PRC Releases Opinion on Eliminating Saturday Postal Delivery

The Postal Service recently submitted its five-day delivery proposal to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) for the second time after conducting additional research on Saturday delivery. 

On Thursday, March 24, the PRC released its opinion on the proposal, which included the following:
  • The USPS overstated its estimated annual net savings by $1.4 billion, and gross cost savings by $1.0 billion
  • Full savings might not be achieved until the program has been in place for three years
  • 25 percent of all First-Class and Priority Mail will be delayed by at least two days
The PRC also commented that eliminating Saturday delivery will remove a key differentiator between the USPS and its competition - independent shipping companies that either do not offer Saturday delivery or add a surcharge for it.
Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe released his response to the PRC that same day. He claimed that the cost savings estimates outlined in the Postal Service’s proposal were based on extensive research, outreach to customers, consultation of postal experts, analysis of mail volume trends, and more. Donahoe said he is looking forward to reading the  PRC’s full report and stressed that the opinion is advisory only. The Postal Service will continue to encourage Congress to approve the proposal.

You can read the PRC's opinion here.

Sending a Booklet? Where To Put Your Tabs

If your marketing plan includes mailing booklets, you already know they must be sealed somehow, either with glue or wafer seals. Maybe even a lot of wafer seals. Rarely can you slap a tab in the middle of your flyer and call it good. Now you practically need a Ph.D. in Tabology.

Take letter-sized booklets, for example. They need three tabs, but the placement can be one of three ways. Unless of course you've mistakenly oriented your address block the wrong way ... then God help you, no amount of tabbing will help. You will be damned forever and your children taken away.

But don't worry. Bill and I are here for you. We put together this newly updated cheat sheet that will tell you where to put your tabs.

2300+ Post Offices to Close in 2011-2012

The following is an excerpt for the latest Kiplinger Letter:

More than 2,300 U.S. post offices will close their doors in 2011 and 2012. The financially stressed U.S. Postal Service will close offices with expiring leases or high-maintenance issues, using authority that the service already has. In addition 16,000 local post offices (roughly half the nation's total), will be reviewed for closure as a cost-cutting measure. 

Faced with a $20-billion net loss over the past four years, USPS wants Congress to approve elimination of the service's least profitable branches. But despite budget woes, that's still a long shot - no member of Congress wants to lose a post office at home.

In other cost-saving measures, Saturday delivery will probably go in 2012.

The USPS has been working on bringing in new business: It's expanding a pilot project that teams them with UPS. The partnership allows consumers returning parcels via UPS to drop these packages at local post offices or in mailboxes. UPS picks them up at the post office and completes the return. Also, a greater partnership with eBay will double their current business with the online company.

Pet Peeve of the Week

It's Monday, I'm one hour short of sleep thanks to daylight savings, and feeling cranky. Being in direct marketing, I know I'm tuned in to visual design and quality of mail pieces more than the average person, but really. Two pieces I got last week showed lack of basic follow-through. 

I got a brochure in the mail on Friday. It was beautiful - full color, spot UV... but guess what spoiled the effect? The address was smeared. And I mean smeared. I had to give kudos to the postal carrier for figuring out it was intended for me.

This poor travel company had paid pretty good money to produce a gorgeously printed direct mailer, and didn't realize that not everyone can inkjet an address without smearing issues. It ended up looking..sloppy.

About a week ago I received an envelope for a solar panel installer. The envelope had my name and address in teeny tiny type and the postal sorting instructions was enormous! It looked kind of like this:

*******AUTO**5-DIGIT 92101
Chris Hartman
1000 Main Street
Anytown, CA 99999-9999

Do they really expect me to buy something from them? I didn't even open the envelope.

Then there's a "broker" we do work for occasionally who's trying to save money by printing white labels and sticking them on his clients' postcards. Labels? Really? The last time we affixed labels was in the 1990s. I wonder how long his clients will stay with him when they start getting returned cards with ugly white labels haphazardly stuck on?

Okay, I'm done with my rant. I know not everyone cares about how a direct mailer looks as much as I do but it's definitely frustrating seeing some of the work that's out there.

Care to share your pet peeve?

Great (and not so great) Customer Service

In business - as in life - situations arise and the outcome is based on how you react to them. I had the opportunity to witness two extremes of customer service, and thought they were interesting to compare.

This Spa Wasn't Relaxing

For a couple of years I frequented a spa on the coast near Santa Barbara. It was a small place, with a few nice treatments. The owner seemed like she was interested in her clients' opinions, as evidenced by a survey she sent out (via email) asking for comments and recommendations for additional treatments. Anyone who replied would receive $25 toward services.

