Aug. 10 2006 02:31 PM

Managing a mail center is a little like herding snakes there's an awful lot going off in different directions. You're expected to be skilled in virtually every aspect of business operation postal rules and regulations, shipping and logistical handling, production techniques, budgeting and financial methods, purchasing rules, equipment operation, personnel procedures, supervisory skills, health and safety compliance, computer technology and planning skills.


Mail centers are about as diverse as you can get and still stay under the same industry umbrella. I have rarely found two remotely alike "one size fits all" just does not apply to the mail center.



For this article, I've polled a few of those who have earned the reputation as industry leaders based on their successes. When asked what it takes to manage a successful mail center, their answers are as diverse as the industry they represent.


Kerry Still, CMDSM, CMM, MQCS, is the mail technology manager for IPC Communication Services in Saint Joseph, Michigan. Kerry serves on the executive committee for the Southwest Michigan Postal Customer Council (PCC), is a member of the Periodicals Product Redesign workgroup and is regularly invited to speak on the topic of mail management.


Kerry's advice: It is natural for managers in charge of a mail center for the first time to feel a bit apprehensive. At first glance, the entire operation may appear unrelated to anything you have ever done. The employees use terms and jargon that are as unfamiliar to you as a foreign language. To make matters worse, you quickly find there is no true course of instruction for you to take that will get you up to speed in a hurry. It's enough to shake anyone's confidence.


Take heart, though. There is a simple direction that you can follow that will make introduction to this new world a lot smoother. You need to begin with the fact that your strengths are the management and leadership skills you have developed, not your knowledge of mail and distribution systems. Take care of the management basics first, and apply yourself to learning the technical part over time.


Begin by familiarizing yourself with the operation and those who make it run. Focus on learning about the intricacies of your mission and its inherent tasks. Get to know your team and the jobs it performs. Study your budget and any production records that may exist. Review equipment records and look at all available maintenance records.


As soon as you have an understanding of your organization, begin learning the technical portion. Make contact with other mail managers; you will be surprised at how many will step forward with information. Join the nearest PCC, and begin developing a network of resources. Attend the Mail Management Seminar conducted by Pitney Bowes. Study the Mailpiece Quality Control Specialist materials found on the U.S. Postal Service Web site. Dedicate yourself to learning something new every day.


Kay Ingle, CMDSM, has 20 years' experience in the mail and parcel business. For the past 10 years, she has been manager of Mail Services at the University of California-Berkeley. She is a member of the National Association of Colleges and University Mail Services (NACUMS) and currently administers Cunimail listserv (the national college/university Internet discussion board).


Kay's advice: Patience is the forgotten key to a successful operation. We have all been inundated with a multitude of management best practices over the years. To a new manager, it can be overwhelming. But for me, the way to create a successful mail center starts and ends with patience. Patience is the one thing that many people seem to overlook, yet it is a crucial tool in management a quality that can assure success for your mail center.


Constructive changes occur slowly. Having the patience to allow changes to happen is essential. Does this mean you sit back and do nothing? No, you still have to provide your staff members a safe working environment as well as the training, tools and knowledge to do their jobs. You also have to provide yourself with the training and knowledge to be a good manager, a plan to provide direction for your mail center and guidelines to measure how well your operation is doing. You need to implement communications systems and work standards and earn the trust and respect of your staff. Yet, all too often, we get caught up in the rush to make a name for ourselves or to improve the bottom line, and we try to push change rather than nurture it.


So in the day-to-day rush to make the changes for a successful work environment, remember to have patience.


Dale Walsh is a technology analyst with Atlanta, Georgia-based IKON Office Solutions, a leading provider of products and services that help businesses communicate. He has been in the outsourcing industry for 10 years. Dale is also the executive vice president of the Atlanta Chapter of the Mail Systems Management Association (MSMA).


Dale's advice: Don't try to reinvent the wheel. Any problems you may encounter, other managers have encountered and solved. Get to know other mail center managers in your area, especially those in similar types of business (i.e., insurance, banking, education, etc.). Trade organizations like the PCC and the MSMA are great for meeting and networking with other managers to find out what has worked for them.


Don't be afraid of technology. It wasn't too long ago that most mail centers did not even have a computer. Today, there are a tremendous number of devices and software that can automate processes, make your staff more efficient, increase accountability, safety and security and reduce costs. Seek out new technologies that will improve your operation.


Don't ever stop learning. Trade shows like MAILCOM and the National Postal Forum are great places to learn about the latest technology as well as operational best practices. If your schedule or budget does not allow you to go to one of the big national trade shows, check with your local PCC chapter about local or regional shows. At the very least, read. There are a number of publications, including this one, which are valuable sources of information for mail center managers. ·


Don't underutilize your resources. Vendors, such as equipment suppliers, presort houses and other service providers, can be a great source of ideas, information and training. Meet regularly with them to find out what is working for other mail centers and how they can help you improve yours. Use vendors to make your company perform better.


Jacquelyn McPeak, CMDSM, is the president of MailManagement Consulting, Inc., an organization that provides customized solutions for mail and distribution services and provides industry-specific educational programs designed to develop professional mail management skills.


Jackie's advise: Begin with the basics: integrity, a positive attitude and the skills to effectively manage an operation.


An effective manager should understand and assess each process within the operation. The manager should develop a measurement strategy that includes a standardized method of collecting and reporting critical operational data to enable meaningful comparisons of volume, productivity, performance and quality measurements. Accurate measurements take the guesswork out of staffing allocation.


Understand the importance of attracting and retaining qualified employees. Although motivation has developed into a multibillion-dollar business, more consideration should be given to removal of unmotivated employees. Replace the "feel good" philosophy with hiring good people, providing competitive salaries, letting your employees know what you expect and providing them with the training and tools needed for success.


