Aug. 13 2007 08:48 AM

If you manage a mail center, you know how important your operation is to the success of your organization. Unlike any other functional area of business, a mailing operation is the one place where everything comes together: strategy, marketing, sales, customer service and information technology all combine in the form of the documents that we're charged with creating and distributing to customers.


As the person in charge, your knowledge and experience are extremely important in making sure that this lifeblood of the organization flows without interruption and ensures a healthy and profitable result. But as any mailing veteran can testify, it is difficult to get upper management to recognize this importance. Despite your vital role, mailing operations are often treated as a liability, not an asset. Resources are continually stretched, staffing is consistently trimmed and funding for new equipment is commonly cut from annual budgets.


Do you feel as if your contributions and knowledge are not utilized to the fullest extent by your company? Is your department regarded as little more than an afterthought? Are you limited with the resources needed to make improvements in your process? If the answer is "Yes!" then the time has come to make a change.


Rate Case Drives Opportunity

The recent USPS rate case is the most radical change since ZIP Codes were introduced in 1963. The good news is that the rate adjustments, along with other USPS changes, present a highly visible opportunity for mail center managers to make a meaningful contribution to your company's financial bottom line. In addition, the visibility and publicity presents a fantastic opportunity to get your operations some of the respect and consideration it deserves.


The knowledge as well as experience mail center managers possess can have tremendous value in terms of mitigating the impact of the rate hike and positioning operations to not only survive but also take advantage of changes in postal regulations. By understanding the impacts and taking appropriate steps, you may indeed become heroes of the company! But those that are not prepared will certainly find themselves in the uncomfortable position of explaining the unmitigated cost increases.


Start Taking Action

Our industry will continue to experience radical changes in the next few years color printing, database marketing technologies and personalized customer messaging are just a few aspects to consider. The most pressing challenges on the horizon, however, involve the USPS. There are several things that mail center operations can do to minimize the effects of the postal rate increase and improve shop productivity. Here are just a few:


  •            Understand the impacts of shape-based pricing. The rate increase has changed how parcels and flats are handled, taking not only the weight of a piece into consideration but the shape as well. The cost for a piece that is currently being sent as a parcel will likely be higher than a flat of the same weight. To mitigate the increased expense, consider moving parcels into flats and flats to letters, wherever possible.


  •            Understand delivery point validation (DPV). While the bulk of industry attention has been on the recent rate hike, do not overlook the move to delivery point validation slated for August. The DPV database is essentially a "yes/no" table for checking the validity of your addresses. The USPS will require that you run your addresses through validation software in order to qualify for automation-rate discounts. Fail to do so, and it will cost you.


  •            Understand the advantages of USPS "OneCode." This "Intelligent Mail" barcode, formerly referred to as the 4-State barcode, is a new USPS code used to sort and track mailpieces. The Postal Service offers significantly discounted address correction rates via OneCode because it is all done electronically. Look to leverage OneCode and cut costs.


    Make a Proactive Plan

    Once you understand what these changes mean to your business, you need to get the attention of executives in your company. The danger in not being proactive is that you will be in a position of, once again, having to perform miracles with the material that shows up in your shop. You have probably experienced similar scenarios in the past; postage goes up and instead of approving changes to make your operation more effective or efficient, you are told to cut staff, trim expense or delay acquisition of needed upgrades. By devising a proactive plan, you can control the outcome a little bit better.


    Question current practices. The most dangerous comment in the mailing business may be: "This is the way we've always done it." For example, one company I consulted with created documents that used pre-printed legal-size stock and 6x9 envelopes. Because of the bulk, they weighed over two ounces and therefore required higher postage. The company created other pieces that served exactly the same purpose but used standard 8.5 x 11 paper and number 10 envelopes. The cost was half that of the legal-size documents. By switching to the smaller format, production throughput was improved, inventory cost was reduced and the postage expense was cut significantly.
    If you see a situation that could be improved, question the validity of "the way we've always done it."


    Conduct an open house. One effective way to raise the profile of your operation is to conduct an open house. Invite people from all over the company to come and learn about how documents get printed and mailed. Serve snacks, have operators lead tours and post informational signs around the equipment explaining what each one does. Provide contact information and approach the event as if you were holding an in-house trade show. Not only does this improve the communication between your department and your users, it also does wonders for the morale of your staff. They are proud of what they do, and by showing them off, they know that you are proud of them, too.


    Start an outreach program. Another valuable activity is an outreach program where you reach out to the heads of various departments and key customer areas. Include divisions such as marketing, accounting and customer service. Request time on the agenda of an upcoming departmental meeting and be prepared with a presentation and handouts. Include pictures of equipment and people, video clips, a workflow description and samples of mailpiece design. Educate folks about postal rates, mail discounts and other factors at work that affect their departments. Open the doors for further communication.


    Opportunity or Peril?

    Because of the publicity of the USPS rate case, this is an especially opportune time to get the attention of others in your organization. As you know, the case involves much more than just higher postage rates. In order to avoid significant increases in operating costs, some companies will face major procedural, workflow or document redesign. Without your help, opportunities to reduce the impact and improve the effectiveness of your operations will be missed. I encourage mailing center managers to do their research, prepare their pitches and get the word out.


    Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements and lower costs in their document operations. For more information, visit or email




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