• on Feb 3rd, 2014 in Products & Services | 16 comments

    Most postal pundits agree the U.S. Postal Service can’t cut its way to prosperity. It needs to generate new revenue to succeed over the long run. But whose job is it to sell the steak as well as the sizzle? The postmaster general? The Postal Service sales staff? Postmasters, clerks, carriers? Yes, yes, and yes. It would seem everyone has a role to play in reaching out to potential new customers.

    Think about it. No one knows the Postal Service’s products and services better than postal workers. They also have daily contact with customers and they know their local communities extremely well. These factors present a huge opportunity to tap burgeoning markets, such as the 23 million small businesses in the country, as our audit indicates.

    The Postal Service has established a variety of initiatives to target small businesses, such as Every Door Direct Mail, the No Business Too Small online portal, and Business Connect. Every Door Direct, which encourages mom-and-pop stores to use mail to expand their customer base, has been extremely successful. On the other hand, Business Connect, an effort to harness postmasters’ knowledge and connections in their communities to generate sales, has had a harder time gaining traction. Our work suggests there’s a lot of potential for revenue growth from Business Connect that has yet to materialize.

    One problem could be incentives, or the lack of them. Postal employees, like most workers, are probably more likely to prioritize their tasks based on what their managers emphasize and reward. In that respect, many postmasters feel enormous pressure to keep workhours and costs down while keeping service up. So this might be their primary focus. Without the right incentives to encourage sales and customer outreach, motivation might be lacking.

    Another problem could be training, or the lack of it. Many employees have never been trained in sales and still others are probably not particularly comfortable with that role. Is the Postal Service providing employees with the training and skills they need when they are asked to reach out to customers in programs such as Business Connect?

    Selling the business is to the advantage of everyone who works for it. But if the Postal Service wants to institutionalize this responsibility and require that its employees reach certain targets, then proper incentives, training and support are critical.

    Should postal workers be required to “sell” the Postal Service? Would a system of financial incentives, such as those used in the private sector, work best, or would another type of reward be more effective? 

  • on Dec 16th, 2013 in Products & Services | 2 comments

    Holiday greeting cards still outweigh e-cards in terms of sentiment and personal touch, recent surveys indicate. Even digital natives say a card in the mail evokes a stronger reaction than a text or email. Yet, each year, fewer and fewer people are sending holiday greeting cards through the mail.

    In 2011, American households on average sent about 16 holiday greeting cards, according to the Postal Service’s recently released 2012 Household Diary Study report. Twelve years earlier, 23 holiday cards were sent. Data from the Greeting Card Association also chart the downward trend: U.S. consumers bought 1.5 billion holiday cards in 2011, compared to 2.7 billion in 1995.

    Still, mailed holiday greeting cards remain an important component of the Postal Service’s revenues for the year, as single-piece First-Class letters are one of the Postal Service’s most profitable products. While mail is not as seasonal as it used to be, a strong holiday season still sets the tone for the entire fiscal year.

    It seems unlikely that this trend in holiday greeting cards can be easily reversed, given the overall decline in mail use and a growing comfort with digital communications. But, perhaps some small innovations might revive interest in sending holiday greeting cards. For example, Australia Post is pioneering the use of “video stamps” – a recorded 15-second video that the addressee can view using a smart phone app. While the post is allowing the stamps on parcels only at the moment, a similar type QR code might provide an interesting opportunity for greeting cards.

    What other innovations or digital enhancements might work well on hard-copy greeting cards? Do you plan on sending greeting cards this year? Do you expect to send more or fewer cards than last year? 

  • on Dec 2nd, 2013 in Products & Services | 226 comments

    Young or old Elvis? That was the question 20 years ago when the U.S. Postal Service considered artwork for the Elvis stamp. The Postal Service put the vote to the public and controversy soon followed. Members of Congress debated the worthiness of an Elvis stamp, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton weighed in, and the whole thing became fodder for cartoonists and late-night comedians, according to the National Postal Museum.

    Elvis Mania paid off and the Elvis stamp went on to become the most popular U.S. commemorative stamp of all time.

    Now comes the Harry Potter stamp. He may not be the cultural icon Elvis is, but he’s created no less controversy. The Postal Service hopes the stamp will be a blockbuster to rival the king of rock n’ roll. The organization also hopes a Harry Potter stamp – and other youth-themed stamps – will spark interest in stamp collecting among the younger generation. But some philatelists think the idea of a Harry stamp is all wrong. For one thing, Harry Potter isn’t even American. Philatelists tend to view stamps as works of art and small pieces of American history. They balk at images that are blatantly commercial.

    The disagreement has put stamp collecting and the entire process for choosing a stamp in the news. The news reports also raise the issue of the future of stamps. Stamp collecting is seen by some as a dying hobby, as fewer young Americans participate. The stamp controversy actually underscores a larger Postal Service dilemma: How does it stay relevant among a generation that doesn’t really think too often about stamps or even hard copy communications? The postmaster general, for one, has said the Postal Service needs to start thinking differently. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said the agency “needs to change its focus toward stamps that are more commercial” as a way to increase revenue to compensate for declining mail volume as Americans switch to the Internet.

    Tell us what you think:

    • Should the Postal Service market stamp images that focus on a younger audience in hopes of reaching beyond traditional collectors and generating sales?
    • Should the Postal Service be allowed to develop themes and images that do not focus on American heritage for the sake of sales?
    • Or, should stamps be works of art and pieces of history and not based on fads or celebrities?
    • What stamp images would you like to see?

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