Creating perfect partnerships

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Independent management consultant, Mark Fallon, discusses the top five things postal services and mailers need to keep in mind when forging strong relationships

The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word ‘partnership’ as: “A relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal.”

For me, the key words here are “mutual cooperation and responsibility”. The US Postal Service (USPS) and mailers must mutually cooperate and share responsibility for both parties to be successful. Therefore let’s review the top five keys to a successful partnership.

Number 5: Talk with each other

Three words – communicate, communicate, and communicate. Notice that this tip is titled “Talk with each other”. Not “Talk to each other”. A conversation involves speaking and listening.

What does this mean for the mailer? If you have an issue with a mailing or a delivery, don’t start the conversation with accusations and demands. If you begin with an adversarial approach, then you aren’t leaving the other person much room for a successful solution to your problem. It may feel good yelling at someone, but it doesn’t help the situation.

Instead, ask what went wrong, and how do you prevent it from happening again. If you think a rule or regulation has been unfairly used against you, explain why you feel that way, and then ask another question. Why does the clerk, manager, whoever, think you are wrong? Asking questions allows the other person to help you find an answer. Listen to the answer – it will help you in the future.

What does this mean for the Postal Service? Again, start a conversation by explaining the situation and asking questions. If a customer has a mailing that doesn’t qualify for a certain discount, explain why, and then ask how you can help them prepare for the future.

Number 4: Respect each other

Our industry isn’t always the most respected profession. Much of that is due to unfounded stereotypes – whether humorous, like Cliff the Mailman from US sitcom Cheers. Or perhaps relatively benign, like the concept of starting your career in the mailroom, and then working your way up the corporate ladder. And then the hurtful, like saying “going postal” to describe violent behavior.

How do we change this perception? First by being the true professionals that are the hallmark of this industry. Professionals who are experts at what they do, and demonstrate that through knowledge gained and industry certification.

Another important way to gain the respect of people from outside the industry is to respect each other from inside our industry. Mailers must respect the men and women of the USPS, and postal employees need to respect the people who produce the mail that keeps them in business.

For mailers, respecting the USPS includes recognizing them as fellow professionals. As the son of a career postal service employee, I had the benefit of getting to know clerks, carriers, mail handlers and postmasters as I was growing up. I’m not going to say that these groups got along with each other 100% of the time, but I did get the feeling that they knew they were on the same team.

As mailers, we need to be part of that team. When there’s an issue with your mail, inbound or outbound, you need to work with the USPS members of your team to resolve the problem. Don’t immediately assume that the “postal service screwed up.” Instead, show respect for your team members, and ask for help.

Similarly, at all levels, the USPS has to respect the professionalism of the mailer. An error in a mailing doesn’t mean the mailer is incompetent. A mistake is just that, a mistake. How can you and the mailer work together to not only solve the problem, but also prevent it from happening again? Isn’t that a real win-win?

Number 3: Look out for each other

Watching out for each other is taking respect to the next level. In this step, you let each other know about what’s happening and help each other prepare.

What does this mean for mailers? If you have an extra-large mailing scheduled on the calendar, let your postal representative know ahead of time. Or, you may have a lot of returns coming in from a solicitation. Again, let the USPS know before the mail shows up. Work together to make plans for handling the volumes.

What does this mean for the USPS? Look out for your customers. Several years ago, I was managing a mail center for an insurance company in Boston. We used a local courier service to pick up our PO Box mail twice each morning – once at 7:00am, and once at 10:30am. Some days we saw heavier volumes on the second run, but never really gave it much thought.

One day, the station manager where our boxes were located gave me a call. They had noticed that if there was a lot of mail ready for the first pick-up, the courier would only pick up what they could handle in one trip to their truck. They would leave the rest of the mail for the second pickup. I called the courier service, and they denied it. The next morning, the station manager let me watch the pick-up, and sure enough, the courier didn’t pick up all the mail. Within a few hours, I had a new courier service.

By watching out for his customer, that station manager helped me improve service to my internal customers. Are you watching out for your customers?

Number 2: Visit each other

Good partners get to know each other. And there’s no better way to get to know someone than to see where they live. And for most of the day, you live in your shops, mail centers, offices and postal facilities. It’s time to get out and see how the other half lives.

How many mailers here have toured the local postal facility? That includes the sectional service facilities and the delivery units? And did you bring your staff? What better way for your people to learn how mail is processed than to see it actually happening?

As a manager, I helped start a presort operation from scratch. The equipment vendor came in, and taught my staff how to use the equipment, and I gave classes on presort rules and standards. At the end of the first day of sorting mail, I had the entire staff – equipment operators, sweepers and drivers – follow the mail to the acceptance unit. With the help of my postal representative, we followed the mail as it was verified, received and processed. We toured the facility and over pizza and cokes, my postal representative gave a class on how the postal service processes presorted mail.

My staff now had the first-hand knowledge on how the USPS workers handled their mail. They better understood why tray labels had to face a certain direction, why strapping as important, why barcode alignment was important, etc. The result, in three years, we didn’t have a single mailing rejected by the acceptance unit. Learn how your mail is processed.

And for the postal service, you may understand how mail is processed, but do you understand how it’s created? The changes in printing and inserting technology over the last few years has been revolutionary. And trust me, you need to see it to believe it. Visit the customers at their shop, and ask what they need from the USPS. This may not be rocket science, but it’s radical enough to make a difference.

Number 1: Share the love!

Mailers and the USPS are part of an industry that employs over eight million people and generates over a trillion US dollars toward our economy. A trillion US dollars! Do you realize how much money that is? It’s a lot! And the people in this industry, mailers and postal alike, are the core that keeps that engine going.

And to keep that engine going, we need to love what we do, and embrace mail with the passion it deserves. Passion is the key to success, and the key to a successful relationship.

About the author

Mark M Fallon is president and CEO of The Berkshire Company, an independent management consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. The company develops customized solutions integrating proven leadership concepts with emerging technologies to achieve total process management

September 22, 2016

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