I filled out the survey, taking about 30 minutes to do so, and put some real thought into it. After all, they were giving me $25, and I felt I should earn it.

Imagine my surprise when I called to book an appointment and learned the $25 gift certificate had to be used within one week of the survey's email date. In the space of one minute I went from warm and fuzzy feelings toward the spa to feeling taken advantage of. Instead of listening, the owner talked over me, insisting that the "use by" date was in the email (it was - in teensy 7-point type at the bottom) and that it was my job to read it.

Her attitude practically shouted that she had no interest in keeping me as a client, and remains one of the worst customer service experiences I've ever had. Not only will I never do business with this place again, but I tell my friends who not to see when they need a massage.

Lesson learned for my company: Be kind. Listen. You don't have to be right all the time.

On The Other Hand...

When we were in Hawaii on vacation not too long ago, my daughter Lauren bought a cute sterling silver toe ring. While she admired her newly decorated digit, I read the guarantee on the receipt. If the toe ring ever broke, Lauren could return it with the receipt and the company would send her a new ring.

Obviously Toe Jamz believes in its product and stands behind it, but honestly, who breaks toe rings?

Turns out Lauren does.

Of course, by the time she broke it she had also lost the receipt. Nevertheless, she packed the broken parts in an envelope with a note of explanation.

Ten days later a brand-new toe ring arrived with a note from the company president, who hoped Lauren would enjoy wearing the ring.

Now that's great customer service. Toe Jamz not only upheld its guarantee - without a receipt - but included a personal letter from the president of the company.

Lesson learned here for my company: be flexible. Listen to your customer. Even though you may be right, you'll probably have a customer for life if you accommodate them. Toe Jamz does.

Can you beat either of these stories? Good or bad, let us hear it.

The Things That Were Mailed

OK. I'm going to admit something. When my kids were young and acted up, I threatened to "mail them to their grandmother." I would get a stamp out of the drawer, lick it and stick it on their forehead. From their continuing antics, it was clear they didn't believe me. But now I find out that it wasn't an outlandish idea at all.  But first a little background:

Parcel post became available to Americans at the start of 1913 as a way to encourage economic delivery in rural America. Farm families - most of whom were poor - were excited about the new service because it meant they would be able to ship and receive eggs, live chicks, seeds, tobacco and food inexpensively and reliably.

Parcel post literally became an overnight success. Even urban dwellers took to ordering through the mail,  giving rise to such iconic mail-order companies as Montgomery Wards and Sears. Suddenly, everyone was shipping something.

May Pierstroff was mailed
via Parcel Post in 1914.
In the book "Reaching Rural America - The Evolution of Rural Free Delivery," authors James and Donald Bruns describe some unusual parcels handled by the Post Office:

"May Pierstroff was a 'package' that was sent via parcel post. The four-year-old blond was mailed from Grangeville, ID, to her grandparents (across the state) in Lewiston on Feb. 19, 1914. The total charge, calculated on the basis of mailing chickens, was 53 cents. This fee reflected her weight - 48 1/2 pounds, which was just 1 1/2 pounds shy of the 50-pound chicken limit."

According to the authors, May was mailed because the postage was cheaper than train fare. The mailman on duty at the time delivered May safely to her grandparents' front door.

Of course, postal employees demanded the public not mail children, but the practice continued. That same year, postal workers in Stillwell, IN accepted a parcel post box marked "live infant." They delivered the box to South Bend, IN, where the baby's divorced father received and opened it. Postage on the box was 17 cents.

The next year, a state worker mailed six-year-old Edna Neff from Pensacola, FL to Christiansburg, VA. The girl's parents were separated and the mother on hard times. A Pensacola probation officer had temporary custody of Edna, but couldn't afford the train fare for her and an accompanying adult. So she mailed Edna to the girl's father for 15 cents.

The USPS finally announced on June 13, 1920, that it would no longer accept children as parcel post. Still, in 1922, possibly as testament to the continuing hard times for many in America, a C.O.D. (cash on delivery) package was sent to an undertaker in Albany, NY. Inside was the body of a baby who had died of natural causes. The unknown and undoubtedly desperate parents had sent her in the hope she would get a decent burial. She did, thanks to "the kindness of strangers". Her headstone reads "Parcella Post."

A light-hearted photo of a mailman and baby was taken when the USPS announced it would no longer accept children as Parcel Post.