Customer messaging is a demanding as well as a dynamic business. Mail center managers face the daily challenge of managing staff and resources, assuring the integrity and effectiveness of hundreds or even thousands of individualized customer messages and staying abreast of innovations that are rapidly changing the face of customer messaging.
Given these conditions, it's no surprise that the task of building a strong relationship with the United States Postal Service may be a secondary priority in many print/mail finishing shops. That's unfortunate because the relationship between mail center managers and the USPS should be mutually beneficial.
Today, thanks to several new outreach initiatives, it is easier than ever to interact with the Postal Service. If you want to work more effectively with the USPS, here are some tips that can help you uncover, understand and better utilize the postal assets at your fingertips.
Vibrant and Vital
First, recognize that the USPS is a huge organization. Approximately 725,000 employees collect, process and deliver mail for nearly 300 million residential customers at more than 140 million address locations, six days a week. The USPS is evolving and improving as well. The Postal Service now delivers 22 billion additional pieces of mail to 12 million more addresses than it did in 1995 all with the same number of employees. It is vital to the well-being of the nation, and since the job of Postmaster General is equivalent to a Cabinet-level position in the White House, it has the attention of Congress and the President of the
A Military Tradition
Given its huge size, it is no wonder that the USPS is organized along lines that are similar to a military hierarchy. Strong lines of authority and clear channels of communications are essential to assuring that an organization of such size can function effectively. Additionally, many of the C-Level Suite and other senior executives are lifetime USPS employees who have progressed through and strongly support a culture of public service.
It may be confusing for the inexperienced to attempt to locate a specific resource in such a large organization. But the information you need or person you want to talk with does exist. And just as sergeants, lieutenants and captains have clear authority over distinct aspects of an army's daily routine, personnel in the USPS have similar authority to respond to your needs, plus a clear line to superiors who can interpret policies or resolve questions.
Evolving and Adapting
The USPS is also rapidly becoming more customer service oriented. For example, Post Offices now resemble retail stores in the way they display material and solicit point-of-purchase sales. Stamps can be purchased at more than 40,000 retail locations, including drug stores, supermarkets and ATMs. Plus, a new concept the Automated Postal Center now gives business users 24/7 access to the new IBI-compliant metering resources. And thanks to advances in technology, the tasks of inspecting or replenishing meters can be handled via phone and modem. ·
The USPS is also more open and receptive to the views of others. When the USPS recently launched a diversity effort to attract more business from the African American, Asian and Hispanic communities, it did not work in isolation; it solicited help from its partners. Pitney Bowes supported the effort with research and editorial materials, such as feature articles. And when the USPS hired a chief privacy officer, we met to discuss possible rules and regulations to help formulate a policy that was in the best interests of customers.
Service and Oversight
However, you must also remember that the USPS performs a dual function. It is both a service provider and a service regulator. Of course, it collects and delivers the mail. But it also has police authority to locate and investigate instances of fraud and abuse, and it regulates partners, vendors and customers to assure compliance.
The USPS regulation effort largely centers on three areas: 1) essential equipment and technology, such as postage meters and PC postage, and the approval to introduce new or upgraded technologies; 2) requirements to bolster address quality and deliverability, such as CASS, FASTForward and CONFIRM, which are essentially software-driven; and 3) everyday policies and processes or what mailers are permitted to do with certain kinds of mail and the new technologies.
The USPS must perform as both a service provider and a service regulator. Mail center managers need to understand and appreciate the distinction between these two different yet parallel activities to avoid unnecessary confusion or delays.
Ask the USPS for Help
Regardless of your need, you are not alone. The USPS has been around for more than 200 years. There's a good chance that many other people have faced, or are currently facing, similar questions or issues, whether they are geographic or industry-specific.
A good place to begin relationship-building is with your local Postal Customer Council. PCCs are located in most metropolitan areas around the nation. This is an especially good time to get involved. The USPS has embarked on a major effort to re-energize the PCC program, so your interest will be especially well-received. You can locate the nearest PCC by asking your local Postmaster or by visiting the USPS Web site: www.usps.com/nationalpcc.
Many USPS Sectional Facilities and several of the larger, updated postal facilities also employ personnel assigned to the Business Services network. These district-level employees are extremely knowledgeable about the intricacies of business mail, and their jobs are to support the business mailer.
You should get to know your district manager and your business service network specialist. A simple phone call to the USPS Sectional Center or bulk mail entry unit could put you in touch with the customer service and sales personnel assigned to your area. And, of course, you'll want to get to know the appropriate rate and classification specialist, because they'll give the "yea or nay" to mailing applications, especially the various envelope or package designs.
Don't think you are too small for the USPS. That may have been true at one time when the USPS was more heavily focused on servicing the nation's giant mailers. But no more.
Talk with Peers
Next, be sure to get involved in the organizations that share your interests and concerns. There are several from which to choose. Depending on your specific priorities, you'll want to consider joining organizations such as the Alliance of Non-Profit Mailers, PostCom, the Mailer's Council, the Parcel Shippers Association, the Association of Priority Mail Users, MTAC (the Mailing Technical Advisory Committee) or the Mailing and Fulfillment Service Association. These organ-izations are all helpful and active and can help you catch the pulse of the industry from a variety of perspectives.
There are also several useful publications and Web sites that you can consult. Mailing Systems Technology and DOCUMENT magazines in particular are very helpful and specialize in reporting on new technology and emerging trends. You can also find useful information at the annual National Postal Forum and MailCom shows.
Several newsletters and Web sites are also available. Be sure to visit the USPS Web site for information on ZIP Codes, postal rates, Federal Register announcements, meter migration initiatives and other news. Also helpful are PostInsight.com and the Triangle Mail and Express News.
Don't forget about your vendors' sales and service representatives. Most see many customers with similar concerns and can offer valuable insights and contacts. Indeed, we routinely survey our sales and customer service personnel about the emerging needs of customers both large and small so we can develop new products and services or bring key issues to the attention of the USPS.
You can also contact the Postal Regulations department of Pitney Bowes. Some of the largest mailers, even those with postal relations managers, occasionally call for assistance. They know that one person just can't keep track of everything the USPS has to offer. (In fact, I have three full time associates helping me: a director of Regulatory Affairs, a director of Systems Integration and a director of Parcels.)
Give and Take
Lastly, any relationship that is worthwhile is built on trust, respect and the full understanding of mutual objectives. You won't be successful if you are perceived as just a taker. If you join an organization, be prepared to contribute. For example, you can volunteer for a committee or a board assignment. You can also be a supportive member by hosting or helping to coordinate meetings, speakers or other activities.
Similarly, if a USPS representative is particularly helpful, remember to express gratitude. All too often, excellent work goes unrecognized in the public sector. It wouldn't hurt to let the USPS know when it's been helpful. You'll get even more assistance the next time.
John Campo, a 20-year industry veteran, has served as vice president for Postal Relations for Pitney Bowes for the past five years. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit usps.com.