The search to find the right mail service provider (aka lettershops) for your company’s needs might at first seem challenging and a bit elusive. The label mail service provider (MSP) encompasses a wide range of businesses that manage the printing, presorting, and mailing of large volume mail. Smaller operations are more likely to focus on the basic aspects of printing and mailing. Medium and large shops offer a broader range of services ranging from address hygiene and presorting to creative and multi-channel services.
The good news is you can find the right MSP to partner with that will serve your needs well — if you know what to look for and how to work with them. This is a highly competitive industry requiring strong management of postal regulation complexities. Success is determined by the volume of mail printed and processed, and the turnaround time to complete it. You want to look for an organization with the ability to correctly process mail, ensure a quality product is produced and managed, take advantage of postal discounts, and meet your requirements.
For companies that regularly send high-volume mail, sourcing out mail processing to an MSP is an absolute necessity. Taking the time upfront to do due diligence and ask the right questions helps determine a good MSP match for your company.
Don’t Assume Size Matters
People think the larger the company the better they are because they have more experience. In my experience, the larger the operation the more challenging it is to manage what is going on because there are multiple plants making it difficult to see firsthand what is going on.
To find the right MSP, most companies start with procurement and an RFP. It also makes sense to ask your counterparts in other companies for a referral. Certainly, pricing needs to match your budget requirements. However, there are two additional must-haves that are essential to choosing the right MSP for your business.
There are many USPS regulations and requirements that vary based on each type and class of mail, as well as the opportunity to benefit from a broad range of postal discounts. Knowing what is required and what discounts your mail qualifies for has an enormous impact on the success of your mailings and the associated cost. Ask about this before you make your decision.
It's important that the MSP is open to having you meet with its logistics or mailing team to get a sense of their level of knowledge and understanding of postal requirements and processes. Meet with them directly and find out what postal-related organizations and associations they are part of, such as the Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC), National Association of Presort Mailers (NAPM), and any Postal Customer Council (PCC). Ask them about the latest news on postal discounts and how they keep current. The more familiar and engaged they are, the more likely they are in a better position to be the partner you need.
This is especially true if you are using an MSP that does more than mail – they are doing the printing, data processing, and mailing. Some MSPs who do multiple aspects of the process use a third party. You want to get a sense of the quality of the workmanship from the MSP and the third party and determine if they prioritize strong postal and security practices.
A stellar reputation can be a good indicator that an MSP is dependable, trustworthy, and operates a business in a professional way. In vetting an MSP, talking with others in the industry who use a specific vendor is critical to your assessment. A vendor that directly manages the creation and distribution of your company’s communications can have a direct impact on your efforts and even your own brand reputation.
Ask for references. Do your own due diligence in your industry to learn what other clients of an MSP are saying about their performance.
Why is reputation especially important in selecting an MSP? I can share from my own experience the nightmare results that can happen.
Several years ago, we recognized through our tracking system that there were trailers of mail positioned throughout the country not moving. Through an internal mix-up, one MSP picked up the mail to deliver to the post office, but then the mail sat in trailers in unknown places for weeks.
More recently, a client’s mail appeared to have gone missing. We discovered that their MSP put the mail on a train to get from its origin to its planned destination. The client was a retailer with coupons included in its mail pieces. Transport by train is never the preferred option for mail, especially when it includes time-sensitive content.
Make Sure You Are on the Same Page
With knowledge of the postal process and reputation confirmed, one remaining critical factor lies with you as the client. From the start of your agreement, as early on as your first interaction, take the lead in establishing the foundation for your relationship with the MSP as a strategic partner, with your goals and expectations aligned. Why?
So much goes on behind the scenes in the day-to-day execution of mail processing that if you don’t have that relationship, bad things like those I’ve described can happen, and more. Things can slip through the cracks. You might be charged a higher rate than you should be. Time-sensitive mail can get into the marketplace too soon or too late. The wrong content might be printed and distributed. You can avoid these nightmare scenarios.
From the start, agree to work together with transparency and mutual respect, and an understanding of both sides of the business. Actively work to ensure both you and the MSP contribute consistent reliability.
Be transparent with your expectations: if they mail something wrong, you want them to tell you. If they are not going to make the mail date, they should notify you immediately.
The assumption is that the biggest clients who have worked with an MSP for a lengthy period get the most attention. But even if you are a medium-sized client, if you establish this collaborative relationship, you position your company to receive that same elevated level of attention and best service.
Kathy Reeves is a Client Success Manager at GrayHair Software. She advises clients about the postal industry and the best way to retrieve and understand available data. She and her team help clients develop best-in-class mailing programs and help them better integrate their channel communications. For more information, Kathy can be reached at email@example.com or on LinkedIn.