Setting Up a Digital Mailroom

Overview  

When you think of a "mailroom," do visions of canvas bags and postage meters pop into your head? While this image might be accurate, it’s also antiquated. For convenience, cost savings and competitiveness, modern office mailrooms are taking steps to harness today’s new technology.

In this article, we will consider both high-tech and low-tech options for establishing effective office mailroom practices, as well as improving the efficiency of printing and copying operations.

Outline:

  1. Postal Service Providers
  2. Going Digital
  3. Other Helpful Tools
  4. Digital Mail Alternatives
  5. Money Saving Mailroom Tips
  6. Resources


I. Postal Service Providers

The U.S. Postal Service

Try as they might, no alternative delivery service has been able to whisk a piece of mail around the country more efficiently than the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Even with burgeoning high-tech options, the post office is still the backbone of most mailrooms. Though we often take the ease and reliability of the USPS for granted, several things can be done to speed up and simplify post office mailing. Here’s a basic primer in using the USPS to your best advantage.

"Preferred and Automated"

Did you know that when asked how much they knew about the correct USPS addressing requirements, 89 percent of office personnel answered zero? They knew nothing of post office mail addressing requirements. And yet, the USPS accounts for more than 70 percent of all office postal delivery. Perhaps this explains why, according to the USPS, more than 7 percent of all first class mail is undeliverable.

At the post office, machines will determine if your mail is preferred or standard, automated or non-automated. Mail that is machinable (standard size, thickness and weight, correct postage, completely sealed), readable (address positioned correctly, spelled and abbreviated correctly, clearly typed or machine printed using black ink and sans serif type), pre-bar coded, presorted, metered, trayed, and addressed with a Zip+4 zip code is considered preferred and automated.
 

Your Letter
|
Picked up at mailbox
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Sacked at collection point
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Unloaded at local post office
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Machinable? Readable? Pre-bar coded? Presorted? Metered? Trayed? Zip+4?

|
Outgoing loading dock
|
Destination

According to Alice McElhone and Edward B. Butler, authors of "Mail It! High-Impact Business Mail from Design to Delivery," when the post office receives a preferred, automated letter like this, it whips through the system 97.97 percent faster than the typical hand-lettered envelope.

Other Tips:

Remember, the best rates and service are given to mail that is fully compliant with USPS recommendations.

Priority or Parcel Post? USPS Mail Classifications

Do you need:

  1. Guaranteed overnight delivery 365 days a year?  Yes  No 
     
  2. Saturday, Sunday or holiday delivery, at no extra charge?  Yes  No 
     
  3. Morning delivery?  Yes  No 
     
  4. Mail Tracking on the Internet or by phone (800/222-1811)?  Yes  No 

If you answered "Yes" to even one of the previous questions, you probably should opt for the $15.75 Express Mail service instead of "regular" First-Class postage. Other benefits of Express Mail:

Not as fast, but another good option is Priority Mail. Choose Priority for:

Use standard First-Class Mail for:

And finally, use Parcel Post for:

UPS

The United Parcel Service (UPS) provides another viable option for mail and package delivery. UPS, like many delivery organizations, has gone high-tech, offering UPS OnLine Office 6.0 with Support, available free by request. We’ll cover this fully in the next segment.

FedEx

Federal Express, as its name indicates, provides express air and courier mail and package transport and delivery. FedEx also offers free software to help you set up your mailroom business online.

Private Mail

Private mail refers to the home or business delivery of certain kinds of second and Third-Class mail. Companies such as Alternate Postal Delivery of Grand Rapids, Mich. (616/235-2828) and Publishers Express of Atlanta (404/429-4500) arrange piggy-back programs with magazines such as Sports Illustrated, Redbook, and Popular Mechanics in 55 markets nationwide. Other companies also offer similar services.

When Cal Winter started his sporting goods mail order company, he had big plans but little capital for mass mailings. A mailing broker told him about private mail delivery services. Winter wanted to begin by targeting teenagers with his skateboarding, in-line skating and biking products. The mail delivery service coupled his catalog in a polybag with Seventeen magazine, which is geared to teen readers. "It was a great way to test the market, and it's a lot cheaper than using regular mail," he said. Winter paid $60 per 1,000 catalogs using private delivery, compared to $300 to deliver by mail.

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II. Going Digital

Computers are being used everywhere to simplify and improve business operations, and the mailroom is no exception. New technologies enable companies to update and automate mail services, including a variety of software and peripheral offerings from bar code printers to electronic address books. The Internet facilitates parcel tracking and buying stamps online.