Cross training and utilization is necessary to reduce staffing and meet performance standards during employee absenteeism. It also encourages employees to view the operation as a whole. Recognize exceptional performance by an individual or team. Finally, demonstrate integrity, incorporate basic principles of humanity, focus on exceptional and consistent customer service and always strive to anticipate changing conditions.


Mike Butts, manager of the Campus Mail Service at the University of Alabama, has presented at National Postal Forums and is on the NACUMS Board of Directors.


Mike's advice: Know your operation, employees and customers stay abreast of new technology, maintain a good relationship with vendors and provide good and old-fashioned customer service. These are the keys.


Understanding how everything and everyone works is crucial. Having started my career at entry level, it's easier to understand an employee's concern and introduce new ideas. Make the commitment to work along side your employees to gain a better understanding of what they do.


Your employees are your greatest assets. When they realize you care about and are interested in them as people, instead of as robots that come to work and perform their duties, they will respond. Knowing what motivates your employees is very important. Recognize an employee that goes beyond the call of duty.


Know your customers and allow your customers to know you. Visit them to make sure everything is going okay with service. When you talk to customers on the phone, take a moment to ask them if your operation is serving their needs and what can be done to enhance your service.


Staying abreast of technological advances and knowing what lies on the forefront will help you maintain a successful operation. Subscribing to industry publications such as Mailing Systems Technology, USPS publications such as Mailer's Companion and Memo To Mailers and numerous industry Web sites such as will assist you in staying informed of technological developments.


Maintaining a healthy relationship with vendors, carriers and the USPS will greatly aid you in running your operation. We interact with the various USPS units weekly and have had the USPS, UPS and Pitney Bowes visit our operation and give presentations to our customers. Knowing who to · call when you need assistance will definitely help you run a more successful mail operation.


Christopher A. Votos is the manager of Administrative Services for Compass Group North American Division at the Rye Brook, New York Regional Office and has held both field and corporate management positions.


Chris's advice: Managing a mail center is no different today than it was from the days of the Pony Express. Quick, reliable customer service is what "Corporate America" depends on. One must still go to any length to get the job done.


The main objective of any mail center manager is to stay focused and remain informed. In this rapidly changing world, there has never been a greater time to utilize the technical and educational resources that are at our disposal.  Attending seminars such as the Pitney Bowes Mail & Advanced Mail Management seminars is extremely valuable.


Always try to stay one step ahead of the competition and two steps ahead of the customer. If you anticipate what the customer's needs are, you can provide a viable solution. Customer service is being able to give customers more than they anticipate by listening completely to their requests, keeping an open mind, being assertive and offering suggestions when communicating.


Prioritize and review performance results. Empower your employees by asking for their input and listening to their responses. It is an essential step in measuring productivity and employee morale. Be sure you have adequate equipment to handle your operation.


June Bryan is acting chief of Mail and Reproduction Management Division, Office of Operations at USDA. She serves as the departmental mail manager and has responsibility for the development and coordination of departmental mail policy nationwide. She has received numerous awards for her efforts in the official mail program including the USPS' Industry Excellence Award for the Federal Government. She was instrumental in developing and co-authoring a report, which will serve as a model for use by federal agencies.


June's advice: The key to our success over the years has been establishing communications with our customers, co-workers, upper management and other federal agency mail managers.


Our quarterly survey entitled "How Are We Doing?" provides customers the opportunity to rate and comment on mail delivery services. The results can be used to determine which delivery units rate high and are deserving of recognition as well as those units that may require management's additional attention.


We have developed a training program entitled "$ensible Mailing Tips," which we presented to groups of our customers responsible for preparing the mail. This provided them with information on the importance of properly preparing and addressing mail to expedite delivery and on keeping the mail center informed of changes such as the addition of new employees, office moves, etc. The major points in this training session are reinforced with our Mailers Memo, sent to all users to keep them informed of any changes.


Communication among staff and support from upper management is extremely important. Supervisors should meet weekly to discuss their workload and personnel issues. Additionally, upper management's support understanding the operation, sensitivity to challenges, recognition and providing funding for training and networking opportunities is critical to our success.


 The bottom line is that communication at all levels is the key to a successful mail center.


Ed Talley is manager of Mail Services at Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. His career spans over 26 years. He is a cofounder and Board Member of NACUMS and the Association of Rocky Mountain College and University Mail Services (ARMCUMS), a member of MSMA and the Alliance of Non-Profit Mailers and industry co-chair of the Flagstaff PCC.


Ed's advice: Be decisive take charge. Instead of waiting for permission, move ahead. Calculate the risks versus the reward. If the reward exceeds the risk, go for it.


Remember, your employees are your greatest asset. Invest in them train them, coach them and reward them.


It is essential that customers know how and why we operate the way we do. Create a Web page with a guide listing mailpiece design limit, preparation rules, prices, etc. Provide orientation, training classes, open house visits, surveys and newsletters so customers know what's expected of them.


You must know what your operation does and what it is capable of doing. Benchmarking establishes standards you can use to compare your operation to similar centers. It identifies "best practice" standards you need to learn from, and it establishes the basis of monitoring your operations productivity.


Become part of your industry. Join your local PCC. If there isn't one, create one. Join national and regional professional associations such as the MSMA, MFSA, IPMA, DMA, PostCom, Alliance of Nonprofits or NACUMS. Attend mail industry events and get to know your peers.


The bottom line is to provide excellent service to every customer, every time.


In Conclusion

Certain themes employee care, customer service, staying abreast of technology and knowing your operational capabilities are common among successful mail center operations, although the methods of achievement vary from manager to manager and operation to operation. But pride and caring are universal winning managers are that way because they expend the effort and take the time to excel.