The longer I remain in the service industry, the more amazed I am at the continued changes in mail center operations combined with the never-ending battle to reduce operational costs. Many have told me over the years that you can only go so far in reducing costs before you negatively affect service quality. Yet in light of rate changes last year by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), mail center managers have a prime opportunity to implement relatively simple mailpiece strategies that can help their organizations reduce costs without compromising quality.


The USPS did not just change the rates, but changed the classification structure as well. Whereas, previously, rates were based on weight, they are now based on size, thickness and weight. Overall, these changes were designed to motivate mailers to use standard-size envelopes that are easy to process and save the Postal Service time in handling and re-handling envelopes. The plan called for organizations and mail centers to consider their mailpieces and decide how many pieces can be sent the easiest way.


Hidden Savings Potential

These changes give mail center managers an opportunity to "shake up" something within their control that can positively impact the bottom line. Let's examine two items envelopes and postage stamps that provide hidden savings potential so dependable that you can set your watch on their reliability.


The new approach could start with your print department, which has been sending out mailings via large, flat window envelopes with "John Q Public's" name and address visible in the window. If your organization's monthly statement to John Q is over 1/4-inch thick, it will not fit through the new gauged spaces on postal feeder equipment. The result is that it does not move fast enough, costs a day or two extra in the mail and may result in loss of monetary interest because payments were delayed. The problem is that because the contents in the letter are over 1/4-inch thick, the mailpiece does not run through a "hands-free process" and is relegated to the unthinkable human hands that have to finish moving it through the system!


The first part of the solution: reengineer the old way of printing addresses on the middle of the form and inserting the pages into a large, flat envelope. There are software packages that can help facilitate this process by allowing you to fold the items in half, and then place them in a 6"x 9" envelope, which is lighter and less expensive than a larger envelope (e.g. 10"x 13").


The second part of the solution: print the information on both sides of the paper (duplex printing). You have now cut the thickness in half and can fit the statement into the 6"x 9" envelope for the same price as regular postage.


An Organizational Hero

You have, using a relatively simple mailpiece strategy, cut your oversized postage costs in half. Whatever your title and area of responsibility, these are the kinds of operational changes that make you a hero. If you bring a simple envelope into an administrative meeting and state that you can save 6. to 12. on that envelope, you will see a few faces look at you and wonder what you were talking about until you suddenly inform them that you mail out 2,000 of these envelopes each day. The savings skyrockets from 6. to 12. to an annual savings of $30,000 to $60,000. Now you have their complete and undivided attention.


Implementing these kinds of operational improvements can also have a major positive impact on your career track. I once sat in a lecture hall 15 years ago where the speaker discussed going from a Production Mail Room Manager to a Senior Vice President of a major insurance company all because he redesigned his monthly statements to reduce paper waste and postage. Today, you also get credit for your "green" initiative that saves paper, which in turn reduces the weight of items transported by vehicle and the associated pollutants and fuel expended. The mail room manager's strategy was considered genius thinking 15 years ago, and it is just as important today, if not more so.


Other Effective Mailpiece Strategies

In addition to the mailpiece handling strategies highlighted above which are based on folding and duplex printing here are two other effective approaches that can reduce costs while preserving service quality:


  • Automate and save You can save postage costs by making your mail "automation compatible," which means preparing it according to USPS regulations that allow your mail to be sorted down to the finest possible detail for processing by automated equipment. Addressing requirements include using all capitals in the address, omitting all punctuation except the hyphen in the ZIP+4 code and using the proper abbreviations for states. Other requirements include barcode clear zone, placement of the block address and the required placement of the return address.


  • Track and control Additionally, it's important to initiate a process for tracking and controlling your postal costs. Options include using a standard mailing accounting system for simple mailpiece and postage tracking that can span a relatively small number of departments. Online reporting capability provides you with the ability to view postage spent by department, mail classes and timeframe. Finally, there are advanced accounting systems for use by organizations with numerous departments and advanced budgeting procedures.


These and other mail management strategies are solutions that can go a long way in helping your organization reduce costs while streamlining operations and retaining service quality. Often, the simplest solutions have historically led to some of the most dramatic advances in business, as well as in individual careers. Regarding the latter point, I frequently think of the mail center manager who rose to senior vice president. I imagine he remained a big fan of strategies to reduce paper and postage.


Joe Freeman, CMDSM, MQC, AQS, is a business solutions architect with Océ Business Services, a leader in document process management and electronic discovery. Email or visit