• on Feb 10th, 2014 in Strategy & Public Policy | 30 comments

    Hold everything, folks. That’s the recent message from the U.S. Postal Service on phase two of its network consolidation plan and associated changes to service standards. The Postal Service has delayed the second phase, which was set to take effect this month.

    The Postal Service launched its consolidation plan – the Mail Processing Network Rationalization Initiative – in 2011 as part of a larger $20 billion cost-reduction strategy that seeks to realign the size of the postal network and workforce with reduced mail volumes. In phase one, the Postal Service targeted 178 consolidations. It also adjusted service standards for certain types of mail. For example, the Postal Service significantly reduced the overnight delivery area for First-Class Mail and cut in half the geographic reach of 2-day delivery.

    Phase two planned to eliminate overnight delivery of First-Class Mail and consolidate another 89 facilities. Current processing operations were designed primarily around providing overnight delivery of First Class Mail, the product line that is in steepest decline. So at some times in the day, mail processing machines sit idle. Without the constraint of overnight standards, the Postal Service would have a more flexible operating schedule, allowing for higher efficiency and lower costs.     

    Customers have mixed feelings about network consolidation. On one hand, mailers support reducing costs and eliminating excess capacity. It makes no sense to pay for unused capacity. They also understand the need for the Postal Service to have greater operational flexibility. On the other hand, a reduction in service standards acts as something of a de facto price increase: Customers are paying the same for reduced service.

    Further, some mailers are suspicious that these kinds of efforts, such as the latest proposal to add a day of service to some drop-shipped Standard Mail and Periodicals, are merely shifting postal costs onto their backs. They support approaches that reduce total combined costs. Other stakeholders, such as the American Postal Workers Union, have raised outright objections to changes in service standards.

    We want your thoughts:

    •  Should the Postal Service continue with phase two as originally outlined or does it need to make adjustments?
    •  Are changes to service standards a reasonable trade-off for lowering overall postal costs?
    •  Can the Postal Service afford premium service standards in a time of declining volume and revenue?
    • How do the changes to service standards affect you or your business?
    • Have you seen an increase in mail delays or service problems due to network consolidation?
  • 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 Jan 29th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 10 comments

    Could the U.S. Postal Service help the nearly 70 million Americans who are cut off in some way from the mainstream financial system? We’re talking about people who, because they lack ready or full access to normal banking services, paid $89 billion in fees and interest to alternative financial service outlets such as payday lenders and check cashers in 2012 alone. They are the financially underserved – also known as the underbanked or unbanked – and many of them are one unexpected expense away from bankruptcy or homelessness.

    According to our recently released white paper, Providing Non-Bank Financial Services for the Underserved, not only can the Postal Service help the financially underserved, but it is also well-suited to the task. For starters, the Postal Service network extends to every community across the country. And while the Postal Service already offers money orders and international money transfers, the paper identifies a suite of additional services and products the Postal Service could develop, mainly through partnerships with banks:

    • Payment services
    • Reloadable prepaid cards
    • Options for mobile transactions
    • Access to small loans

    By offering these kinds of services, the Postal Service could help bring financial stability to millions of Americans. It could also generate income: Even if only 10 percent of the money paid in interest and fees were instead spent on less-expensive Postal Service alternatives, the Postal Service would realize $8.9 billion in new revenue.

    Moreover, when you consider that 59 percent of post offices are located in ZIP Codes that have only one bank or none at all, and that surveys repeatedly demonstrate the public’s unmatched trust in the Postal Service, developing non-bank financial services would not only meet a market need, but also fulfill a public purpose.

    What do you think? What types of non-bank financial services could the Postal Service provide to help address the needs of the underserved? 

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