There is an elite club in mail services. It is the top mail manages who we see at every industry event, who are connected with their peers both locally and nationally. They run the best operations and get the best rates. My goal is to share strategies of how these managers set up and run best in class mail operations for maximum efficiency and savings.
Automate Incoming Package Delivery
If you are receiving over 25 items per day from UPS/FedEx or accountable items from the USPS, I would strongly recommend having an electronic tracking system to automate this manual task of logging in packages. The basic components are a software program loaded onto a PC, a connected scanner and typically one or more portable scanning devices. When the packages come in, they get scanned and matched to the person or department to where they are addressed. When the items are delivered, the recipient signs the portable handheld device to prove final delivery. This is the ultimate CYA (Look it up if you are unsure) in a mail room and eliminates responsibility for lost packages. It also creates a faster, paperless process.
Even if you already have an incoming tracking system, these are some of the newest trends you may want to consider to streamline package tracking:
- Cloud Based vs. Loaded onto a PC – This is a great option if you have multiple locations, because you can receive at different sites and link to the same internal databases. It also helps the end users, who can check on their package status online.
- Email Package Notification – Many times packages are delivered, but another option might be to have recipient’s pickup at specific designated points. Most systems can be configured to automatically email package notifications.
- Link Digital Pictures of Damaged Items – You do not want to be responsible for items that come in damaged. Many tracking systems can allow you to upload digital pictures of damaged or suspicious packages. These pictures can be emailed to the final recipient to let them know their package came in damaged or to see if they were expecting an item that looks questionable.
- Scan USPS Accountable Items – This sounds obvious, but many entities are using their system for UPS and FedEx only. More USPS items are coming in with Delivery/Signature Confirmation labels as well as the typical Express and Certified Items.
Take Control of ‘Undeliverable as Addressed’ Mail
Returned mail because of poor addresses costs businesses billions of dollars in lost opportunity. The best in class companies are managing this in three ways:
- Update mailing lists to make sure you have the right address and any move update information. If you are barcoding your mailings in-house, you have a software program that does this for you automatically. Make sure you have an National Change of Address (NCOA) service that is connected to your provider. If you are using a third party mail service, get any address changes back so you can update your databases for the future.
- Migrate to the full service IMB barcodes mandated by the USPS by 2014, because of the features it offers. Not only do they get an extra discount on their mailings, but they get no cost electronic address correction notifications.
- Have a documented process on how returned mail pieces get handled and that the information is getting updated back into the main systems. (You would be surprised how many companies don’t do anything with their returned mail pieces.)
Make the Best Insource/Outsource Decisions
This is not as easy as you would think because there are so many variables to consider. We are going to look at two types of outsourcing: Mail Fulfillment companies and Presort Service Provider.
Mail Fulfillment Companies: These service providers, sometimes called Mail Houses, will perform mailing services such as printing, folding, inserting, addressing, presorting and transporting to the USPS. It has gotten more confusing because many printers are offering mailing services as well. It is important to know the detail of what you are paying for to make sure you are getting the best rate, to compare against other providers, or to determine if the work should be brought in house. The key thing to look for are the fees that are outside the per piece charges. Most providers will charge set up and delivery fees that are fixed regardless of the mailing size. This is fine when you are sending out 50,000 pieces, but a $200 set up fee for 1,000 postcards means you are paying $.20 per piece plus the processing charges.
To determine what should be done in-house, look at the makeup of your mailings. If most of the projects are less than 5,000 pieces and you have the proper staff, space, transportation (to get mailings to the USPS) and some simple equipment (printers, folder inserter, and postal software), this could be your least expensive bet. Make sure you do enough mailings to make the investment and time worthwhile. Regardless of which way you go, it is a best practice to review your mailing data at least once per year to make sure you are doing your projects in the least expensive way possible to meet your desired objectives.
Presort Service Providers – These services pick up mail at your office, run it through their sorters (that break it down as close as possible to their final destination) and schedule it directly into the postal system. They are great to use because they can get you discounts with minimal effort and potentially move mail faster through the Postal Service.
This is an easy one from an in-house/outsource perspective because it is a simple financial transaction. If the presort provider can move your mail at lower costs than you can do it yourself and the delivery impact does not negate the savings, use them. Here are the best applications for this type of service:
- You have mixed department mail that would not qualify for any discount on its own. These services can typically give you at least 5-15% discounts on your mail. Typical minimum volumes are 500 pieces per day or single pickups of 1,000 pieces.
- You are automating your mail today but the presort service can get you better rates due to their density of mail by comingling with their other customers.
- You are automating Standard Rate mailings and the presort service can get your mail drop shipped to the delivery address USPS Sectional Center facility splitting the destination entry discounts offered by the USPS.
Develop Very Detailed Reporting
The best mail operations will have very detailed reporting on their operations. This is the only way to have consistent visibility to how their operations are performing. Here are some key areas that need detailed documentation:
Postage/Shipping Spend – This can be very difficult to get because of the amount of places it needs to be collected. The better this is managed, the more power it creates inside your entity. I recommend having the 12 month detail of the spend categories below accessible and reviewed frequently:
- USPS Permit Spends – There could be multiple permits and all need to be accounted for. I have seen many companies lose track of accounts with funds that sit idle and in some cases never recovered.
- USPS Metered Spend – This can be pulled from the system or from the vendor websites.
- USPS Cash and Credit Card spend – There could be people in your organization working out of their homes or traveling that need to mail items and pay with petty cash or credit cards. It is a good idea to monitor this expense to make sure it does not get misused.
- UPS and FedEx Spend – This spend should be looked at alongside postage because there could be savings opportunities moving specific items between the carriers. Also, there are many carrier fees and delivery guarantees that should be looked at to make sure you get all refunds possible.
Mail Service Provider Fees – The best companies look at their invoices regularly and know exactly what they are paying for. These service providers can charge fees in many different areas that can make the costs much higher than original expected.
Staff Productivity – I left the most significant for last since the best operations will have detailed performance metrics for their people. This will show them very important detail on how their operation is being managed. Here are some examples:
- Mail Produced, Metered, Sorted by Employee
- Internal Pickup and Delivery by Employee
- Sick days and overtime required
- Customer service complaints by employee
It crucial for mail managers to stay connected inside the industry because of all of the dramatic changes going on with the USPS that will affect all of us. The Post Office is about to close over half of their Sectional Center Facilities, thousands of retail locations, slow down mail by up to a day, and require a different barcode placed on the mail. I am on the board of my local Postal Customer Council (PCC) and Mail Systems Management Association (MSMA) and I am amazed how few companies show up to events that go over these changes.
Here are some of the best way to stay involved and informed about these changes and best practices in the mailing industry:
- Join your local PCC and MSMA Chapter – They are the best source for how these changes will impact your mail locally.
- Get Certified – There are some industry certifications that make sense in understanding all of these changes. The MSMA offers a Mail Design Consultant (MDC) and a more involved Certified Mail and Distribution Systems Manager (CMDSM) that may be worth looking into.
- Join Mail Groups on LinkedIn – Members can ask questions, give advice, as well post the most up to date media stories around mail. Some groups that I belong to and like are “Mailing Systems Technology” (It is really good – I am not just listing it because you are reading this periodical), “Mail Geeks”, “National Postal Forum” and “Document Handling and Mail Process Professionals”.
We are about to go through the most rapid postal changes any of us have experienced. This will require the best oversight and management to optimize operations. The key piece to managing best in class operations is not to try to do everything but to know what is available and choose what makes the most sense in your own operation.