As the US Postal Service continues to roll out its network realignment, many are left wondering how best to handle necessary operational adjustments without sacrificing productivity.
Within today's print and mailing industries, emphasis on mobile and Internet-based products and services have continued to heavily increase as new technology capabilities are introduced on a consistent basis. As a result of these tech trends, the prominence of physical mail delivery has significantly declined throughout recent years. According to recent findings from the US Postal Service (USPS), First-Class Mail volumes declined by more than 20% between 2006 and 2010, from 98 billion pieces to 78 billion within four years.
The above statistics do not mean, however, the end of transitional mail. It simply explains why the USPS recently announced plans to implement a strategic network realignment, which the organization put into action July 2012. The Postal Service specifically designed the network realignment to improve operational efficiencies and stabilize the organization's financial position through a multi-phase process between 2012 and 2014.
While the recent network realignment will ultimately improve the USPS mail operations, companies specializing in managing high volumes of print mail, such as bills, invoices and other transactional documents, must now adjust to operational challenges brought about by the Postal Service's plan. With the introduction of these changes and the challenges that accompany them, many companies are wondering how best to handle necessary operational adjustments that must be made without sacrificing productivity.
Updated Mail Processing windows and receipt patterns: Phase one of the USPS's network realignment introduced the consolidation of approximately 48 mail locations starting in July, which primarily involved the migration of smaller mail-processing operations to larger facilities. The initial consolidation of these mail locations has resulted in several changes to processing windows and receipt patterns, including longer processing hours for many larger facilities and mail arriving to some later than before.
While the network realignment ultimately aims to increase processing windows and even out the flow of mail, initial adjustments to delivery service level targets may be to blame for some mail remaining in transit longer than before. Because of this, larger mail processors will need to actively monitor changes within their facility in order to make necessary staffing adjustments to adhere to updated processing times and maintain efficient mail operations.
Changes in day-to-day mail runs: Additionally, mail processors should monitor for abrupt and significant changes in daily mail delivered to their facilities and report these concerns to a local Postal representative as this could signify a disruption in the Postal system. For example, should a given processing facility, which typically receives between 20 and 30 mail trays each morning, begin receiving 50 trays during its 6:00 AM mail run, there may be a disruption in the current flow of delivered mail.
During recent consolidations, the USPS sorting plans required some adjustments to best fit with the realignment plan, which may cause delays in delivery. Additionally, transportation changes associated with the consolidations can have an impact on the timing and flow of mail for certain facilities, which can also heavily impact when mail reaches its destination.
Reduced region sizes: As part of the Postal Service's network realignment plan, the allotted regions for each specific delivery standard have been reduced in size in an effort to attain additional savings. Two-Day delivery areas were reduced by approximately 50%, while Overnight delivery areas also experienced significant reduction.
For companies managing print mail delivery, this means some delivery time tables will be changed, which will result in many mail pieces not being delivered as quickly as they once were. With the introduction of longer delivery times, companies may also experience an increase in late payments from customers not yet familiar with the postal changes.
While the network realignment plan has resulted in several changes that impact the day-to-day operations of today's remittance mail processing facilities, there are ways to successfully manage these modifications without sacrificing the profitability and overall efficiency of business operations.
Track incoming mail volumes: Because some processing facilities have already begun reporting changes to the mail they receive daily, consistently tracking the volume of incoming mail received on each daily mail run can provide insight into where issues may lie. By creating trending reports based on the data collected, mail processors can quickly take action to resolve any delays they may be experiencing and also provide local USPS representatives with the findings to allow them to make necessary adjustments.
Additionally, keeping envelopes of delayed mail can provide the USPS with an even deeper understanding of precise areas of issue by scanning the tracking barcode contained on the back of each envelope.
Auditing: Aside from actively monitoring daily mail volumes, consistently auditing mail trays and individual pieces of mail is another way to further recognize where an issue may lie and how it should be addressed. As part of the audit, mail processors should:
- Examine tray tags to determine how long it took the Post Office to deliver the mail once it was sorted;
- Review the postmark on individual pieces of mail for any significantly old dates, keeping in mind that mail is often mis-routed; and
- Combine internal data reports with the USPS's automated intelligent mail tracking service to provide the highest possible level of insight into indentifying exactly where (and why) a breakdown occurred.
Active communication: Lastly, consistently communicating with customers and local USPS officials is a vital part in making the best of the new adjustments necessary for mail processing and delivery. For customers, this will require processors to keep them up-to-date on changes to mail delivery and processing and how it may affect them in order to ensure mail is sent and received in a timely manner. Mail processors should also be involved with their local Postal Customer Council and/or local Remittance Mailer Councils in order to actively report on issues they have recently experienced and also gain insight into other processors' best practices.
It is easy to see that the USPS network realignment plan has already begun to require mail processors to adjust their business operations in order to accurately handle incoming and outgoing mail volumes.
While the July 2012 changes have already been put into action, processors should be prepared for more changes to come as the remainder of phase one and phase two will likely require further adjustments to be made. With phase one set to wrap up in February 2013, and phase two to be completed by early 2014, the USPS will be consolidating another 181 locations into larger facilities over the next couple of years.
For now, processors need to remain focused on the current changes they may be experiencing as a result of the initial launch of the network realignment plan and determine how best to handle these changes. While best practices included above are just a few of the tactics processors can employ to adequately maintain optimal business operations, these fundamental building blocks can push them in the right direction to ensure their employees and customers do not suffer.
TODD HAYCOCK is a senior product manager, IT and Services, at TransCentra, the nation's largest outsourced remittance processor and a leading provider of billing and payment software and services. Contact Todd Haycock at firstname.lastname@example.org.