• on Feb 3rd, 2014 in Products & Services | 17 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 | 11 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? 

  • on Jan 27th, 2014 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 3 comments

    It’s back to the future for the requirement that all letter and flat automation mailings be Full-Service Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) compliant to obtain discounts. Mailers were expecting implementation this week of the Full-Service requirement, but the U.S. Postal Service pushed back the date until 2015 because the Postal Regulatory Commission ruled that the mandate constituted a price increase that would have busted the inflation-based price cap.

    Many mailers welcomed the delay, as few felt the entire industry – the Postal Service included – was ready for full-service, which included the requirement that barcodes keep their unique sequence of numbers for at least 45 days before the barcode sequence is used again. A number of large mailers have been Full-Service IMb compliant for months and have taken advantage of the benefits of IMbs, including tracking of service performance, identifying bottlenecks, and coordinating follow-up marketing efforts. But many mid-sized and smaller mailers were not ready for the added requirements, which include electronic submission of postage statements and use of unique IMbs on trays and containers. And concerns were growing that the Postal Service’s systems are not yet capable of handling the expected increase in IMb data.

    The Office of Inspector General raised similar concerns in a fall audit report. In particular, we found the Postal Service had fallen short in developing a comprehensive plan for the continued development and use of IMb data. Notably, the Postal Service’s plans around the use of IMb data have grown considerably since its original vision of the program and it has not taken into account the needs of all mailers. The Postal Service needs to upgrade its data storage capabilities and data systems to accommodate the growing use of IMbs and to support stakeholders’ needs.

    The silver lining in this delay could be that it gives the Postal Service another year to develop a comprehensive IMb data plan that includes detailed input from all business users and identifies costs and milestones for the life of the IMb program. It also gives mailers more time to get ready, while letting those already in the Full-Service IMb program keep their modest discounts.

    • Share your thoughts on the Full-Service IMb and the delayed implementation date.
    • Do you think another year will make a difference in the readiness of mailers? Of the Postal Service’s systems?
    • What incentives would you like to see to encourage smaller mailers to make the conversion to Full-Service IMb?
    • If you are already Full-Service compliant, what value do you get from the program? 

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