Post-production tools ensure accurate and efficient statement delivery.
By Cassandra Carnes
In an age where the consumer is boss, the old adage any publicity is good publicity may have met its match. Irrelevant communications can do more harm than good when customers look for precise information that speaks to them on a personal level.
From a business perspective, customer communications are often a cost center. A continued increase in mail cost, the impact of stringent compliance regulations, and the importance of color all complicate the picture.
Since transactional statements are a necessity, generate proven open rates, and signify an existing relationship between the customer and provider, they are ripe for improvement. Over the past few years, the term TransPromo was constantly discussed in the print industry. The notion of promotional messages beautifying white space on regular statements helps transform a cost-piece into a marketing piece. At the same time, print service providers, data centers, and in-plant print departments become part of a growth strategy instead of an unwanted line item.
"It’s no secret that overall mail volumes in the U.S. are down by about 65 percent," says William Gunther III, mailing systems business manager, Standard Finishing Systems. That said, Gunther notes that mail is here to stay, but the industry is changing. Companies are careful about whom they mail to and how much they mail. As run lengths become shorter and shorter, printers and mailers must adapt. "Most high-end mailing systems are designed to handle large volumes of mail without the ability to easily change to different types of jobs or envelope sizes," he continues. "Printers and mailers need equipment that change over quickly and handle a wide range of mail pieces."
Understanding the Workflow
Much like any process, an efficient and sophisticated workflow for transactional/TransPromo production and fulfillment is important. In this case, regulation requirements, postal savings, and security measures should not be overlooked.
"There are two basic workflow types," says Kevin Klein, direction, production intelligence solutions consulting, Pitney Bowes. He explains that upstream, promotional messages are merged with transactional data at the document composition process. Downstream, TransPromo content is merged into documents during a print stream engineering process. "The selection of the technique is based upon existing toolsets and workflows. It may make sense to use both techniques," adds Klein.
"A TransPromo workflow starts at the business application, specific to a particular industry, with the structured data records for a set of customers," says Dave Squires, senior VP, strategy, Kern Inc. He walks us through an example of a utility bill. A meter reader or an automated metering system records a particular account’s usage within a billing cycle. That usage and account number are aggregated in the billing customer information system (CIS) and consolidated for the cycle into the structured data available to the next step—creating the document. A variety of document composition systems are available, many contain sophisticated capabilities such as the building marketing campaigns based on business rules.
"In this example, we could add a program that compares the usage data for last month to the same period last year and insert a dynamic message about conservation when usage increased by more than 20 percent. Or, certain users can be targeted with a discount coupon for an installed insulation," he continues.
To activate postal discounts and ensure mailpiece integrity throughout production, additional steps are included before, during, and after document composition. These steps include address cleansing, zip code presort, permit postage preparation, and the implementation of tracking control files.
Once the preparation steps are complete, production jobs are created in a page description language (PDL), says Squires. He explains that jobs are queued and spooled to the targeted print platform by a wide range of mainframe utilities and print servers. Statements are printed in sequential order and staged for finishing. When the print files are available to the printer, production controls are ready, either as printed codes on each document or as accompanying production control files that drive the process during finishing.
"As the utility bill enters the production inserter, codes read at the input and the control files loaded at the system drive real-time decisions, such as how many pages to accumulate before folding, which insert pockets to fire," says Squires.
Documents on different inputs can be matched, creating complex mail packages. "The most sophisticated inserting systems make decisions on the fly as to whether or not to add optional inserts based on the total weight of the mailpiece. Or provide the option to fill to the ounce, taking full advantage of the TransPromo opportunities in the insert hoppers without incurring additional postage costs," he adds.
Staying in the Mailstream
Although electronic delivery methods are enticing, traditional mail is still a prevalent and preferred form of communication. A recent study by the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council and InfoPrint Solutions Company, Why Relevance Drives Response and Relations, states that when given the opportunity to choose, 51 percent of consumers prefer to receive product or service promotions via traditional mail, while 44 percent prefer email.
While many businesses understand the importance of written communications, the cost of postage is a strong motivator to seek alternative delivery methods in an overall customer communications strategy. "The leading driver for print suppression is cost," states Madison Advisors’ Print Suppression Market Study, released in November of 2009. The cost of print and production play a huge role when Fortune 500 companies determine their print suppression goals. "There is little opportunity to off-shore print/mail production to areas with lower labor rates, and continuing rate hikes by the United States Postal Service (USPS) leave companies desperate to find lower-cost alternatives to using the mailstream," the study states.
Pitney Bowes’ internal research indicates that more than 75 percent of the cost of mail is attributed to postage. "TransPromo mailers are able to significantly reduce these postage costs by adding offers directly to the available white space on a transactional statement," says Klein. "Any solution designed to support your TransPromo efforts must increase your ability to cost-effectively create more personal, timely, and relevant communications," he adds.
Transactional mail contains sensitive data, often including account details. Depending on the vertical, several restrictions are in place, or are on the horizon.
"In many industries, mailpiece integrity is not only important, it is vital," says Squires. Healthcare and banking applications are particularly vulnerable. "Regulations in a wide range of applications provide for onerous penalties if production is late or documents are collated inaccurately, resulting in a mixed mail," adds Squires, noting the importance of automated document factory (ADF) solutions to manage the process.
"In the past, the poor soul in the mailroom was always at the bottom of the totem pole," says Standard’s Gunther. However, new compliance rules may have organizations reconsidering the skill level of operators, he says. "The only way to ensure total compliance is to code your documents and purchase mailing equipment with the intelligence to put the packages together correctly," he adds.
