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These articles were prepared for the November 15, 2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
US Postal Service: Pushing the Envelope
E-commerce, boast the computer nerds smugly, will soon
banish the U.S. Postal Service into a fond memory. Websites, fax and
E-mail will run it all, some believe. In reply, Postal Classification
Specialist Peter Furka simply laughs: "They predicted this
with the telegraph and then with the phone — and we’re still here,
handling a record 105 billion pieces of mail this year."
Although mail may be sure, its technologies, discounts, rates, and
possibilities are changing in great leaps. To help large and small
mailers keep abreast, the Postal Service is offering a lavish Mailers
Education Day at Princeton University’s McCosh Hall on Friday, November
17, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. While the program will be laced with
catered breakfast, lunch, and several campus tours, it is very much
a nuts and bolts event. The series of talks and workshops such as
"Direct Mail Marketing;" "E-commerce," "Automation
& Office Services" are designed to aid both business and non-profit
mailers. Deputy Postmaster General John Nolan will present and
explain a list of new business service innovations.
Those interested should register with the Business Service Network,
U.S. Postal Service, 21 Kilmer Road, Edison 08889. Or call 732-819-4322.
Cost is $85 with lunch, $60 without.
And who’s interested in mail? Maybe you should be. Odds are your business
expends 5 to 10 percent of its budget on mail; more if you are a non-profit
or deal with direct mail marketing. The post office offers more than
500 ways to mail an item and discounts (beyond the regular bulk permit)
of over 20 percent. "And darn few firms," says Furka, "are
Furka admits that rates will increase this year, first class rising
probably a penny and non-profit bulk taking the biggest increase.
But the savings available from the new automation along with a sharper
mailing strategy could offset this increase several times. "Truth
to tell," says Furka "too many firms praise innovation in
the board room and ignore it in the mail room." Among the mailing
from the use of ancient mailing lists. Firms buy or develop potential
client lists through marketing surveys and then treat them as golden.
But 15 to 20 per cent of addresses change annually. Any list held
over one year means wasted postage and pushes up substantially those
precious response-percentage-points your mail campaign needs to break
even. The Internet can aid in updating, but not necessarily in the
substantial number of address errors. Checking address validity is
one of several Post Office business services offered.
you simply turn a two-step sort process into a single step. In return
the post office thanks you kindly by discounting six to eight cents
off a first class letter and 20 percent or more off your bulk rate.
Paul Dreifuss, who will speak on automation, claims that pre-mail
coding has proved a boon to McCarter & English, the 256-attorney firm
in Newark. As the law firm’s operations manager, he insists bar coding
not only trims costs, but increases speed and accuracy. "Many
of our contracts require non-faxed signatures and demand a five-day
response time," says Dreifuss. "With bar coding we get a two-day
delivery, without going into priority rates. More importantly, we
just lose less than with a hand-scribbled address."
Traditionally, the process of bar coding one’s mail before sending
it out required an expensive machine, limiting the discount only to
major mailers. But now coding has become a service that can be outsourced.
Private firms will code at the close of a business day for mid-size
mailers, or drop off points can be arranged for small (under 300 pieces
that get lost in the mail, usually nine are lost in house. Most companies
just dump and sort packages with no recording. Dreifuss, tired of
dealing with frantic lawyers’ tirades, instituted a tracing system,
using the post office and UPS bar codes. Scanning guns record every
incoming box, electronic note pads record the date and signature of
the recipient, the software even sorts it by office and floor. No
lost checks, no screaming lawyers.
numerous, but the lowest rates vary greatly on volume and distance.
Express mail is optimum for single items, particularly when shipping
to out of the way places. A quick category-sort may save the small
innovation to business mailers since the zip code, planet coding should
come fully on line by 2002. Basically, it allows the sender to trace
his mailings through the Post Office system and know the exact day
they will arrive. The direct mail marketer will know the exact day
his brochures hit Princeton, or the entire Southwest. The marketer
can then plan orders and rotate sales staff and stock accordingly.
Sounds ideal, but the kinks need working out. Installation of such
a system requires a 98 percent on-time delivery rate with virtually
flawless tracing and instant reporting back to the sender. "We’re
not there quite yet," says Peter Furka. "But give us a year
With all these Post office offerings it would be wrong to sense desperation
in the face of an ever growing flow of E-mail and E-commerce. Back
in 1849, all the gold rushers tore out to California to cash in on
the latest quick-rich enterprise. Most returned bankrupt. But the
little German Heinrich Schliemann sold each miner the picks and grubstake
that allowed him to operate, and he walked away with millions.
