This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Mailing Systems Technology.
On May 30, 1984, I reported to basic training (“boot camp”) at Fort Dix, New Jersey. I still carry the lessons I learned during those nine weeks. I didn’t learn everything I needed to know, but I received the fundamentals to start my military career. The training I received became the base for all that followed, whether special training, like Airborne School, as well as my general duties as a soldier and an officer.
With that concept in mind, Pat Ring and I developed the “Boot Camp for Mail Center Managers” class for the National Postal Forum. Before becoming the Associate Director of Mail Services for Boston University, Pat spent decades with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). In the class, we try to share the basics needed to be a successful manager in the world of print and mail.
Any introduction to the world of mail starts with the USPS – the linchpin to an industry employing over 7.5 million people and accounts for over $1 trillion to the national economy. Led by Postmaster General Megan Brennan, the 509,000 employees of the USPS process and deliver over 154 billion pieces of mail each year to 156 million addresses. That includes your business and your customers.
In addition to knowing the website address – www.usps.com – you should know the people who work at your local mail facility. This includes your postmaster, the Business Mail Entry Manager, and the district Business Service Network (BSN) representatives. Take the time to introduce yourself and discuss how you can work together to be successful. Depending upon your operation, this may mean the delivery of your inbound mail, the proper preparation of your outbound mail, or both. You need to know who to call… and where to look. The USPS has developed online tools specifically for the business mailer:
- Postal Explorer – http://pe.usps.com – This resource allows you to search every USPS manual and Quick Service Guide with a single click.
- PostalPro – https://postalpro.usps.com – This replacement for RIBBS includes access to technical manuals, USPS presentations, Mailers Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) documents, and much more.
- The Business Mailers Gateway – https://gateway.usps.com – This is where you can manage your mailings online, monitor postal accounts, access IMb tracing and your Mailer Scorecard, plus a dozen other business functions.
Schedule time on your calendar to make yourself familiar with these sites. Ask your local BSN representative to guide you through the Gateway, making sure you can access your company’s information. Reach out to your local Postal Customer Council (PCC) for assistance.
What’s a PCC?
The Postal Customer Council is a professional association comprised of USPS employees and business mailers. Through educational programmers and networking events, the PCC helps professionals in the mailing industry improve themselves and their organizations. Basic membership is free, and most events are low-cost affairs. You can find your local PCC through the PostalPro website.
Other organizations to consider:
- DMA – Data & Marketing Association
- IPMA – In-Plant Management Association
- MSMA – Mail Systems Management Association
- NACUMS – National Association of College and University Mail Services
The mailing industry has a unique culture – people are willing to share their experience and expertise with their peers from other companies. There’s probably someone who’s encountered the same challenges you face today. To meet them means networking, which means joining and participating in professional associations like the PCC.
A great resource for networking online is LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). Many industry leaders post links to the articles and presentations they’re reading. The conversations taking place in the LinkedIn Groups are engaging and informative. Some of the groups I belong to include: Mail Geeks, Mailing Systems Technology, NPF-National Postal Forum, and Postal Affairs in Direct Mail. LinkedIn’s email notification system is a great reminder to check out what people are discussing.
But your training doesn’t stop with associations and networking. And the USPS is ready to help. Completing the Mail Design Professional (MDP) training and achieving the MDP certification will provide a good foundation for anyone – managers, supervisors, clerks, and operators. Training is offered at the USPS Business Mail Academy in Norman, Oklahoma, and it is available online (http://www.nced.com/bma) as a self-study course, for free. The certification exam is only $90.
Other programs at the Business Mail Academy include:
- Executive Mail Center Manager (EMCM)
- EMCM ATP (Annual Training Program)
- Periodicals Professional
- Certified Direct Mail Professional (CDMP)
A key attribute of a high-performing operation is the use of documented standard operating procedures. Clear procedures must be written for all major activities. Work and production schedules should be included with the procedures. Preparing and updating procedures must be given a high priority by the mail center manager.
All 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 and reviewed as part of regular employee training.
All procedures should be reviewed and updated on a bi-annual basis. Not all procedures need to be evaluated at the same time. Instead, the procedures can be broken down into sections and a set of procedures assigned to a manager to review and rewrite as needed.
Written procedures should include:
- Start-of-day procedures
- Workflow procedures
- Recognizing suspicious packages
- Proper wear and use of personal protection equipment
- Inventory procedures
- Machine procedures
- End-of-day procedures
- Security practices
Security may be the last item on the list, but it must be first-in-mind for you and your employees. Review your security plan and make certain that it includes measures to protect your employees from harm and safeguard the mail that you handle. Examine the physical layout of your mail center. Ensure that all access points are secured from unauthorized entry. Prohibit non-mail operations employees from entering the mail center to pick up mail or packages.
When you develop your security program, contact local police and emergency departments to review the plan, and, if possible, ask them to conduct training for your staff. Request additional materials for training, such as the latest warnings issued to law enforcement. Ensure you have the correct telephone number for the closest hazardous materials (HAZMAT) unit.
As always, use the resources of your local postal officials. The United States Postal Inspection Service has been tracking and solving letter bomb crimes since the early 1900s. The postal inspectors were on the front lines of the investigations into the 2001 anthrax attacks. Also, they’re developing countermeasures to reduce the vulnerability of the USPS and the mail.
The security of your mail center is an important issue. While the threat to you or your staff is minimal, it’s real. Don’t fall prey to fear or take rash actions that may create a crisis. Instead, educate yourself and your employees. Develop a sound plan and have it reviewed by experts. Remain vigilant and conduct regular evaluations. Be safe.
Like my training at Fort Dix, the purpose of this article is to introduce you to the basics of mail center management. But it’s just the beginning. It’s up to you to continue your education and training. Use resources like Mailing Systems Technology to stay current with trends and technology. Attend educational events at your PCC. Network with fellow professionals and learn from their experiences. Continue to learn and grow as an industry professional.
Welcome to the world of mail! Huah!
Mark M. Fallon is President & CEO, The Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. Contact him at 508.485.9090 or email@example.com.