Print and mail managers learned an important lesson this past year: No matter how far you've gone, it still may not be far enough. After making every effort to achieve the year's results, transaction mailers must again identify additional opportunities and meet new demands.

High-volume mailers are stepping back and taking a fresh look at their end-to-end operations. Three distinct types of high-volume mailers have three distinct sets of issues and questions. As you begin your fresh look, your operation may resemble one of these personae: Cost Champions; Business Accelerators; or Flexible Optimizers.

Cost Champions
Some print and mail facilities operate as a cost center, which is a necessary business function. Once motivated, they must look for ways to avoid any increase in direct costs and reduce operating expenses.

Department heads seek ways to extend the life of existing technologies, often relying on individuals and detailed, labor-intense process flows to ensure the quality of each mailpiece.

For some, the objective of each communication is less important than the overall production cost. Cost Champions rely on production intelligence for performance data and reports, focusing on productivity and timeliness. Standardization efforts, such as common address block formatting, common envelopes, etc. have helped simplify operations creating new efficiencies.

Cost Champions who take a fresh look at their operations should ask themselves some hard questions:

  • Labor costs - In labor-intense organizations, paychecks have a more significant impact on overall costs. Increases in wages, health care and benefits add pressure to already tight budgets. Where will the next cuts come from? Can automation make a difference? How can redesigning workflow allow you to maintain production levels with fewer operators?
  • Competition - The threat of outsourcing has never been greater. How can an in-house organization offer more value? What superior processes or controls do you offer? Where can you strengthen the connection between print, mail and the organization?
  • Collaboration - Overall corporate objectives span far beyond cost control. How can your print and mail operations better integrate with company goals? What corporate initiatives can your group support or lead?
  • Measurement - Calculating ROI on replacement technologies is critical, especially when budgets are tight. Print and mail operations often don't consider their value. Do on-time statement mailings impact call center volumes? How much is a new customer worth? How much would it cost the business if it had to manage through a privacy breach?

Business Accelerators
Some print and mail operations collaborate closely with other departments across the organization. While cost avoidance and savings are essential, these objectives stand on equal footing with revenue preservation and growth. Transactional documents can represent more than bills and statements; they serve as integral parts of the overall customer experience.

Print and mail managers have a "seat at the table"â❠and proactively identify ways to increase the value of the mailpiece. They keep abreast of emerging technologies, understanding how innovations help their operation evolve efficiently.

With no tolerance for error, piece-level tracking, accuracy and real-time validation of one-to-one messaging are considered crucial capabilities.

Business Accelerators may already employ leading-edge technologies, which can make it even more challenging to uncover incremental opportunities. A fresh look should uncover areas of concern:

  • Flexibility - New communications channels like mobile SMS haven't replaced the old; transactional mailers must become experts in all channels. Can you centralize output management? How can you adapt, enhance and modify underlying print streams? What channel will you need to support next?
  • Transformation - Advances in technology continually come to market, bringing new capabilities at lower prices. At what point do you convert to color? How can you increase personalization? What's next in TransPromo?
  • Complexity and speed - Preprinted envelopes, rolls and fan-folded reams have been replaced by a clean canvas of white paper and closed-faced envelopes. Color, digital, high-integrity, one-to-one transactional data and marketing messages fly onto each mailpiece on one run. Complexity and speed have risen together to meet the new demand for a heightened customer experience.
  • Integrity - Achieving 99.8% accuracy on one million pieces still leaves 2,000 unhappy customers. What controls are lacking? Which processes are not automated, tracked and verified? How quickly can you validate events at the record level?

Flexible Optimizers 
These transaction mailers work in industries where mail is a critical communications channel. They serve a broad base of constituents who may demand a lot from their department.

Managers identify ways to rapidly respond to new requests and they invest in point-level solutions to address needs - even in a slow economy.

Flexible Optimizers often work apart from the rest of the organization and may even departmentalize print and mail operations into distinct functions. Multi-site operations often work independently with their own set of processes and standards.

Flexible Optimizers often move quickly, but slowing down and plotting out a longer-term strategy could prove worthwhile:

  • Best practices - Documented standards, best practices and a process for continual improvement can improve performance across an enterprise. Do you have standard operating procedures across your operation? Are you testing new approaches? How can you expedite "success transfer"â❠within your group?
  • Road maps - While there are always fires to be put out today, each manager needs to simultaneously build bridges to the future. Where do you see your operation three and five years from now? How will your goals differ? What capabilities should you drive toward?
  • In-house value - Companies are considering outsourcing even in areas once considered off-limits. What value does your group provide that no third party could match? Where can you strengthen integration, controls and timeliness?
  • End-to-end workflow - From database to delivery, each aspect of the print/mail continuum is connected. Do you look at print and mail as a single workflow? Does the same system track each piece from start to finish? How can you leverage Intelligent Mail barcode to improve productivity, integrity and sort rates?

In today's economy, every organization must identify effective ways to contain costs and improve performance. Take a fresh look today.

Kevin Klein is the Director of Production Intelligence Consulting, which joined the mailing industry and Pitney Bowes in 2000. In his current role, Klein leads a team of consultants who work with managers and executives of large-volume print and mail operations to architect solutions to broad and complex operational and business problems. For more information, visit