One thing I learned working with large corporations is the official mail center wasn’t the only mail-generation place in the company. I sometimes stumbled over rogue postal operations hidden away in storerooms and the back corners of departments. Departmental budgets never itemized the expenses for these shadowy postal operations, so most department heads were unaware of the cost. In most cases, the small document and mailing facilities had existed for years with practically no oversight.

    I uncovered administrative assistants buying stamps and depositing mail in blue boxes down the street. On other occasions, employees used tabletop postage meters leased to departments to apply full-rate postage to occasional letters and flats. Sometimes employees made special trips to a local post office to enter mail into the postal system.

    Unnecessarily high postage costs and employee time to handle the mail made these departmental mailing operations dubious investments. Rental fees and the cost of money stored on the hidden mailing machines as pre-paid postage made the actual cost of low volume mailings exceedingly high.

    Mailing projects placed in the hands of non-professionals can lead to interesting solutions. I ran across several cases where departmental administrative assistants printed two or three personalized pages on different paper stock, sometimes on different printers. Then they printed labels, requiring them to do a complex manual match to assemble the mail pieces. Simple design changes would have eliminated this laborious and error-prone process, but employees lacked the necessary knowledge and resources.

    Office workers tend to use whatever equipment is convenient. They may send ill-fitting page volumes to devices like desktop printers. Large print jobs commonly run overnight to avoid monopolizing a printer during work days. Unfortunately, unmonitored devices can be subject to degrading print quality, empty ink and toner cartridges, or jams. Employees would arrive at work the next morning to discover unsatisfactory results, with no other option but rerunning the jobs.

    Ironically, one organization hired a managed services company to run their print center. Because the company normally produced less than their contracted page count minimum, transferring jobs from departments to the centralized print center would have cost the company nothing!

    Once while investigating branch office complaints of late and missing incoming mail, I found design-it-yourself business reply envelopes (BREs). Unaware of pre-printed intelligent mail barcodes and ZIP+4 functionality for business reply, someone at the branch copied elements from the BRE of a local insurance agency. A quick printer created the envelopes using the branch-supplied artwork. Unless the local post office employees intercepted them, the USPS delivered BREs meant for the branch office to the neighborhood insurance company! Eventually, most of the mail made its way back to the intended destination, but delays caused by flawed envelope design affected customer service and productivity.

    Alternative mail operations spring up for a variety of reasons:

    • Company employees don’t know about the services supplied by corporate print and mail centers
    • Mistrust of the centralized facility (possibly stemming from past experiences)
    • Belief that mail with full rate postage reaches its destination faster than envelopes bearing discounted postage
    • Employee ignorance of document center job submission processes
    • Fear of departmental charge-backs from the print/mail center, or belief that departments can do the work “for free”
    • Desire to handle projects within the department
    • Perception of long document center lead times
    • Embarrassment from lack of mailing process knowledge
    I found aggressive outreach efforts can bring mailing jobs scattered about the enterprise back into the centralized print and mail center. In-house document professionals can re-engineer documents for efficiency and accuracy while simultaneously lowering production and postage costs. Making yourself an approachable expert resource while proving your worth and reliability can work wonders.

    Many employees may not realize that the mail center sends all the corporate mail to a presort vendor at the end of every day, saving postage on every piece. Or they may be unaware that presorted mail receives the same level of service from the USPS as those envelopes with single piece postage. It may never have occurred to admins that changing the format of a document can allow them to use window envelopes and eliminate manually affixed labels, or that mechanical folding and inserting machines in the document center can save the admins hours of work every week.

    If you suspect corporate employees may be handling their own print and mail jobs (or, worse, sending them to local print shops), I recommend composing a short presentation you can give at departmental meetings. Come equipped with cost-saving and timesaving examples, show videos of your equipment at work, answer questions, and ask to see samples of documents they are producing on their own. Explain how charge-backs work. Invite admins to come and visit. Walk them through the job submission process.

    Once I reached out to internal department heads, volumes in the corporate print and mail center increased. Document center employees and equipment utilization rose and the quality of outbound communications improved. Administrative assistants were relieved of mundane clerical tasks and could dedicate more time to supporting their departments. If you haven’t gone searching for clandestine mail operations within your own organizations, maybe you should!

    Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that evaluates document operations workflows and helps clients make and implement strategic improvement decisions. For more ideas about how to prepare your organization for the future, connect with Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.comor follow @PMCmike on Twitter.