April 29 2008 10:29 AM

You won't find them on MySpace or Facebook, but Postal Customer Councils (PCCs) are just as powerful a social network. Bringing together Postal Service executives, business leaders and small business owners, PCCs are a partnership of businesses interested in mailing industry issues and postal managers. They educate. They advise. They network. And they continue to grow.


Since the Postal Customer Council Network was established in 1961 to improve communications between Postal Service customers and managers, the PCC organization has expanded in size and importance. Today, there are more than 200 local Postal Customer Councils with approximately 120,000 members in communities across the nation. Although each PCC has its own unique style and flair, they all share a common goal in educating businesses and the mailing industry. "One of the most important roles of Postal Customer Councils is the education they provide members," says Susan Plonkey, Vice President of Customer Service. "Through PCCs, members stay current on the latest innovations and best practices in the mailing industry."


A prime example of the educational benefits of PCC membership is the "Workshop-in-a-Box" program, developed to provide business customers with information about postal products, services and tools to help them grow their business as well as improve mail quality. The workshops cover a wide range of topics, including mail center management, customer acquisition and loyalty, quality addressing and optimizing mail preparation and entry. Workshops are suitable for all PCC educational events and can be used to create a customized professional certificate program.


PCCs also offer members the opportunity to hear from featured speakers, including Postal Service and industry executives, on the latest services, products and requirements from the Postal Service. Recently, PCCs in Las Vegas, Chicago, New York and Atlanta hosted symposiums on Intelligent Mail and how to prepare for the new Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) requirements.


"The Intelligent Mail Barcode provides mailers with a wealth of information and real-time data," says Plonkey. "The symposiums provided attendees with everything they need to know about the new requirements and what their businesses need to do to get ready for the IMB."


Postmaster General John Potter makes regular appearances at Postal Customer Councils and delivers the "State of the Postal Service" address as part of National PCC Day, held each fall in September. Last year, a record 14,000 members participated in National PCC Day events held at more than 150 sites across the country. The event is designed to share the most current information on opportunities and challenges facing the mailing industry and provide business networking opportunities.


This year's National PCC Day broadcast will be live from St. Louis, Missouri, home of the Greater St. Louis Postal Customer Council and 2007 National PCC of the Year. About 1,000 participants are expected to attend on-site and more than 14,000 viewers are expected to tune in to the PMG's keynote address on September 17, 2008.


A major focus of the 2008 National PCC Day will be recent enhancements to Postal Service shipping services. For the first time ever, the Postal Service is offering volume-related and other pricing incentives for Express Mail, Priority Mail, international mail and other shipping services. Beginning May 12, customers will be able to take advantage of commercial volume pricing, minimum volume rebates, online price breaks and other pricing incentives.


For example, Express Mail, premium overnight delivery, is switching to an industry standard, zone-based pricing system, resulting in lower prices for closer destinations. The Postal Service is also offering lower prices for customers who pay online or use corporate accounts: Customers who pay for Express Mail using a corporate account will save 3%, and customers paying online for Priority Mail will save on average 3.5%. These incentives are now possible as a result from a change in federal law, enabling the Postal Service to better compete in the shipping market.


"PCC members are often the first to know of opportunities to improve the quality of their mail and save money," Plonkey notes. "We want to make sure that our members have the most up-to-date information possible."


Until National PCC Day, PCC members and businesses can keep current on the latest changes to shipping services through a variety of Postal Service publications. PCC members receive PCC Insider, a free monthly electronic newsletter, with the inside scoop on the latest products, services and technology. They also receive MailPro, a free bi-monthly magazine with articles designed to help businesses reduce costs and increase profits. PCC members also have a front-row seat at the National Postal Forum May 18-21 in Anaheim, California. The theme is "Xtreme Performance," and the program is packed with more than 140 educational workshops, symposiums, industry-leading exhibits and networking opportunities.


Postal Customer Councils help businesses succeed using the mail. Through education, active involvement in today's most pressing issues facing the mailing industry as well as an effective dialogue with Postal Service leaders, PCCs are enhancing the value of mail and supporting the growth of the mailing industry.


Peggy Smith is PCC Industry Co-Chair of the Greater St. Louis PCC and Manager of Mail Services at Washington University. Contact peggy_smith@wustl.edu. For more info on PCCs, including a list near you, visit usps.com/pcc or send an email to PCC@usps.gov.