Since 1775, the U.S. Postal Service has connected friends, families and businesses by mail. It is an independent federal agency that services seven and a half million customers each day at its 37,000 retail locations nationwide. And it is the only service provider delivering to every address in the nation. Statistics show that the USPS delivers more than 46% of the world's mail volume that amounts to some 206 billion letters, advertisements, periodicals and packages a year. And if you are reading this, some of that mail is more than likely coming from your company. Since mail is an integral part of your business, developing a good relationship with the USPS is one sure way to keep your mailing operation and your business running smoothly.
What are the steps you need to take to ensure a smooth experience with this very important partner in your business? As with any relationship, one of the first steps is to recognize and see each other as true partners. I have worked hard over the years to be a good partner to the Postal Service. Why? It is important to my business and to the business of my clients because the USPS offers a variety of products and services to optimize the speed of our mail. In turn, I know that our company is also valuable to the USPS, since it is an operation that derives its operating revenues solely from the sale of postage, products and services not taxpayer dollars. That's postage, products and services sold to my company, and to yours. But there needs to be more between your business and the USPS than just acknowledging the exchange of services. To develop a mutually beneficial relationship, both parties need to be able to communicate, to share and listen. In truth, it requires developing a real friendship. Believe it or not, you can make friends with the USPS and here are four solid ways to make it happen:
1. Get involved locally. Join a local Postal Customer Council and get on a committee. The Postal Customer Council (PCC) was established in 1961 to improve communications between USPS customers and managers. The organization has grown increasingly more important since the 1970s, when business mailing issues became its primary focus.
Today, there are more than 200 local Postal Customer Councils with approximately 120,000 members across the nation. Regular meetings, educational programs, mailer clinics and seminars keep members abreast of the latest Postal Service developments. Members also work closely with local post office locations to make mail service more efficient, resulting in improved delivery and greater customer satisfaction. Member benefits include networking with the local postmaster, managers, vendors and other industry professionals to exchange best practices and discuss strategies for solving problems and issues. Members also learn new methods and processes for a more productive mailing operation and subsequently find new ways to make your business more profitable.
Other associations that are beneficial to join are the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), the largest trade association for businesses interested in direct, database and interactive global marketing, and the Mailing and Fulfillment Service Association (MFSA), the national trade association for the mailing and fulfillment services industry. Both have local chapters and offer great networking and educational opportunities as well as information on current postal issues.
2. Participate nationally. Try to attend the National Postal Forum (NPF) if you can. Held annually, it is billed as "the premier educational event/experience and tradeshow available to mail professionals today" and it truly is. It is four days full of exciting workshops, symposiums, exhibits, guest speakers and networking opportunities. Attending the NPF will give you a complete education when it comes to the business of mail. Here, you can meet Postmaster General Jack Potter and others who are integral to shaping the policies of the USPS. And everyone at this event is very approachable. In fact, if you introduce yourself to Postmaster General Potter, he will most likely thank you for your business. That is the kind of culture he fosters, and it ripples down. If you are a smaller mailer and find the registration fee for the NPF a little steep, you don't have to worry about missing out on important information. After the forum, your PCC will offer what they call "Workshops in a Box," which allow you to get important issues covered at a local level.
3. Diligently follow the rules and regulations. This is very important. If you follow the rules and regulations set by the USPS being careful to meet all standards your mail (in our case, our clients' mail) gets delivered faster. The USPS can be a better partner to you and can help save your company (and your clients) money and time. Additionally, take the time to learn about all the mailing options available. There are options that not only save you money on postage, but also offer new technologies for more efficient or creative mail processing, which will result in better efficiencies in your business. Being aware of the rules, regulations and technologies available can make your business more profitable, and your relationship with the USPS stronger. I may sound a bit like my dear mother, but she was on the mark: It is just as easy to do it right. Don't be sloppy. In any relationship, if we aren't doing something right, we lose and won't be thought of as a trusted partner. The same goes for this one. Because of my respect for the USPS and my diligence at following standards, I have been asked to express my views and opinions at many industry functions, including a USPS Board of Governors meeting, on current issues that affect my clients and our business. I have also been invited to join several postal trade associations and to get involved with their committees. The same opportunities are available to you.
4. Be a frequent visitor to www.usps.com. This Web site has a wealth of information that can be of value to your business. It offers free informative newsletters, including Memo to Mailers and Mailer's Companion, with great tips and current news to which any mailer can subscribe. Smaller mailers can learn new technologies that are available and obtain a larger vision of what is happening in the world of high-volume mail. You can even be a part of a larger purpose by knowing about beta testing the USPS is planning and more. This site is so full of great material it is well worth frequent visits.
Working with the Postal Service to create a trusted partnership is well worth your time. The four steps cited are a good beginning, but as you get more involved, you will find opportunities of your own. Getting involved will provide information to help you become more knowledgeable about the USPS and its challenges and will keep you in touch with new innovations that may be good for your business. When you work on their team, understand their rules and regulations and get involved, everyone wins you, your company and most importantly, your customers.
Harry Stephens is the President and CEO of DATAMATX, one of the nation's largest privately held, full-service providers of printed and electronic billing solutions. For information about DATAMATX, visit www.datamax.com or call 800-943-5240.