Many direct mail or graphic arts companies process transactional documents as a sideline to their core business, but they aren’t the best choice for producing critical customer communications. The skills necessary to produce direct mail, forms, publications, or packaging differ from those necessary for high-volume printed and digital transactional documents. Be careful about choosing a vendor to handle essential customer touch points like bills or statements. The company that prints your business cards may not be the one best suited to process complex personalized communications for you.
All customer communications are important, but highly personal documents that include sensitive data such as financial information come with added responsibility. Service providers creating these documents must make sure they send every physical page or digital image – such as email, SMS and ePresentment – to the right person and they deliver the material on time. Best practices dictate document service companies track the personalized material as it proceeds through the production and delivery steps.
Requirements for direct marketing communications are not nearly as rigorous. Consistently performing at the level necessary to handle transactional documents and communications require a different mindset than one normally finds in shops that concentrate on graphic arts or direct mail applications.
Two Definitions of Document Quality
Communications like invoices, statements, notices, or tax forms are filled with information meant for a single individual. Failing to get the information to the right person or accidentally revealing private information to the wrong person can have serious consequences. Organizations can face regulatory infractions, fines, lawsuits, and damaged reputations. Transactional document processing providers build safeguards into their workflows to prevent data and document integrity errors from happening or to catch and correct them before they leave the building.
Document quality has a different meaning in graphic arts and direct mail shops. They are more concerned with details associated with the images, like registration and color, than the integrity of individual documents. Organizations specializing in direct mail will discard damaged or corrupted documents. The industry accepts a certain level of spoilage. Reprinting or re-generating documents rarely happens in such environments.
More Transactional Document Considerations
Delivery channel preference management is another area to consider. In graphic arts and commercial printing applications, customer-specific distribution decisions are not dependent on a variable stored in a customer database. Commercial printers ship finished materials to their customers or send them all out via postal mail. Also, processes for delivering important messages through secondary channels don’t exist. If a recipient doesn’t open an email communication within a certain time period, for instance, direct mail companies rarely print a physical version and send it to the customer’s postal address. Printing companies often won’t know when delivery attempts fail and lack a procedure for notifying their clients of these events.
Transactional documents often feature variable page counts. A financial statement for one customer may be one page, but the next customer’s statement might be five pages. To ensure every customer receives all their printed pages, transactional document service providers develop controls to count the pages as they create them. Automated systems then communicate this information to the finishing equipment. Duplicates or missing pages sensed by folding and inserting equipment causes the machinery to stop and report an error or divert the mailpiece for special handling. This level of quality control isn’t necessary in the graphic arts and direct mail world where physical characteristics of all the documents in a job are essentially the same.
Specialist of Singe Source Provider?
By choosing an outsource customer communications supplier that specializes in transactional documents, companies can be assured their vendor understands detailed document production processes. These companies have developed reliable and consistent production workflows that account for every component of every message. They have systems for re-generating damaged items, and know how to distribute each message through the physical or digital channel each document recipient has selected.
Before turning your critical customer communications applications over to the company that creates your marketing materials, be sure they have invested in the behind-the-scenes software and hardware appropriate for the documents they are asking to handle. Visit their facilities and get a feel for the company’s culture. Ask them how they handle damaged documents. Review their processes for tracking all your documents through the production process. Some companies have these procedures in place, but most do not. It’s not worth the risk to turn your most important customer touch points over to an organization unprepared to ensure every message they generate on your behalf protects your organization’s image and reputation.
When it's time to evaluate communication and document providers, the process of comparing pricing from current and competing providers proves to be a difficult task. Each provider may offer a different menu of services and price schedule, throwing off any opportunity to compare "apples-to-apples" unit costs. Invoice line item evaluation can be time consuming and confusing.
Outsource providers bundle services differently. Some quote a single price for printing and inserting a document. Other organizations separate those operations on their invoices. Companies may quote ePresentment as a flat rate or by the image. Tiered prices change when volumes fluctuate. Some service providers charge extra for receiving and storing items such as pre-printed inserts. Others don’t. Still, other document service providers may replace inserts with full-color “onserts” printed as part of the documents themselves. Onserts may be billed separately, or not mentioned at all on price quotes.
Outsource service providers add value at different points in the document production workflow. It’s not just the pricing that’s important. Companies must consider the benefits of working with each prospective outsource document vendor. Can an outsource provider enhance your documents? Add functionality? Improve deliverability? Lower customer service costs? Do they handle document composition or must you supply print-ready files? Document service companies can enrich your customer communications in dozens of areas. Added value must be part of the calculation.
The greatest financial benefits of working with one service provider or another may never be evident as details on the service provider’s invoice. Savings in postage, paper, or printing are relatively small compared to the positive impact an outsource vendor can have on their client’s objectives for customer retention, lifetime customer value, or customer experience. Document improvements such as upgraded design or user-friendly online self-service portals reduce client operating costs. These changes lessen the volume of calls handled by a client’s customer service department, increase customer retention, improve cash flow, or promote upsell opportunities.
Outsource service providers add value by:
Choosing the right outsource document service provider involves more than an invoice comparison. The most important selection criteria is determining how each prospective vendor can improve your business. What do they offer that enhances the customer experience, lowers operating costs, or achieves other business objectives? Price will always be a consideration when choosing vendors, but the line items on a price list don’t tell the whole story. Today, organizations look upon their communication and document services providers as business partners, not suppliers of a commodity that can be acquired anywhere and are differentiated only by price.