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I thought we were talking about the mail!

by Michael Calderwood | July 26, 2011 | 2 Comments

The conversations started out innocently enough…

 I had a very interesting range of discussions over the past two weeks, and it struck me – a lot of the subjects, or the subtext of the conversations, were centered around influencing factors that are impacting businesses, but seldom hit the review list at staff meetings.

Day 1, or was it day 3?

I had a terrific conversation with a customer who is responsible for delivering the legally required registration notices for the United States Selective Service. Even though there is no active draft, men are still legally required to register with the Selective Service when they turn 18. By law, this notice must be delivered through the mail. The registration process can be accomplished in a number of ways, including the web, through the driver’s license process, and of course by mail. The outbound volume remains fairly consistent. What varies, more and more, is the additional outbound correspondence. Follow-up letters, informational correspondence, and other non-legislated information is being curtailed or eliminated for a host of reasons. Cost as always leads the hit parade. Given the current state of the Union, there is no spare change around to fund non-essential work. Another driver is obvious – generational behavior. “These kids today” tend to be device enabled and driven. I can’t think of a youngster (I love being old enough to use these terms!!!) who doesn’t have a data-enabled phone – the constant clickclick of texting, the beeps and dings of electronic notifications, the rapid fire flicker of IM’s, and the real time face time of web-enabled, camera embedded laptops and tablets are today’s mailboxes. The good news for us is that there is still a requirement for the good old physical letter. The message though, is that the combination of cost and preference seems to limit the opportunities to use the traditional channel for additional messaging.

Let’s talk about the weather

My next conversation was with a long-time customer who is responsible for document  production and distribution for a venerable mid-west property and casualty insurance company. The pressures on these types of insurers have increased over the past few years, and environmental effects of climate change took their toll. Just a quick scan of the past few seasons brings to mind the headlines – tornado havoc, brutal winters with record damage from snow, ice, and wind. Crazy amounts of flooding across the country, and around the world. The second and third level effects of all these events on property, infrastructure, commerce and communications add up to significant economic impact. The insurers face great increases in claims. The insured face increased pressure from loss of assets and the increase in costs of coverage. Everything gets more expensive. More people are facing a decision – pay my insurance premium or buy school supplies for my kids. No matter how you view the issues of climate change, insurers have begun to see it as the new normal and are building their models to deal with this reality. Insurance policies will continue to be written, and the communication around the offerings will continue to flow.

Look over there – a new customer

My third conversation was with a customer in the auto insurance business. The challenge there – grow the business by finding new clients. These clients, however, may have a different profile than the traditional customer base. In a highly competitive field, everyone is looking to do the same things – find the opportunities, assess the risks, build and tailor offerings that are competitive and attractive while still being manageable from a risk perspective. One of the key strategies here is better, smarter use of data. First, understand how to profile, locate, and address the expanded demographic, Next, define the right channels to reach and engage them. It requires different thinking, different tools, and different strategies at each step.

And here we are…

So, all three of these conversations started from the same place – customer communications and the mail channel. The drivers of change – be it cultural, environmental, economic or generational, are causing a constant re-thinking of strategy. What isn’t changing, though, is the need to have personal, meaningful, smart and valuable communications with a targeted audience. The physical channel is and will remain vital; emerging channels will be embraced, operationalized and optimized for the most effective, personalized customer experience. The message is the message.  Heavy, right?

I look forward to conversations that lead to unexpected places.  What conversation with a customer or a vendor surprised you the most?

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  • Michael Calderwood

    Doug, you are on point as always! I recall a conversation that demonstrates this - your explanation of how your academic studies and experience with vision in rabbits (I think it was rabbits!) linked to your later technical work in the field of image acquisition/scanning/decoding and processing in the sortation business!

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/quine Douglas Quine

    And the corollary is that insights and solutions gained solving a problem in one application often translate very nicely into other applications. It is just a matter of substituting terms from the first application with terms from the second application.