The growth, and sometimes survival, of in-house print and mail centers depends on their ability to add value to their organizations. Unfortunately, the traditional approaches of lowering costs through efficient production and postage optimization probably aren’t enough anymore. Insuring continuity of in-plant document centers requires a solid strategy relevant to today’s business environment.

As companies continue efforts to transfer their printed communications to electronic channels, justifying the expense of document center equipment and staff becomes more challenging. This is especially true if the in-plant is still doing business the same way they’ve done since Y2K. Outsource service providers may very well be able to produce the remaining volume of printed documents less expensively than an in-house facility. If producing mail is the only value an in-plant provides, they are probably vulnerable.

Outsourcers Are Vendors, In-Plants Are Partners

In-plants have an advantage over outsource companies. They have easy access to leaders of multiple departments within their corporations. Document center managers can discover opportunities to help their companies achieve corporate objectives such as improving customer relationships, increasing per-customer sales, or gaining market share. Vendors providing commodities such as printing and mailing services will never match the benefit in-plants enjoy by virtue of their inside track.

The connection between document production and more elusive corporate ideals may not be obvious at first. Document center managers are accustomed to focusing on the daily task of getting the mail out on time. Taking a step back to look at things more strategically is a little different, but customer communications can influence many of the items on the corporate to-do list. In-plant managers should consider where their documents fit as part of an overall corporate plan rather than as a series of independent batch jobs.

How to Add Value

Somewhere in the organization there is probably a stockpile of data about customer satisfaction. The organization may be collecting information from customer surveys, logging complaints and questions phoned into customer service, or monitoring social media to pick up on positive and negative comments about the company.

In-house document centers handle consistent and personalized customer communications. They are in an ideal position use the customer satisfaction data to improve documents by addressing common complaints or desires. Segmenting customers, augmenting documents with more details, or adding greater personalization can allow a company to use information they know about their customers to serve them better, answer questions before they are asked, suggest relevant products, or simply reinforce personal connections with customers as individuals.

Another value-enhancing tactic could be tracking delivery dates of physical mail pieces to trigger timely personalized follow-up emails. Critical customer communications such as renewing a service contract or taking advantage of an upgrade offer can be reinforced through the use of a second channel. A boost in response is always welcomed by the marketing department.

Tactics such as these position in-house print and mail operations as facilitators of outcomes that exceed the value of simply mailing out marketing material or bills. These added capabilities allow document centers greater influence throughout the enterprise and secure their position as ongoing operations.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants. He writes constantly about topics of interest to the communications industry. Visit and sign up for his free newsletters written especially for document industry professionals.