In every print and mail operation I’ve ever visited, I have discovered opportunities to improve productivity or lower costs. I always look first for improvements that do not require investing in new hardware or software. In most cases, adjusting processes or leveraging assets already in place can have a direct impact on the bottom line.

Before attempting to justify the cost of new equipment or more staff, take a look at these low-cost or no-cost ideas. They can boost the value of the mail center without requiring capital investments:

Make Fewer Mistakes

1. Review and update documentation – Make sure sample books, machine set-up instructions, and job accounting information are current and complete. Documentation can get outdated rapidly. Requiring operators to repeatedly search for documentation scattered throughout the operation, looking for information buried among volumes of obsolete material, or relying on word-of-mouth instructions increases the error risk. Rerunning jobs because operators lacked current set-up or quality control information can erase all the profit.

2. Add mail piece integrity measures – Prices for cameras and tracking software have become affordable for nearly any size mail operation. All can benefit from implementing automated systems capable of catching errors as they occur. Manual batch balancing processes cannot spot all the mistakes. Money spent on bolt-on vision systems can be recovered with reductions in mailing mistakes that generate customer inquiries consuming valuable resources to research, respond, and correct. Retaining customers who might otherwise leave because of errors also offsets upgrade investments.

3. Boost quality control – Of all the mailing mistakes I have seen over the years, there have been only a handful the mailer couldn’t have prevented with existing QC procedures. I repeatedly find examples of errors making it into the mail that employees should have caught. Even manual quality control processes work if they are followed. Review and update current processes and continuously enforce compliance. If consistency is a problem, consider purposely introducing errors occasionally as a test, to keep the staff on their toes.

Get More Done in Less Time

4. Measure productivity – Take a look at productivity measurements. They can help identify problems with particular jobs or equipment, or highlight operator training deficiencies. Automated data collection is best, but shops without the technology can develop or enforce their current manual data capture processes to gather the information necessary to evaluate individual jobs, processes, or people.

5. Replace inefficient manual workflows – Many shops manually copy information generated by one software system into another. Estimates, order entry, job scheduling, postage deposits, inventory, and billing are often unconnected processes. Besides being error-prone and inefficient, job information split among accounting software, spreadsheets, and program logs makes accurate profit measurement of individual jobs practically impossible.

6. Fix the envelopes and materials – Adjusting the quality or design of envelopes and other materials can improve performance. Using better materials results in fewer jams. When machines can print or fold material consistently and slide it effortlessly into envelopes, operators can crank up the speed. Processing more pieces per hour adds to capacity with no investment in hardware.

7. Stop doing the unnecessary – Look critically at documents currently produced and determine their worth. Obvious areas of opportunity are eliminating duplicates and undeliverable mail. In other cases it might be possible to shorten printing or inserting run times by making small document modifications, such as narrowing the margins or reducing font sizes, that reduce the page count.

Spend Less

8. Plan to take advantage of USPS promotions – Every year, the Postal Service runs promotions that provide postage discounts, but only a handful of mailers take part. Part of the challenge in the past has been insufficient time to prepare. The USPS aims to address the issue by providing promotional program details sooner. The Postal Service has already announced proposed plans for its 2017 promotions.

9. Review inventory – Organizations waste money storing obsolete materials. They count it for inventory and they move it around to make space for newer items. Many warehouses contain forms and envelopes so old they wouldn’t run on the equipment even if the organization found a use for them. Discard useless materials. Also seek ways to consolidate. Small changes in document design, switching to double-window envelopes, or adding inkjet heads to inserting equipment can allow mail operations to use the same envelopes for several jobs.

10. Save on Return Envelopes – Reducing return envelope usage can lower costs and improve productivity. Find out how many customers actually use return mail. Considering the percentage of consumers paying bills online, payments sent in supplied envelopes could be a small number. Shops with intelligent inserters can include return envelopes selectively, based on customer payment preferences. If the operation lacks an intelligent inserter, jobs may be segmented to separate documents with return envelopes from documents without.

These suggestions are just a sample of low-cost improvements that might be made to increase the value of the mail center. Different opportunities exist in every operation. Mailers have already made the easy modifications to lower their mail processing costs. Finding new ways to squeeze productivity and profitability out of print/mail workflows may take a bit of creativity, but will be worth the effort.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, a firm that helps document producers save money, raise productivity, and make their mail more effective. You are invited to visit and sign up for his free newsletters.