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Commentary & Analysis

Mailers Weigh in on USPS

How is the United States Postal Service perceived by key members of the mailing supply chain? A recent Idealliance study lays it all out, the good, the bad and the ugly. While there is certainly room for improvement, and it is unclear what the USPS response to this study will be, be sure to read to the end for a view of what mail and communications would be like if the USPS wasn’t functioning as well as it is!

By Cary Sherburne
Published: June 14, 2017

The Idealliance Postal Operations & Technologies Council along with 11 other mail and postal work groups and task teams released the 2017 Mail Survey, bringing focus to the current status of the relationship between the United States Postal Service (USPS) and other members of the postal supply chain. Mail owners and marketers, printers, mail processing operations, transportation and logistics providers, software companies, and mailing service providers combine to deliver $1.4 trillion in annual GDP, 7.5 million jobs, and annual revenues of $154 billion to the U.S. Postal Service. This is a group the USPS should certainly be listening to. Plus, David Steinhardt, President & CEO of Idealliance, informed me that the USPS provided valuable feedback and guidance in the development of the survey. Last year’s survey had 152 responses, and this year’s survey had 202 responses, a significant increase. Many of the questions in this year’s survey built on results from the previous year, and that process will continue in subsequent annual surveys to build trends year over year.

When asked to rate the overall experience with the USPS as a partner and supplier within the mail supply chain, the results were a bit underwhelming: Less than 50% of respondents were very or mostly satisfied. The biggest beef seemed to be around communication – or lack of it. When specifically asked to rate the USPS as a business partner, though, 54.3% rated them as excellent or good, holding out hope that the USPS is, in fact, listening to their concerns and possibly taking action. More specifically, the study found that responses to the statement

“USPS wants to help me grow my business” showed mixed results, with 41.2% agreeing, 37.1% disagreeing, and 21.7% neither agreeing nor disagreeing. The half-full interpretation is that more agree than disagree. The half-empty interpretation is that nearly 59.0% are either ambivalent or negative about the USPS’s desire to promote the growth of their businesses.

Respondents were also lackluster in feeling that the USPS solves problems quickly. According to the study, “The 32.8% who agree was the second lowest of any of the 10 statements and the 46.4% who disagree the highest.”

Respondents were unhappy with the lack of proactive communication from the USPS around changes and enhancements to existing USPS program systems, commenting that early warning to members of the mail supply chain could ensure that changes didn’t fall flat upon launch; 38% rated the USPS excellent (6.6%) or good (31.4%) in this regard, with 44.6% grading them as fair and 17.4% as poor. As one respondent stated, ““Let us sit at the planning table so we can help USPS reach their goals and reduce changes needed after the rules and policies are written.” Respondents also felt that the USPS needed to gain a better understanding of how its systems are used on a daily basis by business mailers.

The other area of concern was lack of awareness in the mail supply chain as to how customer data is secured by the USPS, what is being acquired and how it is being used. In both of these areas, respondents believed the USPS could benefit from understanding industry business models and incorporating them into USPS systems. Only 28.6% of respondents rated the USPS as excellent or good in this regard.

Overall, the USPS came out pretty much in the middle range on most categories that were assessed – that is, neither exceptional nor poor, but certainly with room for improvement. Top suggestions for improvement included:

  1. Keep postal rates predictable (48.5%) (85.7% among mail owners!)
  2. Communicate more effectively on changes to processes and regulations (39.4%)
  3. Increase knowledge of USPS personnel to improve accuracy and consistency (39.4%)
  4. Improve mail delivery predictability and reliability (34.8%)
  5. Apply rules and regulations consistently (34.8%)
  6. Collaborate early with the industry on system and software design (34.1%)

While respondents were positive about the USPS in many areas overall, including many of the service’s programs, the primary discontent was around internal and external communication – needing better communication with mail supply chain stakeholders and more consistent training of postal service employees to ensure consistent application of rules and regulations. One respondent stated, “More collaboration between USPS and the supply chain is necessary to ensure that all departments in the USPS understand the value and role of the supply chain to help ‘keep’ mail owners in the mail and using the mail channel. We are the USPS’ best value-added resellers, producing mail for USPS to deliver.”

