All across America, mail centers are functioning beyond their limits. No one could have ever predicted that the business of deliverables and receivables would be as crucial to the maintenance of society as they are in this moment. As the nation continues to shelter in their homes, many have chosen to use mail-order services as their primary method of procuring goods. This trend has created a tsunami of packages and parcels for mail centers to manage. While some mail centers have flourished during this time, others are struggling to keep up. Though many factors may be cause for a mail center to underperform, one reason seems to be the most common: those mail centers aren't as efficient as they need to be.

Efficiency is a broad term that can easily be misused and misunderstood. So many businesses equate efficiency with the act of stripping away resources and focusing solely on mission-critical activities. Companies should instead focus on simplifying processes and streamlining operations. This endeavor requires key stakeholders to identify steps within their processes that can be improved. For mail centers, it's as simple as avoiding a few common pitfalls.

#1 Don't Settle for Basic Software Solutions

Package tracking systems have proven to be an invaluable tool for maintaining mail and inventory visibility; it's one of many tracking features that are often bundled together in logistics software packages designed to increase efficiencies in workflow. Unfortunately, many companies make the mistake of choosing a software package that is too basic to service all of their business functions. It's best to determine the full logistical needs of your company long before you make a purchase. After you gain a thorough understanding of your company's needs, it will be easier for you to make a sound software decision. Once you purchase your software, learn how to optimize each of its functions. To get the most from your software, you must leverage all of your platform's functionalities to automate several processes within your facility. Use your package tracking software to track visitors, or use your task management feature to assign activities for multiple departments, instead of just one or two.

#2 Don't Overlook Integrations

Time should be your business's most precious commodity. Every time you have to step out of your home software to perform a task, time is lost; this also means that extra time must be devoted to training employees to use multiple programs instead of one multifunctional platform. For these reasons, companies must stay up to date on any new updates or integrations for their software. New integrations often provide a better or simpler way of performing tasks. For instance, instead of using dedicated software for each one of your major carriers (USPS, Fed-Ex, UPS, etc.), seek a software add-on that allows you to perform carrier program functions from within your platform (i.e., desktop shipping). You might also consider integrating your package tracking software with your company's ERP system, allowing the receiving department to tie together the purchase order, tracking number, and paid voucher for comprehensive purchase visibility and accountability. When a mail center’s processes and tools are centralized, their staff will save time and will have the capacity to take on more prescient issues.

#3 Don't Think Big. Think Critically

It's incredibly important for businesses to think strategically about the hardware and physical space that they use. As the workload of the average mail center increases over time, many companies might be tempted to expand their physical space and purchase needless tools. Instead, companies should take a critical look at the space they have and rethink how they are using it. Increased traffic in mail centers will last well beyond the current moment – and businesses will need to rise to this challenge to stay competitive in a changing market. A great way to get started on that process is to employ the use of virtual mailboxes. So many centers have multiple rows of assigned mailboxes that are under-used. You can gain back space once occupied by the mailboxes and switch to several barcoded file folders, each one representing an individual mailbox. Here's how it works:

1. The mail center receives mail for an employee or student.

2. The mail center staff inserts the letter into the recipient's designated folder.

3. The employee scans the barcode on the folder to send an email/text notification to the recipient, saying they received mail.

This measure not only saves physical space in your center but is a great way to keep white mail from piling up. Kiosks can also be an effective space-saving measure that mail centers can employ, as it allows employees to virtually request their mail and packages before they arrive. The kiosk enables the mail center's staff to pull packages/mail before the employee gets to the service counter, thus improving the speed and efficiency of the operation. On a more timely note, kiosks also provide an extra measure of social distance between customers and staff, which creates a safer and healthier experience for both parties.

For mail centers, this moment in history is unlike any other. The unprecedented demand caused by the current pandemic has stretched the capacity of mail centers to their limits. With the safety and the viability of employees at stake, it is now more important than ever to optimize each one of your processes and simplify where you can. Use an in-building logistics platform that can accommodate all of your logistical processes in place of several uni-taskers. Let product integrations upgrade your current software and simplify tasks. Allow virtual mailboxes and kiosk systems to create a safe social distance necessary to protect your customers and your staff. If you avoid the pitfalls mentioned above, as well as pursue creative solutions to enhance your operations, you will adequately equip your facility with valuable tools to overcome this challenging moment.

As Vice President of Emerging Markets, Bruce is responsible for developing international business as well as managing channel partners. He has over 20 years of experience in the mail and package tracking industry. Bruce joined the SCLogic team in 1999 as the Vice President of Channels and has also held the titles of Vice President of Sales and General Manager before becoming the Vice President of Emerging Markets. Bruce has presented at many industry conferences such as NPF, MAILCOM, IFMA World Workplace, NACAS C3X, and NACUMS.

This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2020 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.