Unlike other industries that ensure all phases of processing are transparent, the letter mail business, as operated by traditional postal operators, seems to be a closed shop for most customers – whether they are the sender or receiver.
The first time that a parcel was scanned, postal operators believed this to be a unique service for which customers should pay for. This service had been first developed by courier services such as DHL, TNT and Fedex, and at the beginning customers indeed had to pay for it. Today track and trace is common practice for express and parcel services. Has the time come for this added level of service to be adopted for letter mail?
Apart from registered services on single mail items, postal operators such as USPS and Royal Mail have started providing customers with operational information. Manufacturers of sorting machines already offer systems to track single mailpieces – a step in the right direction.
Current applications follow a similar idea. They identify single items and allow customers to follow the production process. However, how much effort is actually needed to follow mail items? Is it worth concentrating only on transparency? Are there additional issues senders, receivers and postal operators can benefit from?
By providing an insight into the posts operational processes, customers gain trust in the organisation and benefit from added-value services and a closer collaboration with the post. Customers also benefit from cost reductions, higher quality services, improved capacity planning and better integration into cross-functional media campaign processes.
As long as posts are concerned about declining mail volumes we can question why bulk mail should not be promoted by offering more services, such as specified delivery dates or proof of delivery. Some postal operators are offering these services already but often only based on special treatments for important customers. If more customers were to demand these services, the posts would not able to execute.
A Letter Mail Information System allows performance to be measured and can be interlocked with customer systems. In the days of growing competition this can be a desirable distinction and a great competitive advantage. In a nutshell three different kinds of interests can benefit from it: the sender, postal operations and the receiver.
Admittedly, full implementation will not be an easy task. But now is the right time to reflect on it. Many posts have to think about the replacement of their machines and, in the short term, the need to renew operational IT infrastructure. Instead of a simple replacement with next generation machines, by adding the Letter Mail Information System as proposed posts can create a valuable opportunity to modernise the infrastructure and at the same time optimise business performance.
Michael Gesper (firstname.lastname@example.org), has more than 20 years of experience in applied direct marketing and was lecturer for several years at a prominent European marketing school. He has held top management positions in the postal business for over a decade and has been a senior partner and a member of the management board at message AG since 2007.