This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2018 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.
The mailing industry is exciting, challenging, and rewarding to those who have chosen it as a career. It is interesting to learn about all the factors that enable a mail piece to travel from one location to another in days for literal pennies. Personally, as someone who knows about all the moving parts within the industry, it amazes me that this efficient mail delivery happens each day for hundreds of millions of pieces. With all due respect to the United States Postal Service (USPS), the brilliant people who produce and manage the mail the USPS processes deserve a great deal of credit for the effective and efficient movement of mail.
I have been in this industry for a long time. Throughout my career, there have been successes and failures that have taught me a great deal. Recently, I have been pondering what the great mailers do differently in order to make their operations and organizations so successful. Mailing is not rocket science, but in my experience, there are disciplines and features the great ones share that set them apart from the rest.
Great Mailers Ensure That Mail Pieces Meet USPS Requirements
Great mailers work closely with the USPS and understand the regulations for the mail classes and types of mail they produce. They openly share this information across their organizations and expect their peers to produce designs and campaigns that are compliant with the regulations while allowing adequate time for them to be delivered to meet the needs of the organization within the appropriate USPS service standards. Great mailers expect their internal customers to learn about mail; after all, it wasn’t so long ago that the USPS was the only choice for delivery, so people did their jobs on time rather than relying on expedited delivery options or unnecessary transportation of mail to the USPS.
I understand that transporting mail in some mail classes is a standard practice in our industry. It has a place and, in most instances, it is an acceptable standard practice. I will point out that there are mailers who will transport First-Class mail to USPS facilities across the country in order to expedite delivery, which, in most cases, is wasteful for organizations. Great mailers plan adequately for the mail to be delivered as cost-effectively as possible. Except in rare instances, where delivery mandates are imposed unexpectedly, these mailers turn their mail over to the USPS locally and trust it will be delivered within the appropriate service standards. This is effective, efficient, and controls cost for their organizations.
Great Mailers Cleanse Their Data Files
How can mail pieces get delivered without a correct address? Someone I respect a great deal in our industry once asked a room full of mailers: “When you dial a phone, do you expect to be connected properly with the person you are calling if you dial the wrong number?” This is a great analogy, and it has stuck with me for years. The USPS needs accurate data to deliver the mail efficiently. It provides and maintains tools we all know about (CASS and NCOA among them) and are mandated to use. Great mailers use these tools for every data file they touch. This allows their data to have all extraneous information removed before the mail pieces are produced, addressed, and presented to the USPS. Data is key to every mailer and organization. The great mailers in our industry use the data to incorporate any changes into the mail file for the project and coordinate the system of record updates for their organization or the organizations they provide service for.
It is easy to skip this last step, but it is lazy. It does not serve the customer, mailing organization, USPS, or end recipient well. Everyone loses! Great mailers use this step to distinguish their services and know that because they do such good work, they will be getting data for the next project from the databases they are working to cleanse. The better the job they do the first time, the easier any future work will be. Their customers (internal or external) deserve the best and value the great mailer’s philosophy: “Help me help you.” This makes the great mailers stand out, and often they become the only option their customers use and recommend to others.
Great Mailers Plan Adequate Time for All the Production Processes/Requirements
I personally spent a portion of my career as a productions scheduler. Tremendous discipline is required to do this effectively in any organization. Great mailers know this and never short change their operations of time to do the work perfectly. There are many options that make this possible, but involving others and trusting your team are the most important levers we should all enact to schedule and plan projects. Capacity is one factor considered, but without proper staffing or well-planned schedules, it is nothing. Great mailers rarely talk about capacity alone. The know what their operations are capable of at their current staffing levels. They rely more on simple tools like calendars to make sure that their processes can be properly utilized to ensure quality work while meeting client deadlines and requirements.
Great mailers are fantastic schedulers. They know how to account for work across their organizations and include all work in their plans rather than treating each job as a “one off” that is magically independent of all constraints placed on all organizations by time, space, and reality. We would all like to think that our organizations can do anything, and, in some cases, they can. Great mailers know how to realistically look at all factors and account for the impact of each to provide great service. This sometimes means that they must educate customers to understand differences in their original request to more realistic expectations. These can be difficult conversations to have, but they are nothing compared to the conversation required when you have failed to meet deliverables promised unrealistically because of poor planning.
Great Mailers Consult with Their Service Providers in the Planning Stages
Great mailers know they do not survive or succeed alone. None of us operate in a vacuum. Utilizing service providers is nothing to be ashamed of. They can close gaps in your production capabilities that enable you to grow your business and offer more services. Involving these partners in your daily planning as appropriate shows wisdom and maturity. These people are resources that great mailers learn both with and from. They can offer support and knowledge that is invaluable; after all, none of us can know everything. I often say I am not young enough to know everything anymore. Planning work is essential, and involving these resources makes the great mailers in our industry nimble and proactive for their organizations.
These traits are attractive and valuable to their customers. If you are perceived as limited or unable to provide the services needed, you will not get work from many customers. There is nothing attractive about mailers who limit the options their customers have available to them. Great mailers know this and work with other service providers to present these options seamlessly. They do not bore their customers with the minutia around this effort. The great mailer tells the customer that the answer is yes, now what is the question? They volunteer to be the “one throat to choke” and relish the role and all it entails because of the strong partnerships they have developed with these service partners.
Great Mailers Proactively Participate in the Mailing Industry as Educated Consumers
In short, great mailers give back. They know that knowledge is not power. Knowledge is only powerful when it is shared. Great mailers train others and build cultures within their operations where learning and training are expected, encouraged, and rewarded. They do not settle for anything less and understand that nothing about the mailing industry is “natural.” No one is born with this knowledge, but great mailers surround themselves with people who want to learn and actively do so as a part of their daily routines. The great mailers know that in the right environment, people can learn the right processes and practices to contribute to a successful operation. There is no danger of tripping on “atom particles,” which is not a knock on our industry. It is just a way to illustrate what great mailers know: Willing learners can and will be successful.
Great mailers serve the industry. They are active in their local mailing organizations (PCC, MSMA, etc.). They present educational sessions within their organizations and at industry events like the National Postal Forum. They participate in the Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC), Idealliance and other industry organizations (often in leadership roles) because they know it is best for their organizations and customers. They value the professional development, but it goes way beyond that. The time commitments to do this are large. It is all on a volunteer basis, but the personal and professional fulfillment of giving back and making a difference is all the reward these people need. These great mailers are great people, and in closing, I will offer this last thought. Being a great mailer is something all of us can achieve. It is a choice that everyone can make and a goal we can all attain. All we need is discipline, and the ones listed in this article can guide you as you begin your journey to become a great mailer.
Mark Rheaume serves as a Postal Solution Architect at Novitex Enterprise Solutions. He has over 30 years of experience developing, designing and implementing mailing solutions for the companies he has worked for. Mark is and has been active in several postal industry associations, such as MTAC, Idealliance, NPOA, PCC, MSMA, and Printing Industries of America. He can be contacted at Mark.Rheaume@novitex.com. Visit www.novitex.com for more information.