are six (6) proposed promotions:

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United States Postal Service / Operations Management