Companies today are involved in handling large volumes of mail, and the more informed the employees are, the more successful a company will be in getting good results with its mail. A Mail Services Guide is a "roadmap" to help employees who are sending something on a "mail journey" to be sure that piece will reach its destination at the best possible rate, in the best possible time.

So you ask, "Why do I need a Mail Services Guide?" It is a written source document that will educate the internal customers in a basic approach, and it will help control your workload and make your job easier and more efficient. It is also a document that will enable someone to take over a job if an employee is out of work unexpectedly. After all, if you hit the lottery today, would you be showing up for work tomorrow? Would someone have documentation to step in and do your job for you? Probably not, so we need to be prepared for circumstances such as that.

Let's look at what you want to include in your Mail Services Guide:

  • First, give general information about your mail center hours of operation, pickup times, etc.

  • Talk about internal mail. How is it handled? Do you use mail codes, building codes, or is there a special address format? When is it delivered?

  • Talk about U.S. Postal Service mail. What times do you accept it? Do you accept personal mail? What about Express Mail or Priority Mail? Do they need to have a special code on the labels?

  • Give information on alternative delivery services such as UPS, FedEx, Airborne or DHL. How are they used? If a package is shipped, how should it be presented to the mail center?

  • List any special services available from your mail shop such as printing, stuffing, sealing, etc.

    You will also want to include some general information in your guide. Give out a staff roster along with job descriptions. Show who should be contacted for each of the services you offer. Here is also where you would want to list your schedule of deliveries and pickups for all types of mail.

    More and more, automated processes are being put into place for letters, flats and parcels both in processing plants and mail centers. What works best in an automated environment? Standardization! So, for maximum efficiency and the greatest work share discounts, encourage proper format and design.

    Including a list of the approved two-letter state abbreviations is a good idea. You may know them by heart, but you'd be surprised at how many people don't. Also, we suggest you show examples of the proper format for addressing when PO Box is included as part of the address (the Postal Service delivers to the line immediately above the city, state and ZIP Code). Dual addressing is acceptable; street address should be the line above the PO Box address. For mail addressed to foreign countries the country name should always be spelled out completely. Does Ontario CA mean Ontario, Canada or Ontario, California?

    Your mail Services guide should also include a template showing barcode clear zones, proper margins for the address block and proper location for a return address. Providing descriptions and service commitments for each class of mail can be helpful to a user. In addition, you may also want to include a description of ancillary endorsements what they will give you and how much they will cost. Many companies print them on the mailpiece with no understanding of how costly they can be!

    It's also wise to include in your Mail Service Guide a section on hazardous material. The Postal Service has a reference guide (Publi-cation 52) which outlines what is considered hazardous or restricted material.

    Make sure each employee knows the critical importance of knowing what is in packages that are going out. Remember, they do not work with mail on a daily basis, and are not privy to the information you have. For instance, if the box contains matches, it will need to be labeled differently than if it contains lighters. There should be people within your mail center, or at least within your company, who are up to date on hazardous material information. Rely on them to be sure the package goes out correctly.

    Some of your internal customers may have a need for Special Services. Examples of Special Services would be Certified Mail, Registered Mail, Return Receipts or Delivery Confirmation. By providing a list of what Special Services are available, what they provide and how much they cost, you can help them make choices that best suit their needs.

    Your Mail Service Guide should also include information about Reply Mail. Be sure to provide definitions of Business Reply, Metered Reply and Courtesy Reply mail as response mechanisms. Explain how Business Reply is handled in your company. Most importantly, establish a policy that all BRM must be approved by you before printing. Your expertise together with the input from the Postal Service Mailpiece Design Analyst can help your company take advantage of the best rate possible.

    The easiest way to start your Mail Services Guide is to either use a copy of one from another company that covers your services, and cut and paste to put your own information into the pages. Another way is to use a sample from a vendor and start with an outline, then work from that to fill in the data. Reference material can also be found at

    Regardless of how you create your guide, again, be sure you cover the crucial areas: your mail center information, what services are available, a list of employees and who to contact for which services. Give them a brief course in "Postal Addressing 101," and tell them about alternative shipping services. Once your guide is complete, make it available to all company employees, whether in paperback or online within your company. When the costs decrease, and your job runs more efficiently, upper management is certain to notice and that is a good thing!

    Mary Streb is the manager of Business Customer Relations with the U.S. Postal Service. Joyce Bagby is the Postal Logistics Manager with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. For more information, please visit the U.S. Postal Service on the Web at

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