• on Aug 26th, 2013 in Products & Services | 7 comments

    Everyone loves getting something for free. Soon, you may have to look no further than your mailbox for a free sample. The U.S. Postal Service is offering consumer package goods companies and other direct mailers a discount on sending product samples in the mail through the end of September.

    “They’ll buy it, if they try it” is how the Postal Service is marketing its Product Samples mail promotion. It would seem that many marketers agree with that tagline.  A marketing expert quoted in a recent article in Marketplace called sending samples “perhaps the single most effective marketing method there is, especially for new products.” But difficulty in measuring samples’ success, and a rise over the years in postage for sending samples through the mail, has made it something of a lost art. Some former users of product samples say the Postal Service’s pricing changes in the late 1990s helped kill this mail product.

    Product samples have some challenges, however. One is how best to track sales leads from the distribution of a sample product. For example, a company handing out shampoo at a gym might not know if the sample was the reason someone later bought the shampoo. Marketers frequently include coupons or directions to an online offer. Coupons are ideal accompaniments to a mailed product sample, allowing the company to track response of the offer. The bigger challenge may be finding a workable price for product samples. The Postal Service needs to be able to find a price at which the product makes money, but is not so high as to make it unattractive to marketers.

    Still, the biggest boon to the Postal Service might be in how Product Samples increase the value of mail. You can’t send a product sample by text message or email. The Postal Service has designed Product Samples to raise awareness of its Simple Samples offering, which gives users flat-rate pricing, volume discounts, and simpler mail-preparation requirements, including no need for outer packaging. Keeping it simple should help as well.

    How do you feel about receiving samples in the mail? Are you more likely to purchase something if you have a favorable reaction to a sample? Could a resurgence of marketers using sampling techniques help improve the value of mail?

  • on Jul 29th, 2013 in Products & Services | 9 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service uses a variety of strategies and media – including direct mail, television, radio, and sponsorships – to advertise, market, and promote its products and services. These efforts also help to build brand awareness for the Postal Service. Some campaigns have succeeded, such as the Priority Mail Flat Rate box campaign, “If it fits, it ships®.” Other efforts have been less successful.

    Over the years, the Postal Service has faced an advertising conundrum. Some have complained that a government monopoly shouldn’t be spending money to advertise. Others have grumbled that the Postal Service isn’t doing enough to promote its products and services, particularly compared to its competitors. Certainly, the Postal Service’s current financial condition restricts its advertising budget. Then, there have been concerns about how well the Postal Service has managed and monitored advertising contracts, which one of our audit reports documented earlier this year. The Postal Service took corrective actions and has new contracts in place.

    Undoubtedly, we live in an age of competitive advertising. Every product the Postal Service has faces competition, even the monopoly products. The Postal Service needs to use advertising to promote its products, services, and the brand itself. The question might be: What is the most effective way for the Postal Service to advertise? Should campaigns focus on traditional media, or focus on new media, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube?

    The Postal Service’s upcoming launch of an ad campaign might provide insights on the best possible strategy. It plans to kick off a nationwide multi-channel advertising campaign in August to promote its Priority Mail changes, which include a “simplification” of Priority Mail services and a name change for Express Mail. For some customers, the new longer name of Priority Mail Express, and the revised Priority Mail service offerings of 1-, 2- or 3-days might actually seem more complicated than simplified. A successful advertising campaign would reduce that confusion.

    Share your thoughts on the Postal Service’s advertising strategy and its recent campaigns. How effective have they been? What changes would you like to see?

  • on Apr 9th, 2013 in Products & Services | 11 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service has a wide spectrum of customers, from businesses and organizations to every household in the United States. Balancing the needs of these customers is no small task, yet satisfying them is essential to the Postal Service’s success. With that in mind, the Postal Service has made improving the customer experience one of the key elements of its strategic goals.

    For consumers, customer service ranges from wait time in lobbies to letter carrier service to interaction with postal staff at a Post Office. Business mailers might focus on different aspects of customer service, such as delivery performance, interaction with acceptance personnel, or how quickly a service problem is resolved. What customers might not realize is that the Postal Service relies on a number of systems to support customer services and to improve a user’s overall experience. These systems can also reduce manual inputs, increase efficiency, and streamline operations. Often seamless to customers, these sophisticated systems have helped to make mail a reliable method of communications. However, when they go down or work inefficiently, it can lead to negative customer experiences, which might impact future business opportunities.

    For example, business mailers use the Facility Access and Shipment Tracking (FAST) system to set up appointments to enter mail at postal facilities. FAST collects and monitors appointment data for the facilities, which improves the efficiency and effectiveness of appointment creation for both customers and Postal Service management. Business mailers also rely on PostalOne!, a suite of web-based business capabilities that allows mailers to integrate their mail planning and production processes with those of the Postal Service for “seamless” and efficient mail induction.

    Consumers are more likely to use the Postal Service’s website usps.com to research or access services, such as purchasing postage, looking up ZIP Codes, printing shipping labels, or submitting a change of address form. And although retail customers might not realize it, their customer experience hinges on the Point of Service (POS) Retail system, which automates retail transactions at post offices and other retail counters.

    When these systems are working properly, customers may not think about them at all. But if these systems experience an outage, the customer experience could be entirely different. Our office is reviewing these systems as part of an audit and would like to hear from customers. What have your experiences been when using FAST, PostalOne!, usps.com and other types of services? Are they consistently available? Or have you experienced system availability problems?

    For business customers, has system availability or slow response times affected your own internal processes, such as transportation schedules or other mail entry issues? For retail customers, have you had problems accessing information or services on usps.com? We also welcome comments of Postal Service employees on their experiences with these applications and the services they support.

    While the scope of our audit is limited to systems review, we welcome input on the entire customer experience.

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