on May 18th, 2009 in Products & Services | 29 comments
 
Do you know why some magazines include postcards in the middle? Or have you mailed a letter back to a company in their envelope without having to put a stamp on it? Did you ever wonder how this service works?

The Postal Service offers a service called Business Reply Mail (BRM). By opening an account with the local Post Office, a business may supply their customers with return envelopes or labels. This allows customers to send a reply via First-Class Mail or Priority Mail. The business pays the postage and a per piece fee only for the pieces returned. To ensure the postage is collected, clerks at the delivery Post Office calculate the amount due and withdraw the money from a customer account. In some cases, carriers collect the postage when they deliver the pieces to the business. Generally, BRM pieces are identified through automation process; however, the Postal Service relies on clerks and carriers to identify and hold out any BRM pieces that have not been isolated through automation.

Recent changes in the public’s mailing habits alongside increased use of the internet to communicate with customers have led to reductions in BRM volume. This coupled with a smaller workforce with greater responsibilities may increase the risk to the Postal Service of not collecting all revenue from BRM.

Do you think a change in the way the Postal Service charges for these pieces would increase the mailing volume while also helping the Postal Service reduce work hours? Is a flat rate based on quarterly volume estimates a more attractive option? Share your thoughts on BRM.

This blog topic is hosted by the OIG's Field Financial East directorate.

29 Comments

I am confused about how the Postal Service collects postage due from businesses once BRM mail is returned. Do carriers collect money on the spot? it's not clear form your blog. Isn't that expensive? It seems inefficient and outdated? Doesn't make the BRM mail expensive for the Postal Service to handle (if they are handling the postage due manually). if so, why would the Postal Service want to increase this money losing mail stream?

I am just confused. Perhaps I missed the point. please clarify.

The Postal Service collects money in two ways. Either through a direct deduction from the customer account or at the time of delivery. High volume customers have money on deposit with the Postal Service. The charge for the BRM pieces processed is deducted from those accounts. For lower volume or infrequent users, the Postal Service collects upon delivery. Sometimes carriers collect and sometimes the customer picks-up the mail at the office and pays at that time. The different per piece charges take into account these different processing methods and are structured to recoup Postal Service costs.

In my office clerks and carriers are told not to finger the mail. I have looked thru firm mailings that come in direct flat tubs and letter trays and have found BRM mail that has not been counted. I have counted 25 pieces or more in one hamper for a firm. Supervisors say do not go thru the mail you are wasting time, there is also certifieds that go thru every day, make sure you upsell at the window thou.

Thanks for the comments Bill. The situation you describe is one of the reasons we were wondering about the viability of a flat rate.

Postal Management has informed us that BRM / Postage Due mail is not a priority. More concern is needed for the window. They eliminate postage due clerk positions and have nobody trained to process this mail which is time consuming. Last Presidential election trays and trays of voter registration cards did not get processed (BRM) as a result of not having the manpower to process this mail. Postal Management is trying and causing the Postal Service to fail in order to privatize. Whoever takes over the Postal Service would be crazy to hire any postal executive that would cause their company to fail because they may cause the new one fail as well.

Thank you for your observations. Do you think a flat rate would be a better alternative?

My husband is a Business Reply Clerk. He has worked at the PO for 32 years and watched it slowly go downhill. He is hoping that this job lasts seven more years until retirement.

They do not train people for when he is gone. Mail is given out all of the time to the customers without collecting payment when he is gone.

One of our largest accounts used to get twenty to thirty trays of BRM a day. Now they are lucky to get a half a tray. They are going down the tubes, so to speak.

I had no idea as a window clerk, that carriers did not pull this mail out. Shouldn't the machines pull it out? As a clerk who spreads mail, I never see it in the mail that I have to case up. It would be interesting to ask the carriers in our office if they see any get through, but then, we are on the west coast and we get numerous letters everyday for England. So, someone is not minding the store. We send back two to three full tubs of mail that is missent to our office every day, including Priority and Express.

I can totally see why we are a money losing company right now.