Another stated, “I’m concerned that the USPS doesn’t understand they are only part of the chain. Without the entire chain none of us have work.” Some suggested that the USPS should recognize that SERVICE is part of its name.

Another area covered in detail in the study, but not discussed specifically here, are the systems the USPS is using to interface with stakeholders. The goal of Idealliance was to provide guidance and suggestions to the USPS and the organizations are currently collaborating on the key takeaways and priorities from the survey. It will be interesting to view the trending after next year’s study.

Full access to download the 2017 Annual Mail Industry Survey Report is available at https://www.idealliance.org/mailsurvey/.

But how bad is the USPS really? For a different view, read on.

Taking a Different World View

As many of our readers know, I live in a third world country. We do have a mail service, but I actually lived in my small town for nearly a decade before I even knew where the local post office was! In this country, no one actually depends on the postal service. My electric bills are (sometimes) delivered to my gate by some guy on a motorcycle, as are the bills for water and garbage pickup. For my two telephone services, I get email notifications. And my cable TV/internet provider doesn’t send bills at all. I just have to remember to pay them. And since I don’t have an in-country bank account, these bills all get paid in person, in cash.

The primary means of moving documents around the country is the bus system! It’s quite reliable, but does require the person at the other end to come to the bus station to pick up the package or document you have sent.

If someone needs to send me something from outside the country, I generally recommend using a service like FedEx or UPS, or at a minimum, mailing things to my Miami-based mail forwarding service. Sending mail directly here has very mixed results. I’ve had things that just simply never showed up (like my drupa credentials two drupa’s in a row) or were returned to the sender even though the mailing address was 100% correct. Maybe they just didn’t feel like dealing with it that day. I don’t know. Or maybe they really wanted those drupa credentials for themselves!

The day I actually discovered where the postal service was, I was going to pay my electric bill, which I had done monthly for more than a decade, when I happened to look to the right, and there it was! Was it always there? I don’t know. But since I was there, I thought I would speak to them about my drupa credentials, which were mailed to a local mail service I use. I asked the lady if she would please look to see if she had them – it’s a fairly sizable envelope, including the drupa guide, and probably weighs at least five pounds. At first, she was very defensive, saying, “We always deliver the mail!”  When I pushed the issue, she looked, but didn’t encounter them. However, she did come out with several envelopes destined for my mail service in town. She asked, “Are you going over there? Can you just take these to them?” I did, but really!

The bottom line is that as much as we complain about the USPS, it’s pretty darned reliable. Sure, sometimes mail ends up in some disgruntled postal worker’s attic or piled under some highway underpass, but considering the billions of mail pieces that are processed each year and the minimal number of errors that occur (on a percentage basis), the USPS is pretty darned good. People depend on it. And most consumers consider it reliable.

So there are certainly issues. And there is room for improvement. But Americans should be happy that they have a postal system that works. It makes life a lot easier, believe me! 

Full access to download the 2017 Annual Mail Industry Survey Report is available at https://www.idealliance.org/mailsurvey/.

Cary Sherburne is a well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries.

Cary Sherburne is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us.

Please offer your feedback to Cary. She can be reached at cary@whattheythink.com.

 

Discussion

By Cary Sherburne on Jun 14, 2017

I received this email from a postal carrier who has given me permission to share:

Just a comment from a 19 year letter carrier in postal zip code 18052. Thank you for your favorable assessment of the postal service . I take my job very seriously and truly indeed enjoy delivering to my 530 addresses daily. Since the postal service has started to deliver an astounding number of packages daily I have noticed that my customers are often looking for me and therefore I feel they hold my job in a higher esteem and I have gotten to know some people I would have never really met personally if weren't for the delivery of packages. It is wonderful to work outdoors too. Again thanks for your positive assessment , wish others would read it!

 

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