Friday, October 24, 2008

When business is down, kick the customers

The head of a major postal union offered a novel solution for what ails the U.S. Postal Service this week: Stop communicating so much with your customers.

"You must evict the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) from postal headquarters," William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said in an open letter to Postmaster General Jack Potter. He wrote the letter because "the current USPS business plan is not working and cannot be expected to work in the future" and to warn against cost cuts as a response to declining revenue.

"It is unhealthy to have individuals whose allegiances are to their private-sector employers located inside postal headquarters," Burrus went on. "There is no similar arrangement elsewhere in our society, where by sheer proximity a major customer has unlimited access to the nerve center of a company. Do you believe that UPS or FedEx would permit a customer to set up shop inside its headquarters? Can you imagine providing the APWU with offices at postal headquarters? Evicting MTAC will change the psychology of the relationship, and shift them from partners to valued customers."

Burrus is correct that mailers have an unusual level of access to Postal Service management -- unusually bad.

Production managers at magazines and catalogs talk frequently with various people at their paper suppliers and printers. We sit down with them frequently to work out mutual problems and to explore opportunities. We have frequently toured their facilities, met with company presidents, and occasionally even gone into the homes of executives.

But with the Postal Service, a larger supplier for most of us than any printer or paper company, we get a once-in-a-blue-moon visit from a national account rep who knows little about our business and has limited ability to get anything done. We have to rely on industry associations and especially on MTAC to work out existing problems with the Postal Service and to prevent new ones.

I have had disagreements with people on MTAC, but I can't imagine how bad things would be for customers and the Postal Service without this kind of group working on a variety of technical issues. Even as an outsider, I can see that such major Postal Service initiatives as Intelligent Mail Barcode and the Flats Sequencing System would be doomed if not for the work of MTAC.

Here is a link to more information about MTAC. Do you see anything nefarious there? The meeting minutes are especially informative because you can link on PowerPoint presentations that were made at the MTAC meetings.

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