USPS Gears Up for Fall Season

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The U.S. Postal Service announced this week that its 1999 Standard A fall mailing plans are on schedule and will be completed by July 16, even though the agency is expecting Standard A mail volumes to only reach 6 percent to 8 percent during this period vs. the 8 percent to 10 percent it reached for the same period last year.

Plans, which will be in place during the August-through-Thanksgiving mailing season include creating an updated list of in-home delivery guidelines based on mailers' entry points, updating a facilities check list and adding part-time employees to its business services network.

"We are following basically the same process that we did last year, analyzing the experiences that we had last year...and looking at [where] we could have performed better," said Nick Barranca, vice president of operations planning. "We are also getting data from mailers [to see] where their problems were last year and trying to determine what the drivers of those problems were."

Barranca said some of the main problems last year stemmed from communications.

"We are trying to make [the program] more user-friendly, so the customers will have an easier time communicating with us as to what their mailing requirements are going to be," he said. A critical part of the program is keeping the lines of communication open between the customers, suppliers and the USPS and making sure that everyone is talking to one another.

Barranca said a main communication problem stems from the USPS' drop-ship appointment system, which lets bulk mailers electronically secure specific dates and times for entering mass mailings into the mail stream at USPS bulk and sectional mail facilities. Mailers, he said, had trouble last year making drop-ship appointments.

This year, however, the DSAS will be migrating to a Web application, making it easier for people to communicate all around. The system will be up and running in the first week of August.

In addition, the USPS is involving business services network employees in the DSAS program.

"Last year, if customers couldn't get appointments they wanted, we had a process in place where they could either call [postal employees] at the district or at the area level that could intercede with them," said Barranca. "This year, however, we are letting the business services network people solve the problems for them."

But, he said, "to be honest, the mailers were pretty satisfied with what we did last year, so the changes are pretty minor."

Barranca said the plan was formulated under auspices of the USPS' Fall Mailing Group -- which includes 10 employees from operations, customer relations, marketing, and area and district managers, along with representatives from R.R Donnelley, Harte-Hans, Perry Judd's, Farrington Transportation, World Color, and Quad/Graphics. The group has held three planning meetings since April with the last meeting in mid-June. Even though there are a few more meetings planned, Barranca said plans are basically set.

Barranca said the USPS is not concerned that the Y2K problem will have an effect on business mailers or on the USPS' own Y2K plans.

In fact, he said the USPS is heading up an effort "to gather intelligence around the customer, as to what extent they are going to change their mailing programs as a result of Y2K," said Barranca. "What we are hearing is that there is not much change in what the customers are going to do."

In addition, Barranca said that the USPS' "Management Challenge" to cut back on spending will not effect this system at all.

"[Postmaster General] Bill Henderson has pretty much put a stake in the ground saying that service is the franchise, and we are not going to do anything to cut service," said Barranca.

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