Bringing your university mail center into the 21st century.
GUEST COLUMN | by Renaud Rodrigue
One would think that the digital age and the use of email, text, IM and other forms of electronic communications would have nearly eliminated regular “snail” mail from a university setting, making student mail centers obsolete. The reality, however, is while flat mail has been declining at many universities for some time now, with the rise of online delivery services such as Amazon and Delivery.com, package traffic is at its highest level ever and is projected only to grow as we approach the holiday season.
Having the right technology in place for auxiliary services like the mailcenter is an area often overlooked, but considered very important to students.
Because of declining flat mail numbers and the prioritization of technology initiatives around enrollment, admissions, and learning innovation, mailcenters have been left largely untouched at many universities, creating challenges for staff as they figure out how to manage growing package volume. The result is often overcrowded mailrooms, long wait times for package retrieval and, in some cases, lost packages.
Studies show that having the right technology in place for auxiliary services like the mailcenter is an area often overlooked, but considered very important to students. The time has come for universities to look for ways to improve. Fortunately, many have already begun.
So how can a university update their mailcenters to save time, space and money, and at the same time provide a pleasing experience for students? There are numerous steps that can be taken to increase efficiencies and improve the student experience, some of which can even generate additional revenues for the college. Some options include:
High Density Mail Solutions – This is a complete remodel, but the cost of inputting can be justified by the space it returns to a university for other services. This type of solution involves replacing a mailcenter’s current mailbox setup with high end file cabinets (much like one might see at a doctor’s office) where there are slots for all student mail. Barcodes are then placed on all arriving mail and packages, allowing for a notification to be sent via email when a delivery arrives. This not only streamlines the system of receiving and delivering mail to students, but also can free up hundreds of square feet of space for other student center amenities or even retail services for the campus.
Electronic Kiosks – Today’s always-on students, who are used to getting notifications from Amazon when a package is shipped, don’t want to wait 30 minutes just to retrieve that package that might or might not have arrived on campus. With these kiosks, when a package arrives, it can be barcoded, triggering an automated email to be sent alerting the recipient it is ready for pickup. When the student arrives at a kiosk (which is strategically placed within 30 seconds of the mail pick-up area), they can swipe their student ID card and select the packages they want to pick up from a list. Mailcenter employees are then notified, enabling them to quickly and easily produce the requested parcels. This can easily eliminate long lines and waits for package retrieval and prevent the package backload that can happen when students are unaware that a parcel has arrived for them.
Intelligent Lockers – Space is a precious resource on campuses. University mailcenters are often small (and they’re also often in bustling student union areas) and the package influx can exceed mailcenter space. Intelligent lockers allow mailcenter staff to place packages in designated locations throughout campus with students being notified that their package is ready for pickup at the locker. The benefit? Students can pick up their packages securely and conveniently, and campus administrators can use space more effectively, while having the peace of mind that packages have followed a proper chain of custody even if they’re not dispensed from a centralized mail center.
Point of Sale (POS) Systems – These can help both universities and students, in that mailcenters can be set up with the ability to serve outbound shipping needs and sell everything from shipping supplies to paper and pens and more, allowing students to have one location for picking up and shipping their own mail and packages. For universities, they provide another revenue-generating opportunity, and for the campus community, additional valuable services.
These are just a few of the potential solutions universities can implement to take their mailcenters into the 21st century and provide digital native students with a positive services experience. Looking for ideas to improve your campus mailcenter? Check out what Loyola University Maryland did to upgrade theirs, and how they created a more organized mailcenter, while opening up space for additional student center services.
Renaud Rodrigue is Vice President for Higher Education at Ricoh Americas Corporation.