Transactional documents generated by client-purchased software packages are necessarily generic. Businesses have few design or layout options, leaving them dissatisfied with the appearance or functionality of these critical customer communications. Fortunately, print/mail service providers can re-engineer the documents, allowing their clients to communicate with their customers as they wish.

    Re-engineering software can easily reformat documents to increase readability and customer understanding. But the real potential for adding value to client-composed documents comes from extracting data and using it to enhance communications between companies and customers.

    Improving the Documents

    A common example is separating documents meeting specific criteria. Service providers could segment high balance brokerage accounts, for example. Clients may see value in offering their most important customers a premium presentation such as spiral bound account documents printed on premium paper. In another case, billing documents indicating a customer pays online with direct debit can be re-engineered to alter inserting machine barcodes. When service providers mail those bills, they won’t include remittance envelopes.

    Analyzing billing details, print/mail service providers might add URLs or QR codes, leading customers to instructional videos, tips, or accessory order pages relevant to specific products they have bought. Providers can also add targeted marketing messages directly to the documents. Unlike pre-printed inserts, personalized marketing messages based on data extracted from print files can match the characteristics of individual recipients, making the messaging more relevant and effective.

    Some applications, such as phone bills, generate transactional documents with many pages of details. Print/mail service providers using data mining and document re-engineering techniques can strip out the details and create truncated statements for their clients. Archived documents would retain all the details of course.

    Even more powerful is the practice of extracting data from print files and matching it to outside databases. Print/mail service providers can exploit precise targeting by accessing demographic data about document recipients. Service providers can compose and deliver on-document offers and messages according to dwelling type, income, age, or other factors. Some clients may benefit from variable maps showing the route to retail stores closest to the customer’s address.

    Consumers expect companies with whom they do business to know them as individuals. They want communications from those businesses to be consistent with their relationship with the company. Many organizations struggle with executing a single-source, omni-channel customer communications strategy because their customer data is scattered data across unconnected databases. Printed documents, however, frequently provide enough detail about individual customer relationships to allow print/mail service providers to create communications more meaningful and relevant to the customers who receive them.

    Improving the Workflow

    Besides enhancing the appearance or functionality of documents, data mining software can also allow print/mail service providers to make significant improvements in their production workflows.

    Combining documents from many small jobs is a great example. When service providers mingle dissimilar documents from several customers or applications, they must ensure mailing addresses on all the documents print in a consistent location. Re-positioning the addresses allows service providers to mail all the documents in common outbound window envelopes.

    Service providers can extract print data to create indexes used to track items throughout document production, automate reprints, control inserter operation, household documents, or archive them.

    Document re-engineering software can also create a competitive advantage for service providers by decreasing page counts. In large runs, eliminating a page or two from each document can shorten processing times by hours. Mailing bills a day earlier is sure to please the clients.

    Adding pages can have its advantages also. I have known service providers that handled flats as a manual workflow. They would print the documents and adhesive mailing labels, matching them up and hand-inserting into 9 x 12 closed-face envelopes. By extracting address information from the print files and adding a cover page, operations like these could use window envelopes for their flats and insert documents by machine.

    Mining client documents for data is one way print/mail service providers can migrate from their roles as commodity vendors to trusted client partners. When the information needed to make customer communications more effective is already in the print files, they can repurpose that data. Improving documents with data on hand is much easier than retrieving data from client databases strewn throughout the enterprise.

    Data mining tools designed for extracting information from print files are versatile. Print/mail service providers will find they can use the software to improve their product and simultaneously streamline their operations.

    Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that evaluates document operations workflows and helps clients make and implement strategic improvement decisions. For more ideas about how to prepare your organization for the future, connect with Mike directly at or follow @PMCmike on Twitter.