This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2018 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.

Most organizations view the effort to produce and distribute transactional documents as a necessary cost of doing business. Money spent on paper, printers, inserting equipment, postage, and production staffs are costs they must trim wherever possible.

This attitude is short-sighted.

Transactional documents are not single-purpose communications. They shouldn’t exist only because they bring in money for bill payments or satisfy regulatory obligations. Transactional documents are economic opportunities to communicate with customers as individuals. Chances like these are rare.

Customer communications treated as investments focus more on customer value and less on production costs. Such documents would yield loyalty and higher sales per customer and result in more effective and relevant bills, statements, and notices.

Lowering document production costs by improving efficiency will always be important. When austerity trumps effectiveness, though, we’re on the wrong track. Transactional documents can improve customer retention through positive customer experiences. They can educate and inform customers or present upsell offers in personally relevant ways. It’s a shame to disregard those openings month after month and ignore the advantages of connecting with customers through transactional documents.

Progress Is Made, but Room for Improvement

If the mail I get at home is a sign, companies are attempting to communicate more effectively with customers through their monthly communications. I applaud the efforts, but the results are disappointing.

My latest cable bill, for instance, features a message informing me about the company’s new retail location. This sort of information is worthwhile and welcome, but the new store is an hour away. I am unlikely to visit when another store (which they didn't mention) is less than five miles from my home.

For three straight months, onserts in my cell phone bills promoted a music downloading service. Kudos to the company for abandoning pre-printed inserts, but they get poor marks for targeted messaging – one of the greatest benefits of printing promotional messages inline. In over two decades as a customer, I’ve never downloaded any music. My subscription to the carrier’s lowest volume data plan is a good indicator of my disinterest in accessing entertainment media with my phone. They’d be better off promoting aspects of their service I’m more likely to use.

Both of these organizations collect a lot of data about equipment I own and how I use their services. Yet they have not used that information to add relevant messaging or ads to their bills. As a result, receiving the bills is a mostly negative experience. Like 98% of consumers, I open and view these documents every month. I see my bills twice – once when the bills arrive and again when I pay them. It disappoints me the companies are neglecting to use their transactional messages to make a positive impression.

I ignore online ads and marketing emails from the phone and cable companies. The monthly bills are the best way for them to get my attention — and they are squandering the opportunity.

Use Known Data to Make Customer Connections

What could my vendors do to make their documents more interesting and relevant?

I would have appreciated a message from the cable company suggesting ways to improve my internet speed, since I am paying for upgraded service. Instead, I scheduled a service call to address my sluggish data transmission performance. My service technician told me my modem was out of date. This method of disseminating information was much more expensive for the cable company than utilizing the transactional documents they were already producing.

In place of worthless ads for music services, the cell phone company might have used their bills to tell me their repair site moved. When they closed one repair facility in my area and opened another, they should have notified me of the change. When I needed repairs, I wasted time driving my broken phone to the wrong place – a negative customer experience. Ironically, the cell phone bill layout includes an area reserved for news and notices – a perfect place for personalized or segmented messages. In practice, the information in this area is rarely news and always generic. Most months, the messages are exactly the same boilerplate text.

Organizations make investments to improve products, service, and sales all the time. If they recognized the potential value of their transactional documents as ways to influence customers in positive ways, we’d see more progress in this area. As long as organizations regard transactional documents as expenses which they must constantly reduce, customer communications will not get better.

Mike Porter uses his experience and knowledge of customer communications to create custom improvement plans for his clients. No two situations are alike. As President of Print/Mail Consultants, Mike works with in-plants and service providers to help them reap the greatest benefits from their unique document operations. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter or contact Mike directly at