Lowering the cost to produce and mail transactional customer communications has always been a focus for in-plant and outsource print/mail service providers. Finding ways to reduce postage and production expenses can be an obsession and an outsource print/mail service provider’s sales pitch almost always leads with cost savings. Trimming print and mail costs is still part of the goal, but to generate real savings for your internal and external clients you must find ways to make documents more useful for the recipients and beneficial to the senders.

I’m not saying you should stop upgrading your print/mail equipment. Plenty of operations can still improve productivity and reduce errors by adding item tracking and job management hardware and software to their document workflows, or replacing equipment that’s past its prime. But once you’ve implemented the obvious cost-saving measures, I’m not convinced that further efforts to trim expenses in document operations always yields enough benefit to impress your customers.

For in-plants and print/mail service providers, document improvements that offer benefits like increased customer retention, boosted upsells, or reduced calls to their customer service departments are attractive. Gains in these areas will outweigh small per-piece postal or production cost savings.

Planning for the Future

The mailing business is going to change. It doesn’t take a fortune teller to foresee a future where the documents we send, the people we send them to, and the amount of mail we produce will differ from what we do today. Companies are expecting a lot more from their investments in mail than in the past, and it’s up to print/mail service providers to help make sure they get it.

Once your print/mail center starts talking about ways to add value to the documents, your clients will pay attention. We in the document production business tend to concentrate on the process. Clients like saving money on print/mail production, but It’s easy to forget they are mostly interested in achieving their business objectives. A print/mail company that focuses on what their clients really want is less vulnerable to a competitor who may offer nothing more than a slightly lower production or postage rate.

Document Improvement Ideas

So where do you start? How do you know what customer communications improvements to recommend?

Obviously, before you can suggest changes that help clients or internal departments meet their goals, you must know what they are. In-plant print/mail operations people and document designers may be able to speak directly to the departments they serve. For print/mail service providers, your account managers or sales people will probably conduct these conversations. The client representatives who can best articulate their organization’s goals are probably different from the primary contacts with whom they have traditionally worked, so meeting with these decision-makers is critical.

Once you’re clear on what your clients want to achieve, then inspect the documents you’re sending on their behalf. Look for opportunities such as ways to rearrange the data, add graphical elements, include reference links to self-service portals, or add dynamic messaging aimed at an audience of one.

Get Involved

Operations should definitely be involved in document re-design discussions. You don’t want designers or marketing people to create documents difficult to produce with your high volume document production workflow. I recall a client that improved the readability of their documents by adding elements and white space, but in doing so, added a page to every single transactional document. Had the organization implemented the new design, the resulting daily page count would have exceeded the organization’s maximum capacity for all their printers running non-stop twenty-four hours a day!

Service providers and in-plant operations don’t always compose the pages they print. Legacy document applications or third party software may be locked down and can’t be modified. But that doesn’t mean document operations can’t make document layout improvements. Post-composition document re-engineering software is available for this purpose, making it possible to add value to the documents without touching the original applications.

I suspect that most print and mail operations have already trimmed their postage costs as much as possible and they’ve shaved the fat from their document operations workflows. Spending time and money to implement further production cost reductions probably won’t yield enough savings to make a significant difference. Instead, place a greater emphasis on making the mail better by improving the documents. Concentrating on the value of documents is more likely to contribute to long-term growth than focusing only on postage savings and other operational cost reduction strategies.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants creates content for the document industry and helps document operations build and implement strategies for future growth and competitiveness. Learn more about his services at www.printmailconsultants.com and www.pmccontentservices.com. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.