Campus Mail Services: The Same, Yet Different

Some colleges and universities have centralized mail services, where all incoming and outgoing mail is processed through one facility; others have decentralized services, with multiple sites processing mail. Some colleges and universities run their own mail service departments; others outsource the work to a qualified vendor. Some colleges and universities have to take outgoing mail to a United States Post Office (USPS); some have a Contract Postal Unit (CPU) that operates like a regular post office. Some colleges and universities have unionized mail services; others do not. Some colleges and universities deliver mail to faculty and students; some deliver only to faculty, relying on the USPS to deliver mail to students.

So, it’s pretty clear that, while campus mail services are designed to process incoming and outgoing mail, there are many ways in which this is accomplished. Since no single system is the best, the question then becomes: What makes for a department that successfully serves students, faculty, and staff? Here, several experts offer their insight.

Maintain a Top-Down Organizational Structure
Mail Services at Boston University (BU) in Massachusetts, a private school that is home to 32,000 undergraduate and graduate students, is a centralized department with unionized workers. Director Al Lacerda noted that the main reason the department is successful is because it features a top-down organizational structure. “It’s from the University president to the vice president to my boss to me to the employees who report to me, and the employees who report to them,” he said. “We have a good working relationship with all the employees who work here.

“It’s a simple system,” Lacerda continued. “The mail comes in, gets sorted, and goes out the door. Because the system is simple, there’s not much stress on the job, and that plays a big part in employee satisfaction. Still, ultimately, it boils down to the people who run it.”

Focus on Customer Service
Rice University in Houston, a private school with an undergraduate and graduate student population of 5,000, has a fixed-contract CPU. What makes this department so successful is the service its staff provides its customers. “My staff is polite and goes out of their way to help all the campus departments,” said Ute Franklin, manager of Delivery Services.

Specifically, Delivery Services offers a centralized pick up for FedEx and UPS. It holds a passport fair once a semester. And, when different campus departments order office supplies, Delivery Services receives them and then delivers them to the department that placed the order. “We do this to cut down on traffic on campus,” said Franklin. As a bonus for not having to deliver to multiple sites, the vendors provide a discount.

This year, for the second year, Delivery Services is holding a free-cycling event for office/desk supplies. With just a phone call, Franklin’s staff picks up unwanted supplies from all across campus. The supplies are merchandised on an advertised date, and University employees are welcome to take anything they need for their offices.

Process as Much as You Can From Your Department
When Lacerda first came to his position with Mail Services at BU, the department was not processing a lot of bulk mail. Rather, the different campus departments were sending that task off campus. Now, Mail Services processes all nonprofit, bulk, and standard mailings.

“We tried to bring those jobs in-house,” said Lacerda. “We did that by word of mouth and holding workshops to show them that we could save them time. The fact that they pay us to do it and all the money stays at the University was important.

“In fact,” Lacerda continued, “we created a policy that, if a department wants to send out its bulk mail, it can, but it needs clearance from us. We approve it through the vendor to make sure the department is not being overcharged.” He noted that system’s success: “We have mail, we have employees, and everyone keeps his job.”

Constantly Search for Ways to Cut Costs and Improve Efficiencies
Dale Mossestad, manager of Addressing & Mailing Services for the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (UMTC) campus, a public research school boasting 40,000 undergraduate students, explains his department’s unique structure: “Our campus is split across the Mississippi River, so delivery can be challenging. We only sort about five percent of the incoming USPS mail. The rest is delivered directly to the individual buildings by the USPS.”

Addressing & Mailing Services achieves success by finding ways to cut costs and improve efficiencies. In the last three years, the department has merged its mail routes with a campus courier and University Stores, a warehouse that delivers office supplies. The merger reduced trucks, gas, and drivers.

Thanks to a nonprofit permit, the department saves on postage costs — upward of $.20 per piece. In educating the various departments about this service, Mossestad said, “If what you’re sending isn’t time-sensitive and can take a week to be delivered, why not mail it that way?”

Similarly, the department uses a presort house, which reduces the cost of each piece of outgoing mail from $.44 to $.35.7. “We try to get as many departments as possible to give us their mail for presort,” said Mossestad. “We go to different departments and teach people how to prepare their mail to be sent out for presort.”

Using presort isn’t always convenient for smaller departments. They may find it simpler to just put stamps on their three or four pieces of outgoing mail. Mossestad understands this, opting to look at every situation individually to come up with successful cost-saving measures. “For example,” he said, “we tell them that, if the driver is there, go ahead and hand him your outgoing mail.”

Maintain Thorough Records
Lacerda keeps detailed information about everything that goes in and out of his department. “We know how much each department sent out, how much it spent, and even popular areas that it mailed to, going back five years,” he said. “We use the information to save the departments money in numerous ways.”

While the various departments on campus surely appreciate this high level of customer service because it allows them to have the same success Mail Services experiences, Lacerda also points out the benefit to his department: “We maintain that information and use it to keep our jobs.”

Campus mail service departments are the same, yet different. Similarly, success is the same as each department strives to serve students, faculty and staff; yet it’s different in how they achieve that success. The same, yet different: both are good.

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