Sept. 3 2008 10:17 AM

I discovered that I use the word "actually" a lot when I speak. I taught an English class for non-native English speakers and the students asked me one day what "actually" means. I asked them where they had heard the word and they told me that I say it a lot. "It means 'in fact,'" I said, "and, actually, neither one are really necessary in a sentence."


It's a verbal tic, really. Something I add to my dialogue without even thinking about it. We hear this in conversations all the time, words such as "like" and "you know," which don't add meaning or substance. Americans pepper their conversations with all sorts of added words and colloquialisms things we wouldn't necessarily write in an essay or even in an email. But conversation is much different from the written word, which is yet another reason English is such a difficult language to learn.


In the mailing industry, we speak a unique language as well, one built around acronyms and technical terms that we toss around at meetings, and too bad for the poor sap who is sitting in his or her very first gathering. It sort of feels like you get in the club once you've mastered the language. But if we get too clubby, we don't open the door to a wider community. Imagine if you were new to the industry and your boss told you to get out there and figure out how to mail smarter, or more efficiently, or just mail more. Isn't this just the type of customer the Postal Service is looking for? Isn't this where revenue-generation opportunities exist?


So, your boss sends you to an industry meeting and you hear something like this: "Over the years, we've incented mailers to dropship to the DDU. Of course, that means you're bypassing the BMCs where we have all those SPBS (pronounced 'spibs') being underutilized. So the TDSN concept will help us improve efficiency and we can use that space for phase two of FSS." Huh?


You're sitting there wondering if "incent" is even a word, nevermind the four or five acronyms that came after it. You're not even sure if we are talking about a machine, a person or a concept. The complexity of the postal system lends itself to acronyms and technical terms. But still, what do you bring back to your boss, who is clearly looking for some "action items" around mailing better or smarter? Where do you turn to get answers?


You know where many mailers turn? To their vendors. Consolidators, mail service providers and software companies are a primary sales and communications vehicle with USPS customers. Many end-users call these suppliers when they have mailing questions or concerns. And so suppliers have to be on top of every single postal issue. I would argue the Postal Service needs to view its partners in a new light. Despite the fact that postage costs make up a huge part of many mail-using companies' budgets, these companies don't see themselves as "in the mail business." They often leave postal and mailing issues to their suppliers. The USPS has to view its relationship with these mail-related service companies differently. It should find ways to capitalize on the depth of experience and reach these "customers" bring to the marketplace.


The Postal Service must keep its partners abreast of plans, actions or coming changes to postal operations and requirements. Communications have to be open and frank, and we can't fall into the old patterns of hoarding information or withholding items until a big media event occurs.


While the Postal Service has made tremendous progress in the past few years in enhancing its communications, it still sometimes treats suppliers as secondary to "postage payers." I find it a curious statement for postal officials to say they want to hear from "mailers" on a topic and not suppliers. These suppliers are speaking for their customers, the ones who leave it to them to handle all their postal needs. The suppliers aren't going up to headquarters and making things up. They are telling the USPS what their customers their joint customers need to stay in the mail and how they (as suppliers) are going to provide it in the most efficient way possible.


Communication is at the heart of our industry.It is the business we are in. Yet we don't
always do a good job of communicating with each other. It's not just that we take very technical concepts and boil them down to acronyms, it's that we don't keep each other in the loop about changes to operations or to regulations. What's one of the keys to a successful marriage? Communication. Partners need to talk all the time. The Postal Service has to view all stakeholders as partners.


Ongoing communication will make us a stronger industry. If suppliers are in the loop every step of the way, they can reach out to the larger market with all the necessary tools in hand. They can open the door to new customers. Wouldn't it be great if we didn't care who opened the door as long as there is a customer walking through it? Now that's a true partnership. Actually and in fact.


Kate Muth is VP of the Association for Postal Commerce. Contact her at, 703-524-0096 or visit