Thanks Mike. You point out some risks that may need to be addressed. However, what are your thoughts about changes to the product or pricing to recoup some of the volume and revenue.

I am a Business Reply clerk. When I got to work Monday,18 May 09, I found little had been done to work the BR Mail Saturday and I had two days work to do. I told my supervisor it would take me 10 and a half hours to finish the work. He told me the Postmaster said no overtime. I ask him what he wanted to do with the mail. He said he would try to find someone to finish it up. I came in Tuesday and nothing had been done. The mail was still seting there. Delayed for another day. When service comes up against Overtime, service loses. Untill Management is held accountable for BR Mail being delayed I would not recomend it to our customers.

Thanks for your comments Scottie.

I had just recently started a business that is dependent upon timely BRM. I have been running it now for the past month and have been very disappointed with what has been going on at my post office.

There seems to be one person trained for BRM. Often times it can take up to a WEEK AND A HALF between when BRM peices are postmarked and when it arrives. Sometimes BRM peices postmarked a week apart arrive together. I don't know if I should change post offices or what. My guess is that they are sitting on someones desk waiting to be processed and they take their time.

Thanks Randy for your comment. I agree that BRM customers should receive their return mail promptly. I would discuss your concerns with the postmaster.

How do I contact my postmaster? The business model is much like netflix but a niche market of educational DVDs.

Here are some of the problems we are having with our mailings. This is starting to get very frustrating as our entire business model is centered around our mail being delivered in a safe and timely fashion.

1. BRM mail is being returned up to a week and a half late. Sometimes items postmarked a week apart are arriving together. We are aware that our post office has only one person trained in handling mail. Is it sitting on a desk waiting for enough volume to be processed? Does it get processed if this person is busy or out for the week/day?

2. We are still encountering untrained and rude workers at the post office. My wife went to place money on the BRM account for the second time Monday, June 15th 2009 where the clerk did not know what to do and had an attitude. This is the SECOND TIME someone could not help my wife.

3. Our BRM mailings are under 1 ounce. We are being charged 2 ounces.

4. Our DVD's are coming damaged in the mail. It takes quite a bit of pressure to break one of these DVDs. So far we have had two broken. Is this a matter of spite?

5. I spoke to the Supervisor personally about these issues and was directed to speak to someone else since he didn't know anything about BRM.

6. There are public reviews of this same post office online at: http://www.yelp.com/biz/us-post-office---brooklyn-brooklyn . Every person who reviews this 11211 williamsburg post office asks, "WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO SHUT THIS PLACE DOWN?" people have been posting lengthy complaints about this post office since 2006. This is a booming area; is it too much to ask for reliable mail?

We have spent an enormous amount of money trying to start this business between stocking inventory, printing envelopes, programming and much more. We were under the impression via Post Office advertising and services that BRM was a professional service that could be provided to us and relied upon; afterall netflix uses it. I really don't know what to do. Will things be better if we change post offices? If so, we have to print new envelopes; this is expensive. Should I consult a laywer concerning the reimbursment of our printing costs?

I really don't know what to do. This is a pressing issue. Within one week we had 80 paying customers. Clearly this is a business that will work, but will it fail because of the post office?

I agree that you have great cause for complaint. I have forwarded your concerns and comments (including the yelp link) to the appropriate officials. I do not wish to leave specific names and telephone numbers on this post. However, if you send me your email address, I will forward you the information regarding the name and number of the station manager.
Thank you

I commented on another post about the fact that I work in a station without a supervisor on duty. I process the BRM mail every morning. If I am not there another person is trained to do the job. We work as a team and we try to cover the window so each of us has time to complete certain duties. Of course there are always days when not everything gets done, but our main focus is making sure the mail we get is all delivered, whether it is BRM, first class, whatever. We time manage ourselves, rather than being micromanaged by management. Works well because we work well together.

BRE is first class mail -- we pay for it that way, at least. But over the last two years, the Oakland post office has been delivering our BRE's once a week or less, instead of the daily deliveries we once had (and pay for). This causes customers to complain about orders not being filled promptly and administrative headaches from getting large batches of BRE's on one day.

