While many print service providers (PSPs) focus on producing and mailing high-volume transactional documents like billing statements, a new revenue stream is opening up for them due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing number of remote and home-based workers. The pandemic has had a significant impact on business offices across a wide variety of industries. According to a recent study, the number of people working from home went from 18% to 51% because of the pandemic. These jobs might include almost any role in an organization, including customer-facing positions like sales or customer service representatives, as well as others who find it necessary to answer inquiries or send out printed information on a daily basis. The challenge for them — and the opportunity for PSPs — is that these workers no longer have easy access to the company printrooms.

When possible, employers have provided laptops for their remote workers to allow them to access and record customer data. Printing out correspondence can be difficult for them and may not convey the desired corporate image, but providing each of these workers with laser printers and toner would be expensive, and perhaps for only occasional use. Additionally, remote workers who generate mail must stock corporate letterhead and inventory; they may also need to print out other, more complicated documents — anything from marketing materials to copies of contracts or insurance policies. And then they are responsible for getting this all to the post office and paying the postage out-of-pocket (though, hopefully, they can expect to be reimbursed for it).

A Better Way

A much more efficient way of handling mail generated by remote workers is to develop a hybrid mail system, which includes a central hub or clearinghouse where employees can send their correspondence, along with any necessary attachments or inserts in digital form (or requests to include these), and have this mail professionally printed, packaged, and mailed. Some applications have been developed to enable such a system, and these can be adopted by PSPs, who already have the know-how and the equipment to do the production printing and mailing. Offering hybrid mail services to existing clients can generate more print and mail volumes to maximize asset utilization, expand your services to clients, and differentiate you from your competitors.

For clients, the advantages of hybrid mail are many. First and foremost are the cost savings. While sending an individual letter first-class costs a remote worker 55 cents, metered pieces go for 51 cents and with high volumes, that small difference can add up over time. If the mailed items can be bundled or commingled with batches of work from the same or multiple clients, they can qualify for additional discount rates.

By submitting items to a PSP to be mailed, clients will a have record of what was sent out, and when, and will be able to track the item through delivery. Most PSPs also hold certifications for security, which can be an important advantage, far preferable to remote workers printing documents on their own equipment when they may have only minimal security features.

The Necessary Elements

In establishing a hybrid mail system, a PSP will need to collaborate with the client to ensure that it fits their needs and works effectively for them, as well as integrates smoothly with your company’s workflow. Make certain the system is easy to use, for both you and the remote workers, who may have varying levels of computer knowledge, expertise and competence. Ensure that training for setting up and using the system is available.

In some hybrid mail applications, correspondence and other mail items are sent by the remote worker to a web portal, where they’re added to a hot folder for further processing. The hybrid mail application should allow for setting up the client’s business rules for authorization and approvals and enable workers to add attachments or inserts, as well as compliance information when required. Remote workers may be able to choose appropriate letterhead, monochrome or color printing, and whether their package goes into a standard #10 envelope or a flat. Delivery through electronic channels can be another option. Once these steps in the process are complete, the PSP handles the actual production and mailing.

Now and Most Likely Forever

Despite the current buzz about digital transformation and the speed and efficiency of digital communications, print on paper is not going away. Many people need a hard copy of documents for their records even if they are otherwise happy to interact via email or SMS text on their smartphones. Legal contracts and similar documents, like mortgages, require written signatures and, in most cases, that means ink on paper. Just because so many employees are working from home offices doesn’t mean they will generate fewer paper documents.

Additionally, even as companies start to open their offices after months of closures, teleworking and work-from-home situations are becoming permanent fixtures of American companies. Up to 74% of business leaders plan to move their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions after the COVID-19 threat is gone. The hybrid mail system described here will remain useful for them, as well as for employees who normally work in the field and rarely check in at the corporate headquarters.

PSPs and the companies they work with can meet the challenges of generating ad hoc and small batch correspondence from remote locations by adopting hybrid mail. With so many benefits, hybrid mail delivers positive ROI with very few drawbacks, making it an ideal solution for our current moment — and for a post-pandemic world.

A digital document industry pioneer, Ernie Crawford is President/CEO and founder of Crawford Technologies. One of only a small number people worldwide with M-EDP (Master Electronic Document Professional) designation, Ernie has more than 30 years of senior marketing and management experience in the high-volume digital printing market.

This article originally appeared in the July/August, 2021 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.