I was in New York City last week, having coffee with my good friends, Ray and Marv. After getting caught up on personal matters, we started to talk about what we’ve been seeing lately in the industry. We shared stories about misfortunate mailings that seemed to become more commonplace. Departments with address lists so bad, they needed manual coding. Improperly formatted letters that were returned to sender, because the bottom lines of the address didn’t show in the window. A marketing mailing that included a Business Reply Mail envelope, with the Courtesy Reply Mail post office box.
Ray observed, “Everyone is so focused on digital, it seems that no one can do physical mail correctly anymore.”
Interestingly, we shared almost 100 years of industry experience between the three of us. Ray and Marv have run successful projects for physical billing and e-billing for their company. Some of the other companies in the stories had certified mail center managers. However, in each case, the professionals weren’t consulted. The experts were ignored. And the results included thousands of dollars in misspent print and postage.
In the world of digital natives and Customer Communications Management (“CCM”), physical mail doesn’t get the respect it deserves. However, most customers still prefer to receive their bills in their mailbox. Marketing campaigns are more successful when they include a postcard or a letter. Many industries are required to use mail to prove compliance with government regulations.
So, why the disconnect? Probably because people are more attracted to what is new. The latest software or mobile device. Hosted solutions that bring together multiple platforms. The buzz words and acronyms used by consultants and pundits (anyone else remember when “CRM” was the mantra of the day?).
Besides, physical mail is “just mail”. There isn’t anything magical or exciting about printing a piece of paper, inserting it into an envelope and putting a stamp on it. Anyone can do that. The mailroom is down in the basement. Surely, no one important works down there.
The preceding paragraph may slightly exaggerate how the rest of the business world views print and mail operations. But it’s closer to the truth than many of us care to admit. We must work to be recognized as experts in order to prevent bad decisions before they’re made.
Steps to take to create the change in perception include:
- Keep in regular contact with your customers. For in-plant shops, this means the departments that create the documents you produce. Set up monthly meetings with marketing, membership, claims, finance – whoever sends or receives mail. Provide updates on postal regulatory changes, equipment upgrades or vendor relationships. Just 30 minutes every 30 days.
- Promote every success. Will Rogers said, “If you done it, it ain't bragging.” If you don’t let your management and your customers know how you improved a mailing, or led a project or reduced postage costs, they won’t know that you did it. Consider a one-page newsletter that highlights the accomplishments of your department. Brief, interesting and informative.
- Participate in professional associations. Just belonging to your local Postal Customer Council isn’t enough. You should be attending classes, webinars and conferences. Bring back ideas from other mailers that can be implemented at your company (great content for customer meetings and newsletter). Offer to be a presenter or board member. Education is a never-ending, active endeavor.
Physical mail is an essential element of the digital marketplace. The innovative technologies for creating and delivering mail on time in the right format at the right cost requires the expertise print and mail professionals have developed over their careers. Internal and external customers need to be aware of that expertise and know how to take advantage of their knowledge before their next campaign. Or pay the price.