We have complained to the Post Office perhaps 20 times, including through the D.C. office and our Congressional office. We are always promised a call back within a day (this rarely happens, however). If we are given a cal back, we are usually told that someone is on vacation or the person is new (for two years?). I have no confidence whatsoever that this issue will ever be resolved.

We are considering just dropping BREs and asking customers to affix postage -- and including a note explaining that because the USPS no longer can be counted on to deliver BREs reliably, we have had to discontinue the service -- another black eye for the Post Office.

We are far from alone in this area with this problem. The delivery person says a lot of people complain. Before the Post Office decides how to charge differently for BREs, it needs to figure out if it can deliver the service people are buying. If we don't get the service FedEx promises (and we have switched all ground shipments to FedEx because they are much more reliable and can track delivery), we would a) be called back promptly on complaint (or have the issue resolved up front) and b) get a full refund of what we paid for shipment. This inattention to customer service, sadly, seems to create a downward spiral for the Post Office where it does not have the money to provide better service and people abandon it because it doesn't.

I understand your frustration and unfortunately you are not alone in your complaints. I have forwarded your comments to the appropriate individuals at OIG.
thanks

I have had nothing but problems at the Rogers Park, Chicago Post Office. When we applied for our permit we asked if we need to monitor our renewal date and were told that the post office will notify us when permit will expire (we also confirmed this service in the domestic mail manual). W'ell you guessed it. Our permit lapsed because we never received a renewal notice. After several mailings we figured out our permit expired. So leeson 1, we learned is to track your renwal date yourself. Then we paid to renew our permit and it took WEEKS to get a straight answer from anyone. We called the local branch (Rogers Park) we called downtown on Harrison St. Each time we received different answers on how to renew our permit. Eventually we sent in our payment. Spoke to numerous people at Rogers Park and received nothing but a run around. Now we have a renewed permit and sent out seed names and tests and still have not received any back after 2 weeks! What other options do I have? Is there a different service I can use? We really need BRM. Please contact me to discuss this.

I have forwarded your comments to the appropriate individuals at OIG.
thanks

We are considering just dropping BREs and asking customers to affix postage — and including a note explaining that because the USPS no longer can be counted on to deliver BREs reliably, we have had to discontinue the service — another black eye for the Post Office.

As a work from home businessman, I rely heavily on BRM with clients as well as vendors. It is an extremely valuable service that I hope will continue to be provided in the future. Strong 'yes' vote from me.

Best,
Scott

I think this is a very valuable service for business. Lets face it as a customer it is always much easier to send a pre-paid envelope back. I tend to find it is more of an incentive. It also enables businesses to manage their postal costings more efficiently and within their specific budgets.

I agree that it's a valuable service. As a consumer, I'd rather not spend the $0.44 to return a piece of mail to a company. For my small business, I am going to look into this service - it may increase my response rate from clients.

I used to use BRM in the past but, only for inbound orders. It's become cost prohibitive to use it for anything other than increased amount of leads that will yield a large return or for prepaid orders..

The advance of modern technology is weeding out the old ways of doing business..

I used to use the service but cost and lack of roi put an end to that. Although, I've heard that this type of direct marketing in the offline world does actually work for some people. I'm guessing my offer wasn't good enough or I just plain wasn't doing it right.

these are some of the greatest invention by the post office.

Well, personally I think that the BRM has had its heyday in the past. But these days, there are a lot of people if not most people rely on email for speed and efficiency.

The BRM can still be effective these days if it would have to contain some sort of valuable material that cannot be sent through email. We have to stop and ponder on this a bet and do a little brainstorming. With the right people and minds at work, the solution to this problem should arise on its own.

there are some things that just must be delivered as a document or form and BRM has a place in making that more likley to happen.

If the BRM is not completed someone is falsifying documents by performing the BRM reconciliation report checking that it is completed.

When that was happening in our office I sent screen shots to OIG but I never heard back.

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