Thursday, February 7, 2013

Postal Service Proposes New Paperless Mail System, Ditches Saturday Delivery

SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- Hoping to staunch the hemorrhaging cash flow that caused a $15.9 billion loss in the past budget year, the United States Postal Service (USPS) announced plans this week to eliminate Saturday delivery services for everything except packages. On Wednesday, Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe declared the agency's financial condition "urgent." Donahoe cited the dramatic reliance upon the Internet for correspondence and bill paying. Electronic communications have yielded a targeted efficiency and immediacy with which the USPS will never again be able to compete. But the USPS is preparing to launch its own "paperless" service that will combine the convenience and mobility of technology with the personalized touch of traditional mail.

Cutting back to a five-day delivery schedule, Donahoe projects, will save $2 billion annually -- a critical move considering the bleak 2013 financial outlook, which anticipates more red ink. But rules unique to the USPS have stymied its efforts to streamline processes in the past. The biggest obstacle comes from a 2006 law requiring the USPS to pay $5.5 billion a year into future retiree health benefits, something no other federal agency does.

"No matter what we do, the Postal Service is never going to be competitive against private companies like FedEx for parcel delivery, or the Internet for basic mail and bills," Donahoe said. "That's why we're preparing to go electronic ourselves with the introduction of the new Personal Postal Assistant service."

Ditching Saturday runs and automating services through the PPA program will allow the USPS to shutter unnecessary operations and cut overhead costs while avoiding large-scale layoffs.

But Donahoe did acknowledge the inevitability of some collateral damage: "We recognize that millions of Americans may feel suddenly displaced and disoriented by this upheaval. Saturdays will now become hollow, anxious and meaningless days without the comforting routine of getting advertisements and coupons and credit card applications. Then, of course, there's the fear of the unknown -- of not receiving expected correspondence until Monday, which can ruin weekend plans with worry and uncertainty. We know the situation will seem dire at first, but the pros outweigh the cons."

Donahoe also believes the PPA service will more than make up for the inconvenience and disruption. It is a solution he touts as his proudest accomplishment with the USPS.

And the PPA offering marks a big innovation for the agency through its "best of both worlds" approach.

Letters, bills, advertisements and other correspondence will continue to be sent in the traditional manner. It's the PPA delivery model that pushes the USPS into the 21st century.

"Instead of waiting days for letters, addressees will now receive them the same day postal carriers pick them up from senders," Donahoe explained. "Once the letters reach our sorting facilities, they're routed to specially trained PPAs -- customer service associates who manage strategically mapped territories and metropolitan areas. Each PPA serves a specific list of people and businesses for a defined region. These professionals open your mail and then let you know what's happening, offering personalized advice and assistance along the way."

Depending on the services selected by subscribers, the PPA will call a mobile phone and recite the contents of a letter, send a text with a summary of the letter and a link to read the scanned copy, post the letter on a social network or website, or email the letter with suggestions and guidance for appropriate responses.

For bills, the same delivery methods are employed, but recipients can give their banking information to the PPA who then posts the payments on the consumer's behalf.

Facebook, Google+ and Twitter have eagerly begun working with USPS to assist with the PPA program. PayPal and several small banks are currently integrated for bill paying assistance.

(c) 2013. See disclaimers.

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