Editor's Note: Information for this article came from a survey of 25 colleges and universities in the
Mailers are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on postage to get their customer communications into the postal mail stream. This survey showed that nearly one quarter of institutions of higher learning spent more than $500,000 annually on postage (See Figure 1). In this survey, the mail center managers were asked to explain how they handle getting their customer communications into the mail stream efficiently and at the lowest cost.
Campus mail center visibility varied greatly. Some mail center facilities were located in student center buildings with high visibility and direct access to faculty, administration and students one mail services window store front resembled a post office in appearance and services provided. In direct contrast, others are in the basement hidden away for no one to see. (Mailing associations and publications are leading the charge to push mail centers upstairs, up front, in full view, as they provide professional services to campus communities). Evidence of this "up front" trend is a growing number of campuses using Web sites to detail information on campus support services provided.
Technology varied based upon the services provided, and offerings ran the gamut. For those providing the full compliment of services, there was technology for address hygiene, carrier rate comparisons, automated tracking and accountability of incoming overnight packages, folding and inserting systems, automated address printing and presort programs and automated chargeback programs. The only real common thread for all surveyed campuses was a postage meter and electronic scale with accurate, up-to-date postal rate information.
Overnight service providers were chosen for a variety of reasons. Some preferred daily pickup service regardless of whether there was a package others opted for personalized departmental account numbers on the waybill provided by the carrier. Most chose on the basis of their comfort and confidence in the carrier.
This study turned up an interesting variety of methods used to accomplish similar goals. The culture on each campus was as unique as a fingerprint and matched the specific needs of its end user. So, what are a few of the methods higher education (and most all mail centers) are using to lower their postage costs?
Use Standard Mail vs. First-Class
In this survey, each campus has multiple departments generating high volumes of mail. Admissions, athletic, alumni, graduate and continuing education generate the most volume. All departments are critical to the future health and growth of the campus. These mailings match the student cycle.
As for most businesses, the mailing requirements for each campus are unique and very diverse. For example: community colleges have a heavy emphasis on continuing education. This focus forces them to reach out to the entire community they serve. A community-wide course catalog mailing can reach up to 200,000 households. This would be very expensive at the USPS First-Class rate. However, after careful consideration about the needs of these types of mailings and realizing the workshare discounts, considerable cost savings were available by applying and qualifying for Standard or Standard non-profit rates. Cost savings can reach a staggering 82% for non-profit rate qualifiers. This tremendous cost savings is difficult to ignore and can be applied to many additional types of customer communications.
Managing Your Internal Customers
Be proactive in your discussions with users. Postal compliance is very difficult to achieve if the outbound customer communication comes to your mail center out of compliance. Remember, the worksharing discounts come with rules about how the mail is presented. The goal is to reduce managing by reaction, and be proactive in compliant mail preparation. Most begin by educating the high-volume users.
The most common basic topics: address format, location of the address block, contents of the address, two-letter state abbreviations, use of common abbreviations, elimination of punctuation and ZIP+4.
Once you have gained compliance on the basics, proceed to "advanced mail preparation." This is the time to review the address lists, envelopes and enclosures. Ongoing list maintenance will prevent costly ramifications in the future. Various list cleansing technologies are available on-site and off-site. Before deciding which overall technology to implement, all user lists should be reviewed and impact evaluated.
Look at the envelopes and enclosures as to what the proper sizes, types and thicknesses need to be. When should you use the barcodes in the address block? Other factors to consider include required speed of delivery, i.e. Standard mail vs. First-Class. Overnight deliveries are very costly, but sometimes necessary.
Track the Costs
When postage is applied through the mail center, it's important to keep track of expenditures. Use the technology tools available to capture and track expenditures. On a regular interval, a report is generated that can be used to charge back to various departments. Be sure this is shared with the administrators of these departments with emphasis on the fiscal impact of whatever mailing method is used. This awareness will help drive home the message of determining the best handling and delivery method. Eighty percent of the campuses surveyed charged back to the departments.
Show Me the Savings
Express When using express package carriers, weigh the options carefully. Try to drive your message to the next lower delivery cost level. A multi-page letter weighing 5.1 ounces can be sent a number of ways depending on expected delivery time. Additional charges, such as fuel surcharge, residential and Saturday delivery, etc. vary by carrier.
The question to ask is, "Does this need to be delivered by 8:30 AM tomorrow or will 10:30 AM be sufficient?" This represents up to 67% in cost savings. Take it a step further. "Is a 3:00 PM delivery acceptable?" This represents up to an additional 14% cost savings.
Lighter and Smaller A First-Class letter weighing 1.1 ounces going into a #10 envelope: reduce paper basis weight from 24-pound to 20-pound, duplex printing instead of simplex printing, reduce font size from 14- to 12-point font. Each will reduce the contents in the envelope, bringing the weight down, possibly reducing the postage cost.
Consolidate multiple messages to the student population into one envelope. Or better yet, deliver the messages electronically. Ask yourself, "Can I alter the message format to gain cost savings without losing the impact of the message?"
A good example: Admissions responds to each prospective student, letting him or her know that the application was received, the next point of engagement and if anything
was missing from the application. If your message is currently communicated on an 81/2 x 11 sheet folded and stuffed into a #10 envelope with a label and posted for 39., change the process. Communicate your message on a postcard for 24.. In addition to savings in postage, you eliminate the cost of raw materials (envelopes and letter stock) and eliminate the cost of labor to fold and stuff the envelopes.
There are both immediate and longer term opportunities available to lower postage costs. Streamlining processes will result in handling, postage and material cost savings. This requires research, education and due diligence on part of the mail center.
Steve Pope is Vice President of SEKO Group in