During most of our customer engagements, we usually hear variants of the same question:

· “What do the best operations do?”

· “How do our competitors compare to these standards?

· “How do we compare to other operations?”

In the last 15 years, we’ve worked with over 50 companies in different industries – government, higher education, finance, healthcare, telecommunications and utilities. Some have mail operations with five people focusing on inbound and interoffice mail, while others have 100 people producing a million pieces of First-Class Mail a day, seven days a week. Regardless of size or function, the best shops have a lot in common.

We define a “First Class Operation” as one that through consistent actions and reporting, demonstrates that the operation is staffed and managed by well-trained professionals who add value to the company and use the right tools to deliver:

· the correct piece

· with the correct address

· in the correct envelope or workflow folder

· at the correct time

· at the correct cost

These operations achieve those goals by focusing on the following principles:

· Value their employees – through communication, education, and recognition

· Value their customers – through communication, and being a solution provider

· Well-designed, clean work environment

· Track internal and external work – accountability and metrics

· Well documented procedures – that are used daily

· Aggressive address management

· Meaningful metrics transformed into actionable information

· Selecting and exploiting the right technology

· Quality Control is procedural and cultural

· Knowing cost-per-piece and understanding value

Employees are the keystone of every successful outfit. Good managers don’t just say their staff are important, they act on that principle every day. Regular communication through daily huddles, staff meetings and one-on-one reviews are the standard. Time, funding and resources are dedicated to internal training, external training and cross-training. When the team does a good job, their efforts are recognized.

Regardless of the industry, the product or the price, there is one simple thing all customers want — good service. For in-plant operations, the “customer” is everyone else in your company. Establish regular communication with all customers through newsletters, email blasts and recurring meetings. Let them know the status of their jobs — especially if something has caused a delay. Don’t just provide a service — offer solutions to their challenges.

The condition of your work area says a lot about the quality of the work provided. The best departments are well-organized with the space designed to support the workflow. The area is kept clean — with material staged neatly and trash thrown away immediately. Anyone touring the space is confident that their work isn’t being lost amid the clutter.

The best mail center managers have installed processes and systems to track work as it moves through their shop. Inbound mail is measured, accountable pieces are scanned and deliveries are documented. Outbound documents are tracked from creation, through print, fulfillment, entry into the US Postal Service and beyond. In the present age of accountability, companies need to know the date and time that each document was sent to a customer or partner. The information will need to be stored — and easily retrieved.

Well-documented and applied policies and procedures are the hallmark of an excellent operation. Clear procedures must be written for all major activities. The procedures should follow one consistent format, with the author and revision date noted. System changes (e.g., new equipment, postage rates) or staffing changes should be updated immediately. Procedures should be posted in the shop as workflow diagrams, and reviewed as part of regular employee training.

Having the correct mailing address is the keystone to a successful print-mail operation. And this is true whether we’re discussing transactional mail, advertising mail or parcels. To effectively communicate with your customers, you must have a professional address management program. An effective address management program isn’t an isolated occurrence. Instead, it involves deploying tools and getting feedback throughout the customer communication process.

Measurements are used to determine effectiveness and efficiency. To know if your operation is efficient, you need to know the number of pieces processed, the time needed to process the work, the number of errors, and all expenses associated with the operation. The metrics must be reviewed on a regular basis, because data sitting in files doesn’t add value. Information that’s used properly will add value and will help you improve your operation.

Technology is a tool that allows mail centers to continue providing excellent service to their companies in a cost-effective manner. Managers need to stay current on the products, software and services that are available in the marketplace. Develop a strategy for selecting and investing in technology that maximizes benefits and reduces risks. Use the request for proposal (RFP) process to select the best solutions from the best partners.

Commitment to Quality

Achieving quality requires commitment and the establishment of an environment in which quality can flourish. The reliability of equipment and software, the use of cameras and barcodes, and the implementation of quality control teams combine to delivery good results. Managers and employees need to believe in the value of doing the job right — the first time. Of course, we need to get better. The goal has to remain 100% — even though we know we aren’t perfect.

The best managers know what it costs to process documents — inbound and outbound — by type and category. They monitor their metrics and finances to keep expenses as low as possible. Equally important, they understand the value of the documents they process. The cheapest option isn’t necessarily the best option. The documents delivered to the recipient must have the impact the sender desired.

Are there really organizations that meet all of these qualifications? Yes, there are. Some are service providers and some are in-plant operations. It didn’t happen overnight, but took years build a culture of excellence. And those leaders aren’t finished improving.

The above principles are the baseline by which to measure success, and are the building blocks for delivering first class results. Today and tomorrow. The standards for being considered a “best-in-class” mail operation will continue to be raised. Effective leaders are invested in continuous improvements — for their people, processes and technology — and themselves.

Mark M. Fallon, President & CEO, The Berkshire Company, can be reached at 508.485.9090 or mmf@berkshire-company.com, or visit www.berkshire-company.com for more information.