The federal privacy requirements of HIPAA—effective in 2003—specify that personal health information must be protected against deliberate or inadvertent misuse or disclosure. In addition, health insurers are legally obligated to provide each insured with tangible personal proof of health insurance coverage. Gunther International notes one provider that assembled customer packets manually until 2002, using up to 50 employees to hand collate and insert materials that were unique to each customer. "Processing errors would delay delivery of the required information and create expensive re-work," explains Gunther’s Web site.
Credit card and financial statement processors face a new set of regulations, including the Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights of 2009 (Credit CARD Act); Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices (UDAP); and The Truth and Lending Act, also known as Regulation Z.
The Credit CARD Act was signed into law on May 22, 2009 by President Obama. It limits when issuers of consumer credit cards can increase interest rates and bans billing and payment practices found unfair or deceptive by the Federal Reserve. Credit card issues must notify consumers of significant changes in terms on their accounts at least 45 days before they take effect, they also must inform holders of their right to cancel or close the account if they do not agree to the changes.
New and existing regulations lead to the need to reach consumers more frequently, and effectively. The mix of print and mail automation with intelligent business practices is growing in importance as these regulations take hold.
A Full CircleRegardless of the cost or aesthetics of a statement, relevance and customer preference may have more of an impact in the long run. Leveraging and improving on current data is one way to get the right message to the right customer at the right time. However, analytics and metrics are invaluable for the creation of future campaigns.
"Mailers should approach all of their customer transactional communications with personalization and relative messaging as a requirement, regardless of whether the delivery channel is physical or electronic," suggests Mike Maselli, executive director, business management, Böwe Bell + Howell. "In fact, the more streamlined and coordinated delivery channels are, the better user experience all recipients have, and the cost of handling customer service requests is dramatically reduced," he adds.
Companies experiencing the greatest TransPromo success are able to document results. Establishing these metrics and tracking results provides the feedback necessary to move forward with a better understanding of customer preferences and requirements.
Linking Print and Mail
A number of individuals, products, and vendors must work together to create a complete complex TransPromo workflow. ADF is essential for making the pieces work together. Both upstream and downstream the goal is getting a document delivered on time, and to the right recipient. A number of vendors well known for their role in the finishing end of the delivery chain bring much more to the table.
Böwe Bell + Howell offers point products for document design, finishing, and tracking. The company also provides an integrated solution for managing account data in raw or print formats. They offer mailers reduced costs through a number of steps in the document lifecycle, including postage savings. "We help mailers maximize data quality and minimize postal costs during pre-print processes using industry-leading products and services, as well as post-finishing with advanced sorting solutions. This broad range of capabilities and technologies enable mailers to apply the best solution based on the characteristics of every application.
GBR Systems offers a variety of post-production solutions, including folders and inserters. Its series of computer controlled Mathias Bäuerle Multimaster CAS folders allows operators to switch from one fold type to another in less than one minute. The company’s autoSET 18 inserting system offers high-capacity feeding systems.
Gunther’s family of high-output mailing inserters include solutions from its ultra high-speed feeders to package integrity solutions. Gunther’s patented Read-Before-Feed technology initiates the process of correctly assembling mail. Read-Before-Feed verifies that each page is correct, eliminating the need to catch errors. Gunther’s systems provide the ability to generate log files that report on all aspects of a mailing. Elements such as operator and system productivity, error rates, postage amounts, diverts, and package status are available. Gunther also offers software to generate customized reports and Web-based, real-time remote monitoring.
Kern provides a wide range of production mail solutions from data to the door. Although the company is well known for its high-speed, high-integrity production mail inserting systems, Kern provides complimentary software offerings for ADF, printstream re-engineering tools, and pre- and post-printing paper handling products.
Lake Image Systems designs, develops, and manufactures imaging and scanning technologies. For transactional applications, the company provides input collation control; missing, duplicate, and double stuff detection; sequence verification; database comparison; ADF integration; piece-level tracking; TransPromo envelope printing; and integrity reporting. The company’s comprehensive reporting and tracking capabilities allow users to identify errors as they occur.
Neopost provides a wide range of output management software solutions for customers with transactional and marketing document needs. The flexible PrintMachine solutions turn raw or pre-formatted data into professional customer statements, invoices, orders, receipts, and other important documents, while automating the entire document output management process from creation to print, distribution, mailing, and archiving.
Pitney Bowes provides end-to-end capabilities to successfully produce high-volume transactional/TransPromo customer communications. Pitney Bowes Production Intelligence solutions include software, hardware, professional services, and support that integrates and optimizes the flow of transactional documents from creation to database to production, distribution, tracking, delivery, and analysis.
Secap offers several solutions for high-volume folding and inserting needs. The SI5400 is the company’s premier tabletop production inserting system, processing up to 5,400 pieces per hour. The SI5400 provides a next-generation user interface and memorizes up to 24 job settings. The solution’s main feeder tower holds up to four interchangeable feeders and features a high-capacity envelope feeder. The system is configurable with two optional high-capacity sheet feeders with two trays, holding up to 1,000 sheets each.
Standard finishing systems offers host-to-post solutions, which start in the print room with Hunkeler unwinders, rewinders, and fan-folders. Finishing options include Standard Horizon binders, folders, and saddlestichers.
There are clear steps that must happen before a transaction turns into a statement. More importantly, perhaps, are the steps transforming a statement into a marketing piece that simplifies statement balances and entices consumers to read on, purchase more, and remain loyal. dps