THE MAIL ROOM AND THE OFFICE

By Fiona Anderson

Bernie Evans sent me an article about the Mail Room. The first part (which you get to see below) is about the theory of running a Mail Room. The second part is much more untactful and lists the various failings by our Committee in addressing the problems of the Mail Room.
I've read through Bernie's comments with interest, and I think we do have to put our hands up to this one - this was a Committee failure to support the Mail Room, in providing what it needed to operate (in the way of basic equipment and other items), and a failure to communicate with it, and we owe Bernie great thanks for continuing to make strenuous efforts on our behalf especially in those circumstances.
I don't propose to go into these various failings (sorry to disappoint you all!), but I have kept Bernie's list, and do urge anyone contemplating Next Time to concentrate their efforts much more than we did into supporting whoever is doing this vital job, so that it works properly from the start and gets the attention and support it deserves.
Since Bernie's article of necessity only deals with the time the Mail Room / Office was with her, I shall take the opportunity to mention Al and Al and their efforts on our behalf.
The transfer from Birmingham to London of the Office / Mail Room was amicable because both Bernie and Al + Al worked together to make it so, and to ensure a smooth transition of files and continuity, at the same time as changing to an Admail system.
The Admail system allowed us to redirect Intersection's post to any address we specified, and this was potentially a very useful thing. However it also cost us a lot, and I think the benefit has to be weighed against the cost. But for various reasons, Admail was decided on instead of a PO Box, which apparently had other disadvantages.
From my own point of view, having the Office literally a couple of streets away from where I live was a great help, in that I could go round and do my photocopying there, as well as dealing directly with the Foreign queries that arrived via the Office. Even for countries where we had Agents, we still had a fair amount of stuff arrive direct to us here in the UK, as people had heard about us by whatever circuitous routes.
From the Office's point of view, it was handy too, as Al + Al had an extra pair of hands close by for when they needed it, and could refer any uncertain cases direct to me for some sort of decision too.
The amount of stuff coming through the Office would vary - some weeks there'd be not much at all, others it would be like an avalanche. But I don't think we came anywhere near to the volume of mail that Conspiracy had, not even close, and I put this down to the increasing use of email etc giving people quicker alternatives.
Al + Al and Bernie all worked flat out to make the Mail Room / Office a success, and deserve great thanks for doing so. The Office is one of those Areas that's utterly vital to the con, but difficult to get people for, since it's not one of the glamour jobs, so all 3 of them were unsung and unseen heroes - thanks !
(Vince: It is worth pointing out that one of the main reasons our UK Office had much less to deal with than Conspiracy was because we had set up a mail room at TR's house near Washington DC. More than half our pre-con members were from the US, and the great majority of them sent their mail to TR. A lot of the goodwill we had in the US (both before and after the bid) was due to the excellent work done by TR and her helpers, both in administering the mail, and in handling the stuffing and mailings of the Prs and ballots.
I would be surprised if the combined stats of our US and UK mail rooms proved to be less than those of Conspiracy.
Some people have stated that they would prefer a future European Worldcon to have only one Mail Room, to reduce the extra work needed to co-ordinate and communicate between them. With the advent of more sophisticated email services, and the larger number of online fans, this may be feasible in part. However, the Worldcon remains dominated numerically by US fans, and I think that having a functioning Mail Room in the US as well is essential.)


THE MAIL ROOM

By Bernie Evans

There are 2 models here, active and passive. Active is my preference, and is the one I was supposed to be operating.
In each case the capitalised word(s) is the type of post I received, followed by what I would do with it. The asterisked words refer to items I should have been provided with, or at least the means to produce my own.
Control Forms are my record of the entire correspondence for any given member or enquirer. They would be filed in alphabetical name order. The top portion would record:

Name
Address
Cross-ref, if 2 people with different surnames were represented by the same letter (there would be a second control form with that person's surname, and a note to refer to the main form)
Phone Number
email address
Fax number
Membership status
Date and number of any receipt issued by me.

The remainder of the form would be split into columns, headed:

Date (of what has arrived)
Details (of what has arrived)
Date (of action taken)
Details (of action taken)
Follow-up (if required, a date and brief description would be entered, and a diary note made to ensure I DID the follow-up)

It should be assumed that I would check for an existing Control Form first, in every case, before I took further action.

GENERAL ENQUIRIES

Date the letter, send an *information sheet*, open a Control Form

PAYMENTS

Date the letter, check database for existing membership status. If not pre-existing, enter them into the database. Make out a *receipt*, one copy for the member, one for Memberships, one for Finance, one to attach to my Control Form. Fill in Control Form as applicable. Post receipt to member. At weekly intervals, send a disc and a hard copy of that week's new members to both Finance and Memberships, accompanied by the relevant receipt copies, and the cheques to Finance.

(Fiona: we had so many problems tying up members to money paid, that we altered this to: everything was sent to Memberships, while keeping copies in the Office. Memberships would enter the new details on their database, and then forward the person's details together with their cheque/payment to Finance. This added to the time delay in processing a membership, but reduced the number of errors that had crept into the system).

SPECIFIC ENQUIRIES

Date the letter, send the appropriate *information pack*, note in a separate file the name / address ready to advise the relevant department, fill in the Control Form as necessary.

QUERIES

Date the letter. Answer, where I'm able, on *Intersection letterhead* Fill in Control Form as required. Note the type of query separately, to identify it if the same kind of query continues to arise. If it seems necessary, advise the relevant Department Head of either a new query which means a hole to be plugged, or a repetitive query which could be circumvented elsewhere in the system.

QUERIES I CAN'T ANSWER

Date the letter, write an *acknowledgement card*, advising the member that the query has been passed on, and to whom. Keep a copy of the letter and card with the Control Form, sending the original query to the relevant person to deal with it. Fill in the Control Form as required.

Should any letter be a follow-up by a member to a previous query, initiate "chase-up" procedures. In practise, get on the phone and hassle whoever should have dealt with the matter.
The Passive Model is very similar, in that I would keep a Control Form for logging everything that arrives, and would deal with an initial general enquiry and a payment as above. ANY OTHER correspondence however would simply be logged in and sent on to the relevant department.

(Fiona: in the end we adopted a mainly passive model, as there was too much mail for one person to deal with all the queries. It also meant that Area Heads knew of every query that concerned their department. Since I was round to Al + Al so frequently, I could either tell them who to send a query to, or give a decision myself if needed. Our basic problem with the Office, is that we needed a group to do the amount of work, even under the passive system, while there were only ever 2 or 3 people available at most at any one time)