For as long as I can remember, print and mail operations have worked on ways to lower the cost of mail production and distribution. You’d think by now that managers couldn’t find any more easily implemented cost-saving strategies. The industry keeps changing, however, presenting new opportunities for efficiency as mail producers take advantage of new technologies and adjust to current conditions.
Every document production workflow is different. Everyone has their own mix of hardware, software, and jobs that determine how they trim costs. What works for one facility doesn’t necessarily apply to another. Here are some general areas, though, where you may have overlooked an opportunity to tweak your processes and save some money.
Producing more mail in less time can save money in many ways. Obviously, labor costs decrease if you can shorten production time, but some strategies to improve throughput will generate savings in other areas as well.
I recall working with one company that was printing multi-page terms and conditions pages for thousands of customers every day. We re-designed the documents to make better use of the space with a variety of techniques such as shrinking the margins and changing the fonts. These simple modifications cut the number of printed pages by half while still meeting regulatory requirements.
Our improvements saved the company on paper costs, printing expenses, and folding/inserting time. The jobs ran faster in the print room and got to the inserting operation earlier in the day. The inserting step required fewer machine cycles, which put more pieces “on the belt” per hour and lengthened the intervals between periodic maintenance. The company saved thousands of dollars.
Back in my service bureau days we had a warehouse full of job-specific outbound envelopes. Many envelopes contained pre-printed return addresses, and they featured various window placements and configurations. Sometimes we ran short because usage was unexpectedly high, an order didn’t arrive on time, or poor-quality materials caused increased spoilage. Whenever one of these events occurred, we had to juggle production schedules or pull a job off the inserting line until more stock arrived. We lost time and money as the inserting machines sat idle and operators set the equipment up for the next job.
One way to decrease the extra time and expense associated with custom envelopes is to reformat jobs so you can mail more of them in your standard envelope. How you do this depends on your applications. Some organizations have eliminated many custom envelopes by switching to double-windows or adding inkjet stations to the inserters to spray client logos and return addresses on the envelopes as the mail is processed.
Consolidation allows you to combine print from different jobs, creating larger runs and reducing the number of job changeovers on printers and inserters. A standard outbound envelope and document design reduces reliance on custom envelopes, eliminates folder adjustments necessary to get address blocks aligned with windows, and reduces stoppages that impact productivity.
Money saved on postage or mail preparation can be significant for high-volume shops. Postal rates, discounts, and incentives change frequently. Smart strategies implemented a few years ago may be less advantageous today. The USPS can decide a certain type of mail may cost more to handle than they collect in postage. If so, the “underwater” mail may be subject to larger-than-average postage rate hikes. It might be time to re-evaluate some practices to see if you can save money by turning flats into letters or letters into postcards, for example.
As you probably know, the Postal Service is reorganizing their sorting and delivery network. As the USPS implements these changes, mailers might qualify for greater discounts by changing their sorting and distribution schemes. They may also find that some of the mail preparation work they’ve been doing no longer earns them enough of a discount to justify continuing doing the work. Assess each new postage rate change and evaluate the impact on your own jobs.
Data Cleansing and Targeting
A mail piece that has little chance of producing the desired result is 100% cost. Eliminate as many of them as you can before printing. You’ll improve the ROI of mail, which encourages clients to continue approving mailing projects that keep your crew busy.
To decide if you can eliminate a data record from the mailing file, answer these three questions:
1. Will the mail piece bear a valid address?
2. Will the USPS deliver the mail piece to the individual or business listed on the printed address?
3. Is the mail piece relevant or useful to the addressee?
Mailers typically do the CASS processing the USPS requires to qualify for discounted postage. That ensures the address is formatted correctly and falls within a range of addresses defined for a given street. It does not guarantee a mail piece will be delivered.
Move update processing accounts for recipients who have moved and filed a change of address notice with the Postal Service. This step is also necessary to qualify for postage discounts and assures your mail pieces reach the intended targets.
Another step to take is making sure the piece is deliverable. Use postal software that features delivery point verification (DPV) to validate deliverability.
Finally, compare the offer or message on the mail piece with the profile of the addressee. This may require you to enhance the data with demographic information. It may be favorable to filter for age, gender, income, or other data points that disqualify a potential mail recipient from inclusion in the print and mail job because they are unlikely to respond to the mail piece message. Using data analysis to eliminate lost causes before printing saves all the money spent on production and postage.
Workflow, Tracking, and Visibility
Part of the expense of running a document print and mail facility is handling questions and queries from customers. They will want to know the status of a job, when it will be in the mail, and if pieces have been delivered. Customers may also want you to pull individual documents at the last minute or verify when you processed and mailed a certain document. Handling these inquiries manually takes your attention away from daily production and may interrupt people tasked with getting the mail out.
Consider a production workflow dashboard solution that tracks the status of jobs and mail piece tracking software to monitor the condition of individual mail pieces through your production steps. Leverage Informed Visibility from the USPS to track mail once it enters the postal delivery network. With tools like these, customers can often answer their own questions without disrupting managers, supervisors, and operators in the production facility.
Many workflow production platforms allow you to automate processes which can eliminate bottlenecks or delays caused when jobs sit waiting for someone to initiate the next step. Production flows smoothly, even when key employees are out sick or on vacation.
Opportunities Still Exist
Most print and mail production operations could reduce costs. Sometimes it takes a third-party perspective to point out areas unnoticed during the average workday. If lowering costs is important to keeping customers, matching the competition, or retaining an in-plant mailing operation, inspect all aspects of your production workflow and find some places for beneficial adjustments.
Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants creates content that helps attract and retain customers for companies in the document industry and assists companies as they integrate new technology. Learn more about his services at www.pmccontentservices.com. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.