Are you gaining the highest return from your shipping system? Do you ever wonder if theres more it can do? Or worse, do you know it can do more, but you havent taken advantage of it?


    Shipping systems often have hidden features that can increase your return on investment. They include:


    Internet features, like providing rating capabilities at checkout

    Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) features that allow you to use your ERP system as your shipping systems user interface

    Customer service features, such as providing rate quotes and tracking capabilities

    General shipping capabilities you may not be using


    Its more than worthwhile to explore these features and see how they can be applied to your businesss advantage.


    Internet Features

    Providing better customer service is one way to differentiate yourself from the competition, and your shipping system can help you achieve this. If your company has a Web storefront, do you allow your customers multiple choices when it comes to shipping? For example, lets say the date is May 1, 2006, and a user has two items in his or her virtual shopping cart ready to check out. Is the user given choices for shipping? What if you could offer your customers the following?


    CarrierService   Delivery Date      Charge     Guaranteed?


       A      Ground         5/2/06     $5.00       Y

       A      Next Day                  5/2/06     $12.00    Y

       A      2nd Day                    5/3/06     $8.00       Y

       B       Ground         5/2/06     $6.00       Y

       B       Next Day                  5/2/06     $11.00    Y

       B       2nd Day                    5/3/06     $7.00       Y


    With choices like these, the customer can determine how much money he or she wants to spend based upon the delivery date. Customers can consider which carrier to choose, as they may think one carrier is more reliable than another. Simply put, choices like this give the customer more reasons to become a return customer.


    Enterprise Resource Planning Features

    Your ERP system is most likely well-known from a user-experience perspective. You can leverage this familiarity by using your existing ERP systems user interface as your shipping system. Doing so reduces training time because users are already familiar with the system. Your shipping system, if it supports integration methods such as XML, may have the ability to be used as a shipping server in the background.


    Heres how it works: Order information is collected by the ERP system, after which the data is sent via the defined integration method to your shipping system. Your shipping system then pulls in the shipment information, processes it (chooses the best carrier, rates it and produces carrier documents) and sends the results (including carrier documents) back to the ERP system. Your ERP system formats the data and displays it to the user.


    If your users already know your ERP system, it is very easy for them to learn to ship from that system. Most likely, shipping would only take an additional mouse click or the press of a button.


    Customer Service Features

    Customer service departments need tools so they can provide the best and most up-to-date information to customers. Your department can access your existing shipping system in order to provide rate quotes and tracking information to your customers.


    As with the Internet feature discussed previously, your customer service department can provide rate quotes to customers by accessing your shipping system via a simplified user interface and a minimal amount of input. Giving your customers more choices is a good way to improve customer service and gain return customers.


    Your shipping system most likely provides tracking capability for shipments. A simplified user interface for customer service to access the results will allow them to provide up-to-date tracking information to your customers.


    General Shipping Features

    Business Rules: Do you have notes posted all over the shipping area to remind you of when to ship via carrier A versus carrier B, or which carrier and service to use for customer X? Has your business grown or changed either physically or market-wise? If you answer yes to any of these questions, consider updating your shipping system with new business rules.


    Business rules are a mechanism built into quality shipping systems that allows you to set up logic for carrier selection. This logic can be based on items such as customer, day of week, total weight, number of pieces in the shipment, etc. Once these business rules are set up, you dont need to worry about them because your shipping system automatically applies them. Periodic maintenance may be needed as your business (and possibly customer base) grows and changes.


    Are you using the features of your existing shipping system that will improve customer service and reduce calls to this department? If not, you should consider making use of the very valuable e-mail notification of shipment and delivery.


    Shipment Notification: E-mail notification of shipment is an e-mail sent to one or more recipients, informing them that the shipment is on the way. The e-mail usually contains the tracking number, actual ship date and estimated delivery date. Many shipping systems allow the e-mail message to be configured to meet your needs. Likewise,

    e-mail notification of delivery is sent to one or more recipients and informs them that the shipment has been delivered. The e-mail usually contains the tracking number, actual delivery date and who signed for the shipment (if available). These two notifications will keep your customers informed and reduce the calls to your customer service group.


    USPS Internet Shipping: Many companies do not ship enough packages via USPS to qualify for USPS manifesting. Additionally, these same customers may not have space for a postage meter. Your shipping system may provide the ability to ship packages via the Postal Service without using a postage meter. USPS Internet Shipping provides this capability and may provide a cost-savings opportunity to your company. USPS Internet Shipping via your shipping system may also provide the ability to print laser-printed labels right from your desktop, in addition to thermal labels from a label printer.


    Staying Current with the Carriers: Your current shipping system should have a link (electronically or via some other mechanism) to stay current with the carriers. This is important since the carriers are constantly adding new and special services that give you more choices. Additionally, fuel surcharges are fluctuating on a daily basis, so keeping on top of these surcharges will help control costs.


    Take a Closer Look at Your System

    Spending a little time evaluating the hidden features of your shipping system can help your company reduce costs and improve customer service with very little effort. Assess your existing shipping system to see how you can reap these benefits and savings; these hidden treasures can pay off big time.


    Joe Ferrazzo is a Senior Product Manager for Pitney Bowes Distribution Solutions. You can contact him at



    Do you have notes posted all over the shipping area to remind you of when to ship via carrier A versus carrier B, or which carrier and service to use for customer X? If you answer yes to any of these questions, consider updating your shipping system with new business rules.