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March 3 2014 08:05 AM

Are you looking for ways to offset the latest postage rate hikes? You might be thinking the only option left to you is eliminating mail by converting to digital. That is one way to go, but there are probably other methods to recover the cost of incremental postage increases while still maintaining what is undoubtedly a valuable connection with your customers via postal mail.

Looking at all the elements that make up the cost of communicating with customers rather than fixating on postage opens up previously unnoticed possibilities. Everything counts.

Using documents to reduce customer service expense
Can you re-design documents to improve reader comprehension? Tactics such as using highlight color or white space to make important information stand out can reduce phone calls to customer service. I recall one application where changing a single sentence in a legal document from black text to red had an immediate and dramatic impact. Prior to the change, document recipients didn't understand what they were supposed to do, prompting them to call the 800 number. Highlighting the text slashed call volume by eighty percent. Eliminating a handful of customer service calls is all it takes to offset postage increases paid on 1,000 pieces of mail.

Ad space for sale
Well-targeted advertisements printed on your bill, statement, or the outside of your envelope could be worth more than the amount of the postage increase. Approaching selected advertisers selling products relevant to your audience can create a new revenue stream. Traditional pre-printed inserts selectively included according to a customer profile can also be used in this manner.

Step up internal promotion
If you can't sell ads to outside companies, you can probably insert information to up-sell or cross-sell your own products. It might be worthwhile to redesign documents with an objective of increasing their promotional value. Again, these messages work best when they are customized and targeted according to information you already have about individual customers. This data might include buying history, credit rating, consumption, or geographic location. Generating additional sales each month offsets the extra money spent on postage.

Operational cost reductions
Of course there are almost always ways to decrease operational costs. I was working with one company that can recoup over a half-million dollars a year by trimming their average page length for bills by just a half-page. This can be easily accomplished with some minor design modifications that make room for more detail lines on page one. Other cost-saving strategies might include consolidating small printing and inserting jobs into larger ones or reducing inventory by eliminating multiple versions of envelopes or paper stock.

Wasted envelopes
If you are producing bills or soliciting for donations, take a look at how many customers are paying by mail. Your remittance processing facility should be able to tell you. According to a survey last year by Western Union, only about 20% of customers are paying by mail. It makes no sense to keep sending remittance envelopes to customers who never use them. You can selectively insert return envelopes for only customers that still mail checks or you could use two-way envelopes. You might even try the low-tech approach. After notifying customers, simply stop inserting return envelopes entirely. Customers who still want remittance envelopes can call and request a year's supply at a time. My city's water bureau implemented this idea last year.

Of course there are plenty of other strategies that may work for individual organizations. Any combination of modifications can generate annual reductions in operating expenses or additional revenue equal to the latest postage increase. By working on all aspects of customer communications the impact of a postage increase is negated - without eliminating well-established and productive customer touch points like the documents you produce.

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide improve their production workflows and save money. For more tips visit and sign up for Practical Stuff - the free newsletter for document operations. Your comments are welcome. Send them to Follow Mike on Twitter @PMCmike