Call center delivers messages

The Postal Service delivers millions of messages each day, not all of them letters.
There's a lot of other traffic between post offices, distribution centers and the USPS's
new call center.


"We have 40,000 post offices out there," said Bob Winkleman, call center
program manager. "We have an online system, but we don't have online service
available everywhere immediately."


To reach facilities not yet connected to the Postal Routed Network, USPS sites exchange
their hold requests, redelivery orders and change of address notices via fax servers from
CommercePath Inc. of Seattle.


The fax servers emulate network printers and overlay data from postal mainframe files
onto fax forms. The forms can be created in PC or Apple Macintosh layout and drawing
applications, or they can be scanned or faxed in.


The batch-oriented procedure works best for high-volume, one-to-one faxing, said
CommercePath marketing director Dale Paulin.


USPS has installed fax servers in its pilot call center in Denver and in two
distribution centers. The call center is new to USPS, having been approved by the postal
Board of Governors in 1996 to accept patrons' routine service requests.


"It provides a better level of service" by handling 80 percent of requests by
telephone, Winkleman said. That frees up local postal employees to deal with walk-in
customers and deliver the mail.


A $20 million, two-year contract for the first phase of the National Service Center
Program went to Aspect Telecommunications Corp. of San Jose, Calif., in 1996. Aspect
operates the Denver center, which fields 36 million calls a year for post offices in
Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.


The region has 1,800 major post offices that serve 17 percent of the U.S. population.


A call to a major post office goes to the Denver center, and if it cannot be handled
there, the call goes to the post office, Winkleman said.


"It's been pretty effective," USPS spokeswoman Sandra Harding said.


The Board of Governors will decide soon whether to extend the program after the
contract expires this year.


CommercePath's fax server lets USPS use its legacy mainframes for call center and
distribution center databases. Patron requests that require post office notification can
be extracted and faxed without being printed.


The CommercePath server, a 233-MHz Pentium PC running Microsoft Windows NT, holds fax
cards made by Brooktrout Technology Inc. of Needham, Mass. A minimum two-channel box
starting at $15,000 accommodates up to 48 simultaneous inbound and outbound calls. It
works with any mainframe and is scalable into a large virtual server that can do load
balancing.


As intranets, extranets, virtual private networks and other IP networks such as the
Postal Routed Network become common carriers for business information, the fax server
represents more than an interim fix, Paulin said.


A fax server equipped with e-mail server modules and translation software for
electronic data interchange would be flexible enough to fill a long-term role in the
enterprise, he said.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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