This article appeared in the November/December, 2018 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.

Data mining sounds geeky and complicated, but document service providers can use information extracted from their clients’ print image files to improve messaging, lower costs, or make documents user-friendly with little to no client effort required.

Documents often combine data from different internal systems to produce bills, statements, and other transactional material. These documents can provide the data necessary to improve customer experiences by making the communications more relevant and personal, and print/mail service providers can make it happen.

Look at the documents your organization processes for your clients. Consider the information those documents contain. Notice the useful information found in detail lines, messaging, and items such as due dates, account levels, or customer status.

Where to Look

Are there groups of customers you can define as segments that should receive special treatment? You might print documents for high-billing customers on more expensive paper or in color, for instance, communicating their value to the organization. Perhaps your clients would be interested in a way to identify likely targets for upgrades, based on their longevity as customers and current level of engagement. Key data values extracted from the pages can increase the impact and effectiveness of the documents without requiring your clients to perform any extra steps.

Information found in print lines for individual documents might reveal opportunities to flag accounts with late charges. You can selectively insert a notice promoting auto-pay so customers avoid future penalties. Other useful information found in detail lines about individual document recipients might indicate the products or services customers are using. Would you impress your clients if you told them you could offer their customers relevant accessories or cross-sell products according to the information you can extract from bills and statements?

In some businesses, certain transactions, such as unusual fees or surcharges, always trigger an increase in customer inquiries. Conditionally added explanatory text, a special insert, or links to an explainer video can reduce costs and raise customer satisfaction when the troublesome transactions appear on customer-facing documents.

Improve Understanding and Lower Costs

Another way to make documents more relevant and effective is turning textual data into graphical information. A chart or graph can make a bigger impression than a list of numbers. Pictures of products, vacation destinations, or photos of company employees with whom the customer had contact can make a lasting impression and personal connection with customers. You can often add these items using codes or descriptions found within the documents.

Most bills include options for customers to pay online or via automatic bank drafts. If paper invoices are marked auto-pay, flag those accounts and cease sending them remittance envelopes. Your clients will thank you for saving money on envelopes that customers don’t need.

Print and mail service providers usually concentrate on moving the paper – often with little regard for what the documents actually communicate. The key to higher profitability and customer retention is adding value to documents, but it requires a little more effort. If you can help clients achieve their customer relationship goals, increase sales, or lower costs without requiring them to revise their internal systems, they will gladly pay more to create better documents.

Raw Data or Print Image?

If you are receiving raw data from your clients and are composing the documents yourself, you already have access to the data you need to make document improvements like the ones described here. Print/mail service providers working with print image files will need document re-engineering software to pull data from the pages to modify content, layout, fonts, colors, or images.

Several companies offer software built for these purposes. Check them out. Most software vendors will convert one of your files to demonstrate their products. Present before and after images to your client to show them how you can improve the way they communicate with their customers. Most will appreciate your efforts to increase the return on their investments in printed and digital transactional documents. Outreach attempts such as this can spur conversations about identifying even more ways you can improve customer communications for your clients.

During my years in the service provider business, we were passive about the documents we printed for clients. We sold our services as a way to reduce printing and mailing costs. If we could save a client on production, printing, inserting, and postage, we had a good chance of getting their business. But that was in the 1980s and 1990s. I don’t think that’s a practical strategy for print and mail service providers today.

Service providers should be spending some of their time analyzing the potential impact of the transactional customer communications they are printing. They often contain unrecognized opportunities for improving customer relationships. Find ways to make those documents contribute to your clients’ business objectives. Take advantage of all the valuable customer information flowing through your shop and find ways to make it work harder for your clients.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants helps his clients create strategies for future growth and implement new technologies. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, send a connection request on LinkedIn, or contact Mike directly at

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