Numerous digital shipping solutions let you prepare all your records electronically and transmit package information directly to the carrier of your choice. These convenient solutions provide access to all the tracking services you need, right from your PC. They eliminate paper, streamline shipping procedures, reduce labor costs and offer alternative billing options. Your shipments can also be tracked with reference numbers generated from your inventory or billing system. Take the following quick quiz to see if going digital would benefit your mailroom operation:

  1. How many packages do you ship per day?
    (a) 1-5 (b) 5-10 (c) 10-50 (d) over 50
     
  2. Does your mailroom utilize more than one mail service carrier?
    (a) yes (b) no
     
  3. How much time per week do you or someone in your operation spend writing Air Waybills, invoices and shipping forms?
    (a) less than 10 minutes (b) less than 1 hour (c) 1-2 hours (d) 2 or more hours
     
  4. The so-called "paperless office" is:
    (a) an admirable but unlikely goal (b) a fantasy (c) an objective our office actively strives for.
     
  5. The office mailroom is:
    (a) a necessary evil (b) where students begin their careers (c) the backbone of every operation.

If you answered "d" on questions one and three you may be losing money every day your mailroom does things the "old fashioned way." If you answered "Yes" to number two, utilizing a rate comparison web site or software will make matching the right carrier to your needs easier, and save you money in the process. As for questions four and five, if you answered "d" you probably already are maximizing your mailroom with high-tech options. Fortunately for business productivity, management and employees are increasingly recognizing the advantages of reducing paperwork and streamlining operations, and acknowledging the crucial role office postal and shipping plays.

Actually, however you answered, you may want to consider online shipping options. According to mailroom expert Aj Aviv of Purolator Courier, whether you spend 10 minutes or 10 hours shipping one or 100 items, getting the mailroom up to digital speed will benefit your company. "The future is with automation technology. Those who don't get on board will be left behind."

As you begin or expand your digital mailroom, here are some options for you to consider:

The Internet Post Office

As the opening page of their Web site boasts, you will encounter "No crowds. No lines. This post office is open 24 hours and day, seven days a week." The USPS Business site is a virtual warehouse of tools, literature, products, and services to help any business, large or small, leverage the power of the Internet. On the USPS site, you may also confirm and track USPS mail or use the handy rate calculator.

UPS Online Office

This software from UPS can be used alone or concurrently with other mailroom software to automate your worldwide shipping and tracking activities. From your PC you can process domestic and international shipments, print labels and pickup records, and send package details electronically. With a thermal label printer and a 4x8-inch label you can also print a bar-code and SSCC (Serialized Shipping Container Code) representing your reference number.

Benefits of UPS online:

FedEx Business Tools

Federal Express offers users a variety of automated business tools. You can use free FedEx software and the Internet for everything from single package shipping to international distribution:

InterNetShip

At the FedEx Web site, your company can ship domestically or internationally, from over 45 countries to more than 170 countries worldwide. With no additional software or hardware requirements, you get commercial invoice preparation, drop-off locator, a courtesy rate quote before you ship, and you can review your shipping history for the previous 45 days. Shipping orders can be placed using Visa, MasterCard, or American Express (for U.S. Domestic shipments only) in a secure online environment. An email notification option informs recipients of your shipment and can include a brief greeting or a list of the package contents. InterNetShip eliminates handwritten Air Waybills, allowing you to print Air Waybills on plain paper. The custom address book also saves time; by storing up to 75 names and addresses online, you won't have to retype recipient information each time you prepare a package for mailing.

IntraNetShip

For companies and organizations with intranets, this browser-based shipping application consolidates all shipping activities, centralizes administration and reporting, and eliminates time consuming, handwritten FedEx shipping forms.

PowerShip

Designed to help you process shipments faster, with fewer errors and less paperwork, PowerShip includes all the hardware and software for automating your entire shipping process.

DirectLink

This software program enables you to electronically receive, manage, and remit FedEx invoicing data for U.S. domestic and international shipping, including duties and taxes, from your personal computer. DirectLink replaces the paper invoicing processes for all FedEx programs, including Air Waybill and Express Manifest invoices, streamlining your invoicing procedures while almost entirely eliminating invoicing paperwork. This option is intended for large-volume shippers or for shippers with multiple account numbers sending at least 500 shipments per day. Currently DirectLink is available only in the United States.

FedEx e-Business Advisor helps you review the above-mentioned options and choose the one that best suits your business.

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III. Other Helpful Tools

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IV. Digital Mail Alternatives

Craig G. Willis, Founder and CEO of Phoenix, Arizona’s Epic PC frequently makes use of electronic mail. "Postage rates just keep going up and up," he said. "Business doesn’t have to pay whatever the government mandates. Fortunately, there are viable alternatives." Willis prefers using email to communicate with dealers and sales representatives around the world. He also uses fax to disseminate new product information, sales brochures, invoices and purchase orders, reserving traditional land and air mail/shipping for product deliveries.

The primary forms of digital mail are fax and email:

Fax Communications

While some predict the decline of facsimile transmissions, there are other very big players who increasingly rely on faxes to take over the bulk of their mailings. At the Pentagon, for example, employees send and receive faxes from networked, desktop personal computers through Microsoft Windows NT using Optus Software's FACSys. FACSys has literally changed my life," said Dave Snipes, Senior Systems Engineer, Legislative Affairs. "I'm here by seven and I try to leave by mid-afternoon. Before installing FACSys, I'd come in at seven and wouldn’t be able to leave until eight, nine, or even 10 p.m."

