Experts predict that by 2020, customer experience will outweigh price and product as the key differentiator among competitors. Print and mail service providers can prepare for this transition by changing their sales and servicing approaches now.

Instead of initiating client conversations with details about paper, ink, finishing, and volumes, concentrate on discovering what clients hope to achieve with their customer communications. What business problems can you help them solve? How can the messages you send on their behalf enhance the relationships their customers experience?

The nuts and bolts of document processing and mail generation are still important, but no longer the main point. All your competitors can create documents and get them into the mail. More likely to distinguish your company in the minds of clients is your approach. You must take an interest in your clients’ businesses and help them accomplish business goals. This is the main theme. Documents just happen to be the way you do it.

Significant Strategy Shift

For many organizations in this industry, evolving from vendor to solutions partner is a big change. You know all about print and are comfortable discussing the nitty-gritty details of mail preparation and presort levels. In contrast, probing clients about their customer retention goals or market share objectives may seem unnatural. Not only will the discussion topics be new, but so will your client contacts. You may talk to managers and executives with whom you’ve not done business in the past. They may have no experience with document production and distribution, and they might not care about operational details.

How will you connect with this new audience? What can you say to convince them they should do business with you?

The key is changing the focus in your own head. When I was in the document service provider business, we were all about the “what” and the “how.” We’d talk to clients about mail piece integrity or how we could save them money by presorting. We’d show them print samples! Rarely did anyone stop to ask clients what they expected to accomplish. Once you start thinking that way, it changes your whole perspective. To really give your clients what they want, you need to spend more time on the “why.”

The Real Reasons for Documents

Your clients don’t send statements for fun. They want to communicate something to their customers, and it’s probably more involved than merely displaying account transactions and balances. Your clients likely want their customers to buy more from them, renew contracts, pay their bills more quickly, conduct more business online, or leave positive reviews on social media. Your clients most certainly want their customers to have positive experiences, and the client documents you produce are important customer perception influencers.

What would you change about documents or processes to achieve those client objectives? Would you add color to make statements easier to understand? Generate personalized messages tied to each customer’s buying history or account status? Include QR codes for document recipients to interact with your client’s customer portal? Add online bill paying features to improve cash flow?

Time for a New Approach

In the service bureau business, we were basically order-takers. Clients showed us their documents, discussed schedules and volumes, and waited for us to give them a price. If we quoted prices lower than their current cost for in-plant or competitive outsourced services, we might get the work. At higher prices, we probably wouldn’t. Perhaps that describes your traditional business methodology too.

It is time to take a new approach. Look at the customer communications your company produces as components of your client’s overall customer relationship strategy. Stop looking for work that anyone can do – those jobs are safe only until a competitor undercuts your price. Instead, make it attractive for clients to continue doing business with you by giving them the kind of experience they wish they had with all their vendors. The more your services intersect with your client’s businesses, the more valuable those services become.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that evaluates document operations workflows and helps clients make and implement strategic improvement decisions. For more ideas about how to prepare your organization for the future, connect with Mike directly at or follow @PMCmike on Twitter.