Eight million small businesses rely on the U.S. Postal Service as a low-cost communications and delivery network. More than $9 trillion-trillion in bills and payments move through the mail each year. It is one of the last great American institutions that visit every household, every address, everywhere, every business day. Everyone, from America�s established business community to its emerging dot-com companies, continues to rely on USPS� ubiquitous presence and universal service to promote their images, improve sales, deliver products to their customers and secure revenues.
The U.S. Postal Service is in its third century of service to American business. While oft criticized, this organization has evolved over the years to continue to perform what the country needs today � reliable and economical delivery of mail and packages. Gone are the horror stories of bags of undelivered mail and lost letters and packages. The organization put itself on track to meet customer needs in the new millennium when it looked outside and hired executive talent with experience. Past and present postmaster generals from Marvin Runyon to William Henderson have led the way to standardize processes, add accountability and install automation.
Growing volume even in the digital age
It is a staggering fact that the USPS delivered 200 billion tons of mail and parcels to 130 million households and businesses in the last 12 months. The USPS is also an economic engine with 825,000 employees, 35,000 postal facilities, 200,000 vehicles, $60 billion revenue and $4 billion in transportation purchases. The average letter carrier delivers nearly 3.5 tons of mail a month! The Postmaster General considers the 1990s �the golden age of mail� and expects the trend to continue for some time. Mail use continues to grow despite or because of a booming economy, a digital age and growing e-commerce.
Speaking at the National Postal Forum in Nashville earlier this year, Postmaster General William J. Henderson said of the continuing demand for quality mail service, �Mail is relevant in the digital age because it reaches every address. Michael Dell, the founder and chief executive of Dell Computer, recently told me that his catalog mailings account for the largest percentage of his sales of personal computers. He understands the power and value of our [US mail communication] gateway. So do many others.
�Studies by Pitney Bowes say that two-thirds of e-business companies they surveyed believe that mail is the best medium for developing long-term customer relationships. Seven out of 10 use direct mail to promote Web sites and to attract new customers.
�K-Mart has rediscovered success by revitalizing its direct mail marketing programs to drive customers into their stores and traffic to their Web site.
�All of these companies � and you � value our tradition, trust, reliability, reach, ability to meet needs and affordability. Those are the pillars on which [US mail] rests and on which you in the mailing industry have built your businesses. They make the mail powerful, significant [and] relevant.
�Keeping the mail and our businesses relevant in the future is not guaranteed. Our continued relevancy will require new ideas, new business models and a commitment to the traditions that helped turn the 90s into a Golden Age of Mail.�
New ideas and efficiency schemes are in motion
The winning formula for the USPS equals low rates, standard processes, higher productivity and automation. The scale of operation to deliver 200 billion tons of mail each year is nothing short of phenomenal. Good infrastructure will continue to serve the USPS well, including the use of seven-digit ZIP codes; a hub-and-spoke system of Sectional Centers; POSTNET codes for bulk mail sorting; automatic reading and sorting devices; 35,000 convenient local post office �stores;� and a modestly paid army of 300,000 home-delivery personnel. Low postal rates will keep mail use high and spread costs. More automation and efficiency will help face down relentless, global competition and alternative methods of communication and delivery.
Continuing commitment to customer service is more evident as USPS competes with other small package delivery companies and against other alternative communication forms. To compete better, USPS offers customer-friendly services like Express Mail, Delivery Confirmation, more satellite post offices closer to business and residential customers, more customer service representatives for businesses, more retail purchase transaction options and e-commerce offerings.
Sparked by a national advertising campaign, Priority Mail volume has increased 50% since Delivery Confirmation service was launched in March 1999. Services added include door-to-door pickup and delivery for business customers. When Priority Mail packages are delivered, the mail carrier captures the Delivery Confirmation information by scanning the barcode tracking number and keying in data using a small, handheld computer-scanner. This miniature PC was designed and licensed by Hand Held Products, a Welch Allyn affiliate to Lockheed Martin, the USPS prime contractor on the project. In addition to data collected at point-of-delivery, Priority letters and packages are also scanned and tracked as they move from one point to another. Over 300,000 letter carriers and other postal route delivery drivers now carry a portable data terminal.
The easy-to-use USPS Web site (www.usps.com) allows customers to access information about date and time of delivery, attempted deliveries and forwarded and returned shipments. Customers need only to enter the tracking number of shipments on the Web page to learn the status of the Priority envelope or package. Lockheed Martin helped integrate the delivery database to enable this practical Web site. The new Postal Service recognizes the communication and customer service potential of the worldwide Web.
In addition, the Web site offers some new service options including stamp purchase, philatelic stamp sales, phone card purchase and even an electronic bill paying service. The online bill-paying service is similar to those offered by banks and other third-party e-commerce companies. The USPS even promotes free service for the first six months and low monthly fees. It�s a logical electronic bill-paying alternative to mail.
The USPS will add a signature capture feature to its Delivery Confirmation service in the year ahead. To be more competitive, the USPS recently announced it will add off-line signature capture as a further enhancement to its Delivery Confirmation service on applicable mail and parcels. Signatures will be collected on paper and at the end of each day, the hardcopy is imaged at 224 postal centers. Upon request by telephone or via the Web site and using certain security steps, a copy of the document with the signature is printed and mailed to the shipper.
Post offices have become more like retail stores, often relocating closer to their customers. When justified, the USPS leases space instead of acquiring land and building permanent locations, which may change with demographic shifts in five or 10 years.
The U.S. Postal Service has added a point-of-service solution called the USPS POS ONE solution, comprised of a retail point-of-sale (POS) terminal, peripheral equipment and application solution software. The functionality of this solution is wide ranging, including postage weighing and rating, retail sales, special forms printing and cash management. POS ONE was developed and deployed by IBM.
The signature-capture transaction device used was originally designed by @POS and now is distributed by IBM and Hand Held Products under separate license agreements. The device helps the USPS routinely take customer checks and credit cards and use signature-capture transaction terminals for online credit and debit card transactions � just like commercial stores.
The compact, seven-by-nine-inch, retail interactive payment terminals can capture customer signatures, process online credit/debit card transactions and be programmed to perform customer communications and surveys on the touch screen. Customers sign on the touch screen with a tethered passive stylus that is inexpensive and easy to replace. The device will run split-screen displays of both text and graphics from its memory and enables sub-second communications with the transaction system.
Leading the world community in an age of e-commerce
�There is still tremendous value and visibility in First Class mail,� says William J. Henderson, Postmaster General and CEO of the USPS. �People still want to touch and read their publications. Direct mail advertising remains a strong medium. E-business presents growth opportunities for Express Mail, Priority Mail and packages. And the worldwide economy is an invitation to greater use of international mail products.�
The Postal Service leads the global postal community in automation. Postmasters from around the world closely follow its work. Common sense, experience and automation are fueling a quiet revolution in service at the U.S. Postal Service � American business and the public are the beneficiaries. The true American spirit lives on in Uncle Sam�s Postal Service and continues to evolve with the country�s needs.
John Dreibelbis is director of Marketing & Communications for Hand Held Products. For information on the Postal Service, visit www.usps.com or call 800-222-1811; for Hand Held Products, a Welch Allyn affiliate, visit www.handheld.com or call 800-582-4263; for IBM Systems Integration, visit www.ibm.com; and for Lockheed Martin, visitwww.lmco.com.