Denison Hydraulics, a multinational manufacturing firm, is another company that relies heavily on networked fax for sending and receiving information. Prior to Denison’s switch to FACSys-based network fax, a page of pricing or product information was lost or misplaced regularly. "A single lost page used to be a disaster for our sales," said Jeff Warren, IS Technical Projects Leader.

For a company with a worldwide work force of approximately 1,200, inter-office and outgoing mail is a huge concern. Denison employees were used to writing and faxing manually, or ground mailing all the documents they handled in day-to-day operations. "Now, with network fax and the document management system, they are able to do all the work on their desktop computers. That’s a major step," Warren added. Automating the storage and retrieval of important business information with electronic document management has virtually eliminated the mis-keying of product numbers, the transposing of cost figures, and the misplacing and losing of forms.

UPS Online Courier is an alternative to fax, email attachments, messenger and overnight shipping. UPS’ Digital document delivery service combines maximum protection along with point-to-point tracking for approximately $2.50 per document within North America ($6.50 from Europe). This service is available via the Web, or you may request free software.

email Correspondence

In the near future of the digital office, look to email to dominate the scene. email can be a huge asset to an office mail system: messages received via email can be revised and distributed easily and quickly. email is conveniently available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Storing and retrieving email is much simpler than filing and finding paper mail, and email is far cheaper than a letter or a fax. According to Random House’s "Complete Electronic Office Handbook" (1997), a 10-page report typically costs approximately 25¬¢ to send and receive electronically. The same report would cost 66¬¢ to send by mail and $1.25 to send by fax. Sending email is also fast: A 50-page report takes about two minutes to send.

But what really sets email apart is "threading", or integrating messages, documents, and computer files and establishing links — or threads — among them (for instance "the Smith account," "special orders," and "Western region"). Threading can organize huge amounts of information in a single computer system. It speeds message and document flow throughout a business.

To help transfer your communication from fax, phone, and letter to email and encourage the use of email both inside and outside the office:

Of course, email has its limitations. It can’t send color brochures or product samples; and as Neodata, a subscription-fulfillment company in Louisville, Colorado discovered, email addresses aren’t always reliable. In a recent mass mailing, the company sent 85,000 email messages. At last count, only 17,000 (20 percent) had been delivered. In contrast, of the 1.9 million pieces of snail mail that leave Neodata's facility every day, less than 7 percent go undelivered. Yet for speed, cost, convenience, and accessibility in managing the enormous volume of information that is the backbone of most organizations, email is a worthwhile option.

Buying Stamps Online

How many trips to the post office do you or someone in your office make a week to buy stamps? With today’s technology, even one trip is too many. You can now conveniently purchase stamps online at the USPS Web site.

Going one better, E-stamp lets you make and print digital postage directly onto an envelope or label. The program includes a two-dimensional bar-code to convey security and mail processing information about the mail piece. It also contains the same decipherable information as a traditional postage meter (date, city of origin, etc.).

The E-stamp Web site offers testimonials in its customer profiles section: "I get many submissions of photos and articles by mail and I need to send them back. The weight is always different, especially when you factor in parcels containing heavy aircraft parts," said Steve Williams of American Yankee Association about E-Stamp. "(With E-Stamp) I just stick the package on the scale, key the weight into E-Stamp and get the right postage that way. I have all my addresses on a clipboard, and I use E-Stamp's capture address tool and the address is automatically dropped in. It's great because I hate my mail looking unprofessional, hate going to the post office, and hate using too many stamps. This is definitely a smarter way."
 

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V. Money-Saving Mailroom Tips

Finally, mailroom expert Nancy Jones of Alternative Mailing & Shipping Solutions (AMSS) in Raleigh offers this advice: "Stay informed on the US Postal Service's changes in addressing and Zip codes. Invest in offering updated software and equipment to meet demand. Just remember, reliable communication — the ability to stay in touch with the market place, vendors and salespeople — is the key to success. Any product is worthwhile if you use it to improve, streamline, and enhance this communication process."

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VI. Resources

Web Sites

HandiLinks for Postal and Shipping services

Books

 Paul Arnold, et. al., "The Postal Business Companion" (Braddock Communications, 1994)

Susan Jaderstrom, "The Complete Office Handbook" (Random House Reference, 1996)

Alice McElhone, Edward B. Butler, "Mail It! High Impact Business Mail from Design to Delivery" (Benchmark Publications, 1996)

Mark A. Taylor, "Computerized Shipping Systems" (Angelico & Taylor, 2000)

"The Journal of Communication Distribution," Excelsior Publications, One Milstone Road, Gold Key Box 2425, Milford, Pa. 18337-9607

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Copyright © 2013, Virtual Advisor Inc.