So it is with electronic commerce. Jim Lombard, head of the
Business Development Division of Redi Direct and Redi Mail, says that
"one of the hot five businesses in the coming decade will be fulfillment
— firms that will take up the E-commerce company’s orders and
fulfill their promises and get the stuff to the customer." This
will demand a strong link between the Internet and the physical mail
"Frankly," says Lombard, "E-commerce has yet to sort itself
out. Too frequently the firms are a marriage of salespeople and techies
who until now have dazzled venture capitalists with screens and high
promises." The trouble is they are not run by business people
and they stand clueless beyond taking the order. They vanish in and
out of business by the thousands.
So you can’t fax anvils to St. Louis. But fulfillment firms, with
the help of UPS, the Post Office etc., can put them in the customers’
hands, making the whole E-commerce idea feel a little less vaporous.
In addition, Lombard will explain how an enormous new flow of marketing
information can come when the Postal Service and the Internet link
up. "If I were starting up a new company today," Lombard says,
"I would put my entire catalog on the web and then use my postage
budget to send postcards, inviting customers to visit us on our new
website. I’d get three times the coverage for the same cost."
So perhaps in the end we won’t go pitting slow and steady snail-mail
against rabbit-like E-mail, but let them work together for a more
— Bart Jackson
Not so many years ago a corporate joke was that nobody
was every unemployed, they were just consultants. Now it’s no joke:
Outsourcing has created a huge demand for consultants, and companies
turning to consultants expect to get a high-powered performer.
"Most clients’ expectations of a consultant are higher than for
an employee," says Jerry Savin, president and CEO of Sitka
Systems Inc. in Pacific Palisades, California. That’s one of the challenges
for anyone carving out a career as a consultant. "The level of
service and thought generally don’t meet the expectations of the client.
When real life comes into play and the client is disappointed with
the outcome, how you deal with the unexpected and your ability to
deal with a client when things don’t turn out as planned" can
mean retaining or losing a client.
Savin, also founder and CEO of the Cambridge Technology Consulting
Group Inc. and a consultant for more than 20 years, speaks on "the
future of consulting and the opportunities it offers" at the 10th
anniversary dinner of the Central New Jersey Chapter of the Institute
of Management Consultants on Monday, November 20, at 6 p.m. at the
Doral Forrestal, 100 College Road East. Call 609-896-4457 for reservation
Savin believes that companies that focus on one area have the greatest
opportunity for success. "I am coming to the conclusion that a
full-service firm is a farce. Even they have specialties, and may
be heavily weighted to IT. Even in human resources, there may be firms
that focus on headhunting, but other areas within human resources
are probably outside their realm," he says.
One of the fields experiencing the greatest growth today is information
technology. "If past is any indication, a major revenue driver
is IT," says Savin. "Computers are a kind of a fact of life
anymore" and they need continuous maintenance and upgrading. Strategy
consulting is another growing area.
While IT is growing, Savin says that E-commerce consulting is going
through some fallout now. As E-commerce firms have been experiencing
difficulties, E-commerce consultants have suffered along with their
clients. "As E-commerce grew, E-commerce consulting grew. Now
that E-commerce firms are experiencing hard times, consulting firms
fortunes have fallen as well."
Besides making sure expectations remain realistic for both consultant
and client, in terms of length of time and resources needed to accomplish
the goal, Savin has other tips for consultants, including taking care
of existing clients; marketing continuously; and trying to turn projects
into long-term relationships.
Savin says that income and activities tend to be project-oriented,
but consultants have to market themselves and they have to provide
the service for which they were hired. "The natural tendency is
less marketing and more [toward] doing. You have to get some kind
of balance in there," Savin says.
Once hired, the consultant needs to be aware of "danger signs"
that a project might be in jeopardy. These may include: Feeling the
client pulling away; seeing that the client is slowing down on paying
bills; dissension in the ranks. If any of these signs appear, then
sit down with the client and work through the problem. "Make sure
you and your client understand the true goal," says Savin. "In
your heart of hearts you know when the company is going to follow
through." He says that if the client doesn’t, "you don’t necessarily
have to have pangs of guilt about it."
A recent change in the field is the "re-emergence of consultant
brokers related to the Internet. The number of companies that find
consulting engagements and make them available to companies has experienced
growth over recent years," according to Savin. He believes, however,
that the number of these firms will decrease over time. "Why would
I want to go to a consultant I don’t know?" Savin says. "I’m
not sure why people would want to use them."
Instead, he feels companies would go to consultants through referrals
or those they have worked with before. "It may be trite, but nothing
beats experience and I think management consulting fits in there,"
says Savin. When it comes to consulting, there is nothing like having
a fair amount of experience under your belt."
