Back when I began my service bureau career, we were all about batch processing. It was the era of big iron where we wrote custom programs that executed on mainframe computers and generated mountains of paper. Small runs were discouraged. The overhead for set-up, staging materials, and finishing was too great to make small jobs worthwhile.

Today, we're in a different communications environment. The large batch mode still works for some transactional applications, but most print/mail operations are experiencing drops in the number of envelopes they mail. This makes it more difficult to make money by printing and mailing documents. How should document centers adapt?

Print/mail service providers clinging to the notion that they only generate revenue when a piece goes into the mail need to make some adjustments. Units of output will always be a factor, but technology and new customer communication practices present additional opportunities.

When you base all your revenue on the amount of mail you process, you are naturally hesitant to take any actions that reduce the volume. But volumes are shrinking anyway and competing on price isn’t productive. It’s time to find other ways to bring in the dollars. That means adding value.

Make Money by Not Mailing

Add value by analyzing the mailing files your clients provide. Run them against suppression lists and filter out insufficient addresses or update the client’s databases with move update information. Remove deceased persons, nursing home patients, or people in prison. Strike anyone not likely to respond to a direct marketing campaign because they don’t meet the target criteria.

You can’t assume your clients are doing these things on their own.

Yesterday, I received a jury summons addressed to Helen, the previous owner of the home I bought 13 years ago. Obviously, the data sources for jury duty have not been well maintained. The county paid for that summons to be printed and they paid for the postage to deliver it. They will incur expenses to deal with the undelivered mail when it comes back to them.

My super-smart postal carrier noticed the mistake. She will make sure the USPS returns the piece to the sender, but some people who receive such mail will just throw it away. A lack of response may trigger follow-up mail or other actions from the county. What if the entity generating the mail caught this error and eliminated the wasteful expense? Would the county appreciate that effort, even if they had to pay a small fee? I think so.

In this case, a standard move update process wouldn’t correct the address. Helen’s data dropped off the USPS NCOA database long ago. Other resources exist, however, that might have been helpful.

Print/mail service providers should charge clients for correcting addresses or strategically eliminating mail pieces from the run. It’s a good deal for the clients. Paying for data quality will save mailers money with every future mailing that would have included those undeliverable or irrelevant pieces.

Make Money with Targeted Messaging

Leverage the benefits of digital printing to incorporate promotional content with transactional documents. Switch from pre-printed inserts to onserts you can target to segments of your client’s customer base. This may require you to invest in document re-engineering software that scrapes data from print-image files. This data can then control the marketing content included in the document pages.

If you help your clients deliver the right messages to the right customers at the right time, they will enjoy heightened conversion rates. You can charge for this service, based on the increased value of the mail you produce for your clients.

Take it a step further and learn how to run Informed Delivery campaigns, increasing exposure for your clients while billing them for this free service from the USPS.

For some applications, tracking mail delivery through Informed Visibility could generate valuable information for your clients. Informed Visibility allows mailers to predict response timing or forecast incoming call volumes based on the delivery date of the mail. If you offer multi-channel capabilities, you can send timed reinforcing email or SMS messages to your client’s customers based on the Informed Visibility data. All these services would also be billable.

Added Value and Customer Retention

Besides shifting some of your revenue away from the number of pieces you mail, extra services forge a stronger tie with your clients. Any of your competitors can print and mail documents, with the major differentiator being price. Once you add integrated services that lower mailing costs and increase value, customers are less likely to jump ship just to save a few dollars on their print and mail runs.

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 and Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.