In today’s always-on, digitally connected world it can be easy to overlook the role played by physical mail in business. The convenience and immediacy of email and instant messaging drive massive usage growth across these channels. But the fact remains that hard-copy documents continue to be the preferred medium for a significant volume of communications across a broad range of business sectors.
Certainly in the financial sector, specific communications are mandated to be in physical form. And often where forms require personal details, or documents aim to deliver advice and benefits, recipients prefer the familiarity, security and clarity of mail. Think also of dynamic, creative industries such as the media sector where hard-copy visuals can influence the decision-making process.
Deregulation of the UK postal market in 2006 introduced more competition to the delivery field. In the ten-years-plus since deregulation, the market has become more complex in terms of the number of operators, the range of services and the scope of technology. Understandably, the expertise to navigate this maze of possibilities and options rarely exists at the in-house level. Yes, businesses may operate specific mailroom functions, but too often staff are tasked with adapting legacy processes and are simply too consumed in the day-to-day to be able to step back, re-assess and consider the operation holistically.
Analysts estimate that mail operations account for around 9 per cent of the budgets of Fortune 500 companies. For those businesses not at Fortune 500 scale, this percentage can often be higher because these firms lack the resources to invest in the latest technology and to keep up-to-speed with changing regulations that might deliver savings. It is not simply a matter of cost. Forward-thinking businesses are recognising that working with dedicated mailroom management experts can deliver real strategic benefits to the business.
Whilst some mail requirements – particularly regular high-volume send-outs – will often be processed through the corporate mailroom, there will still be a steady volume of day-to-day ad-hoc mail processed throughout a business. In a typical scenario, this mail will be produced at the desk and then taken to a departmental franking machine for postage to be applied. At an average cost of around £5-6k per year, franking machines represent a significant outlay. But asking staff to break from their tasks and stand at a franking machine is arguably even more costly to a business. Multiply this inactivity across several franking machines situated in multiple departments and the issue soon starts to take on real significance.
The trouble is, the time and money wasted on ad-hoc departmental mailing is incredibly hard to quantify. There may well be company-wide policies in place about using first-class postage sparingly or only using the franking machines for a certain-weight of mail but, with activity happening across several departments, individuals are often left to make their own decisions.
The integrity of the brand can also be compromised. Ideally, each and every communication should follow corporate style guidelines in order to present a consistent public face. There is a danger that individuals will interpret guidelines differently – or may choose to ignore them altogether – resulting in a less than professional end result.
The productivity of staff is one thing, but think also of the square-foot cost of a typical mailroom. Often, these in-house sites date back many years and are far from optimised in terms of layout, scale and efficiency. Depending on location, London office costs can run from £50-£95 per square foot, and other city-centre spaces are not far behind.
Re-engineering this space, and either optimising the area used for mailing, or moving the mailing function to a purpose built remote facility, can save significant sums and enable businesses to better utilise their real estate.
Refining communication processes
A lack of expertise in mail management can lead many businesses to simply stick with the status quo and accept costs and processes that are far from optimal. Often, mail does not receive the level of scrutiny afforded to other business functions – an oversight when one considers the ‘9 per cent of budgets’ figure. And yet, by adding intelligence to the mix, businesses can glean important insights into the types of communications that work and the workflows required to create them.
Mail experts do not simply assess costs and look to reduce spend. Rather, they operate as “off-line consultants”, providing solutions that are cost-effective but which also empower management staff with knowledge. Suddenly, areas of the business become accountable and strategies can be refined. Different departments can be cost-coded to highlight where the majority of the communication spend sits. And bespoke management reports can provide detail on mail formats and weights, and peaks and troughs of demand. Such insight is critical if managers are to make informed decisions on the communication mix.
Resistance to change – and continuing to operate mail processes below the radar of corporate scrutiny – is a short-sighted solution to a business process that shows no sign of disappearing. The world of work can hardly be more digitally connected, yet mailed documents persist in volume. Indeed, commentators have even discussed the idea of a ‘mail renaissance’ – with physical mail used as a differentiator to deliver impact and catch the attention.
As the mail and delivery arena gets more complex, so more time is required to understand available options – time that is simply non-existent internally. Failure to keep up-to-speed with developments will certainly cost money in the long-run but could also lead to more serious challenges. Regulatory compliance is critical for many sectors, and punishments for failing to comply can be crippling. Incredibly, many mailrooms still rely heavily on manual workers to perform key tasks leaving processes at risk of human-error.
Automating the mail workflow – both inbound and outbound – can provide guarantees of integrity and compliance. But more than this, businesses can also position so that they are able to adapt with agility to changing business requirements. Perhaps certain inbound documents are scanned and delivered digitally to recipients for ease of use? Or perhaps documents are redesigned to take advantage of available postal discounts? Maybe certain communications should be couriered or hand-delivered to add value to the relationship?
The fact is, the expertise exists to enable businesses to transform the mail operation from a costly and inflexible legacy process to a platform that delivers real value to the business. Cost-savings will always be important to businesses of any size but a well thought-out solution can also drive strategic business improvements. Rather than being an afterthought, there is a real case for detailed analysis of mailroom efficiency. Businesses acting now can quickly deliver bottom-line benefits and competitive advantage.
Mark Calladine is sales director of CMS Network