— Elizabeth B. Timko
While businesses large and small agree that putting
the customer first is essential to bottom-line success, not all companies
succeed in developing profitable customer relationships. The problem
is often that they have not planned and implemented the necessary
strategies and procedures in advance. "Customer relationships
are not an afterthought," maintains Helene Mazur of Princeton
Performance Dynamics. "You have to plan for loyal customers. Building
long-term customer relationships will be the differentiating factor
in any business’ ability to succeed."
Whereas Mazur looks at customer relations from a global organizational
perspective, consultant Corby O’Connor focuses on the nitty-gritty
communications between the company and its clients and on the business
etiquette that governs these relationships. Business etiquette defines
a way of behaving with mutual respect in a business context that helps
the company’s representatives and its clients to feel comfortable
with each other. "Business etiquette is primarily building rapport,
because if you don’t have rapport, you do not get anything done,"
Mazur and O’Connor will be speaking on "Customer Relations and
Business Etiquette" for the Mercer Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday,
November 21, at 8 a.m. at the Greenacres Country Club. Cost is $20.
For information, call 609-393-4143.
In today’s fast-moving business environment, "customer first"
means that a company must be entirely a customer-driven organization,
says Mazur. "Most companies have gotten good at quality and service.
The next step up is to be customer-driven and work with your clients
to identify what they want to become," she continues. Mazur suggests
a three-pronged approach for creating a customer-driven organization,
one that combines customer-focused strategic planning; systems and
processes that support the customer; and an emphasis on the company’s
employees that encourages their effective interactions with customers:
vision statement as well as an action plan for implementing that vision.
A vision statement expresses an organization’s values, in terms of
how it will treat different stakeholders, including customers, employees,
vendors, and the local community. With respect to customers, the company
must define how it will collaborate with them to help them achieve
their own goals. "The company’s vision statement," says Mazur,
"should state what your company will look like when your customer’s
needs have been met or exceeded."
proper policies, procedures, and practices to support and deliver
outstanding customer service. For example, employees must be trained
to ask good questions and react to input, even if they uncover customer
dissatisfaction. Processes must also be efficient and cost-effective,
so that the company can deliver on time and at lower costs. Business
practices must always be aligned to changing customer needs and expectations.
"As a client’s expectations keep changing with respect to speed,
convenience, and customization, your processes need to keep changing.
Unless you continue to change, you’re not going to succeed," says
success depends on the interaction between employees and customers.
"Every interaction with the customer is a moment of truth when
you have a chance to enhance customer loyalty," explains Mazur.
However, if employees are to buy in to the importance of a customer
focus, they must be strongly committed to the company. To develop
their loyalty, a company must create an environment where there is
mutual trust and opportunities for professional growth. "If employees
know that their work has meaning, and they are involved in the decision-making
process, they will feel good about themselves and will deliver positive
results for the company," says Mazur
Luckily for the myriads of employees who must communicate regularly
with customers, a code of business etiquette exists that can help
them to behave appropriately and respectfully in standard business
situations. O’Connor maintains that business etiquette must be a part
of employee training and standard company procedures. O’Connor highlights
two areas of business etiquette that impinge strongly on customer
relations: telephone interactions and client visits.
Telephones serve as important gatekeepers of communication between
a company and its customers, and good telephone manners are critical.
O’Connor explains that "bad telephone manners can hurt a client
relationship." She offers the following suggestions for positive
"hang on," and "he’s tied up now."
without getting back to them.
telephone number in any business message.
how you can be reached.
introduce everyone in the room.
business etiquette to make a positive impression. O’Connor suggests
that the host make sure that the receptionist greets the client in
a friendly way; that visitors are not kept waiting for a nametag or
an escort; and that the host always stand for introductions and come
out from behind a desk to shake hands.
"Treat a customer as if you’re bringing them into your home,"
says O’Connor. "For example, offer them a drink and have them
escorted to the elevator, rather than thanking them at the office
O’Connor graduated from Fordham University in 1978, with a B.A. in
communications. After working in marketing and advertising positions
at Time Warner, Home Box Office, and American Broadcasting Company,
she studied business etiquette by the Protocol School of Washington.
Today O’Connor consults for corporations on business etiquette, writes
a weekly business etiquette column in the New Jersey Star Ledger,
and sponsors a forum on the America Online Career Center.
Mazur graduated from the University at Albany in 1979 with a marketing
degree and received an M.B.A. from New York University. She has done
strategic planning, product management, sales and marketing, training,
consulting, and team management for a number of financial service
and technology firms. Her company focuses on strategic planning, leadership,
sales development, and customer service strategies.
Developing a customer-driven organization demands that a company constantly
redesign itself and its strategies in response to changes in the competition,
the business environment, technology, and customer needs. To monitor
these changes, a company must constantly seek information. "The
more information you can gather about customers, suppliers, and distributors,
the more effectively you can meet clients’ needs."
— Michelle Alperin
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