Document operations departments handle lots of data. Sometimes the information is in ready-to-print form. Other times, data arrives in raw format, awaiting processing by document composition software before proceeding along to printing or electronic distribution steps. Document operations have traditionally functioned like a conduit. Data comes in and pages go out.

Data has value, however, and document operations departments are in an ideal position to put data to work. Extracting data from pre-composed pages may require re-engineering software, available from a number of companies. Regardless of the data source, print and mail operations have opportunities to add value to the work they do for their internal or external customers.

  • Personalize communications or identify segments to target recipients more precisely
  • Augment documents with added data sources, such as geocoding applications
  • Clean up the data to reduce waste or eliminate undeliverable mail
  • Provide analytics or tracking information

Personalization and Segmentation

All organizations are interested in improving the customer experience. What better place to foster positive relationships than with documents customers receive from the organization? Studies have shown bills, statements, or other transactional communications get lots of attention from customers. This is an ideal time to replace generic formatting, promotions, or informational messaging with alternatives more relevant to each customer.

Marketers might make different offers to customers depending on data items like balance amounts, purchases, or activity. With customer loyalty information, mailers can add suitable messages to acknowledge customer longevity.

Make documents easier to understand, cutting down on calls to customer service by removing irrelevant text. Highlight important information with bolding, shading, or colors to communicate individual customer status or call attention to actions the organization wants customers to take.

Lessen reliance on pre-printed inserts and print personalized or variable promotional messages in unused white space or on an extra page. First Class letter mailers can add pages to transactional documents without increased postage costs as long as the total weight remains below 3.5 ounces.

Augment Documents

Common ways document operations add variable information to documents or envelopes might include directions or maps to the nearest branch or retail location based on the customer’s address. Links to online resources such as videos that explain complicated documents or how-to guides related to purchased products can differentiate an organization from their competitors.

By including information from additional sources, document operations departments can turn average transactional or promotional mailings into useful information customers appreciate. Examples might include analysis or recommendations based on individual customer deposits, claim activity, past purchases, or other relevant items.

Informed Delivery from the US Postal Service also presents interesting opportunities for marketers. It automatically adds a communication channel for customers who subscribe to the free service. Consumers see images of the day’s letter mail in their email inboxes. Mailers can take advantage of Informed Delivery by printing variable messaging or eye-catching graphics on the outbound envelopes.

With a bit more effort, marketers can add full-color graphics and links to the Informed Delivery display seen by their customers. Few companies are using this aspect of the free service so far. The technique is an opportunity to stand out.

Data Cleanup

Nobody likes to waste money, but mailing lists typically include data records document operations can accurately predict will have no chance of generating the desired response. Mailing professionals can easily drop records with incomplete addresses or foreign addresses from promotional mailings. Specialized suppression lists allow document operations to also eliminate deceased persons, or those currently incarcerated. Mailers can combine or eliminate duplicates, saving 100% of otherwise wasted production and postage costs.

In other cases, buyer qualifications can be used to trim mailing lists. If the targeted buyers are single family home owners, have certain credit scores, or fall into defined age groups, document operations can match their mailing list to demographic databases and avoid mailing to prospects unqualified for the offer.

Analytics and Tracking

Use tracking information supplied by the US Postal Service through Informed Visibility (formerly IMb Tracing) to help your internal and external customers track their outbound mail. Demonstrate how mail delivery details can trigger follow-up marketing campaign efforts, predict call center staffing requirements, or schedule just-in-time deliveries of fulfillment materials.

Imagine the benefit of informing mailers of potential delivery delays due to weather or other unexpected events -- before they happen. With information from Informed Visibility, customer service representatives could be prepared to handle customer inquiries about late mail or corporate communications might send proactive messages by email or post notices about the delay on their websites.

Some organizations can benefit from tracking inbound mail. Use reply envelopes with windows and print intelligent mail barcodes as part of the organization’s address. The USPS will track the return mail as it travels from customers back to the company. Awareness about when a critical mailpiece is due to arrive helps companies make intelligent decisions about actions like turning accounts over to collection or canceling insurance policies.

The main mission of document print and mail operations departments is processing documents accurately and getting them into the mail on time. Considering documents as valuable data, however, changes how document operations can contribute to their customer’s success.

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.