For the last year, in-plant managers across all industries have persevered through challenge after challenge. Safety of their teams. Employee availability. Changing priorities of the parent organization.
Many of our clients work with transactional mail – bills, statements, policies, etc. We started to hear similar concerns about volumes and postal issues. So, we connected customers from the same industries with other customers who had developed solutions to the same difficulties. That led to the question – are other in-plant mailers having the same problems?
The Berkshire Company sent out a survey to over 30 in-plant managers responsible for transactional print and mail. Industries included banking, healthcare, insurance, and utilities. Some departments processed over 6 million pieces a month, and others less than 100,000 envelopes.
The question – What has been your number one challenge since the pandemic began?
While the answers varied in scope, there was a commonality of issues. The challenges centered on:
- Decline in volumes
- Carrier performance – especially the US Postal Service (USPS)
Managers dealt with two principal employee issues – availability and keeping people safe at work. While the administrative, claims and customer service staff could work from home, people must be onsite to run equipment. Different states had different levels of lockdowns, and different definitions of “essential employees”.
Once the government mandates were met, there were other issues. Employees that were ill, quarantined, or taking care of sick family members. And that doesn’t touch upon parents struggling with home schooling and closed daycare centers.
Solutions included working with skeleton crews, staggered shifts and maintaining social distancing. Additional personal protection equipment (PPE), including masks and gloves, were acquired when possible. The twin goals were (1) to keep the employees safe, and (2) meet the mandates set by state and federal government.
Concerned leaders were diligent in “managing the uncertainty and fear that associates are feeling on a daily basis.” This has put an additional level of stress on managers, as they felt the responsibility to “keep staff healthy physically and mentally.”
Volumes were impacted by multiple factors. Responses included:
- “Leads generation has fallen off due to the pandemic. That has definitely had an impact to our volumes.”
- “The biggest challenge … is the unpredictability from a volume perspective and trying to understand what customer behavior is driving some volumes up and others down. “
- “Cancellation notices have been suspended, which is a major component of volumes.”
The drop in volumes has had an impact on budgets – and approved staffing levels. While managers expect to see an increase in the next year, they doubt that their operations will get back to the volumes before the pandemic. As one respondent explained, “It’s a complex matrix of understanding not only the customer, but also the trajectory of the pandemic and how that impacts both macroeconomics and customer behavior.”
The pandemic has also impacted the performance of carriers. While the USPS has been in the national news, the other carriers have had issues too. Managers reported carriers being slow at deliveries of outbound and inbound shipments.
Of course, the USPS is the sole carrier of physical mail. Performance has fluctuated from month to month and region to region. Areas of the country hit hardest saw the largest slowdowns. It’s been difficult to predict how quickly mail will be delivered during any given week.
The conversation around the USPS brought up another problem. As one manager explained, “I would say our number one challenge is return mail coming back to us for an office or business being permanently or temporarily closed.” Companies have held on to documents, attempting to find alternative addresses until the businesses reopened. This process created issues with policies being cancelled for nonpayment, or reimbursement checks having to be cancelled and reissued. The result – higher operating costs.
What to do?
As more people are vaccinated, some of the hardships with staffing will be alleviated. However, the challenges of volumes and carrier performance may last longer. Three actions in-plant managers can take in response are:
- Increase communication with employees and senior management. Be open and honest about the issues impacting your department and your company. Share data and statistics about what is happening in your operation – and the print and mailing industry. Information is more powerful when it is shared.
- Stay informed. Make sure you are signed up for alerts from the USPS. Most webinars from associations, consultants and vendors are being offered for free – and are recorded. Set aside time each week dedicated to keeping up to date.
- Remember that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of intelligence. As our survey demonstrated, the challenges managers are facing are more similar than different. Reach out to your peers to learn – and share – solutions for common problems.
The future remains uncertain. Through communication, education and mutual support, in-plant managers will overcome the challenges, and be prepared for forthcoming success.
Mark M. Fallon is president and CEO of The Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. The company develops customized solutions integrating proven management concepts with emerging technologies to achieve total process management. He offers a vision of the document that integrates technology, data quality, process integrity, and electronic delivery. His successes are based upon using leadership to implement innovative solutions in the document process. You can contact Mark at email@example.com.