The global pandemic continues to force many companies to rethink their strategies so they can weather the unprecedented uncertainty of a rapidly changing world. With terms like “new normal”, many of us are questioning whether things will ever go back to the way they were, or if our way of doing business is changed forever. No one really knows. In reality, the old way of doing business before the pandemic is not likely going to be acceptable in the future. So, what are mailers to do?
In the short-term, mailers need to figure out how to navigate this drastically unpredictable world – where daily changes in safety protocols and lockdowns impact workflows, availability of labor, logistics, shipping, and more. Not to mention the increase in costs these uncertain times have brought on.
The good news is that we have more than a year of experience now under our belt. What we did learn during that time is that challenges brought on by the pandemic are not insurmountable. In the mailing industry specifically, we’ve seen many companies not only overcome the challenges of COVID-19, but many of them seized opportunities that positioned them for success well into the future—whatever that future may hold.
So what are some key lessons learned over the last year or more?
Innovation is key.
Mailers who innovated and focused on operational excellence have thrived and will continue to thrive. By tweaking processes, mailers have been able to increase efficiencies and improve workflow, even under the strictest of safety measures like social distancing. Mailers needed to deeply consider their work cells and optimize them for maximum efficiency and safety—a challenge never presented before in the modern era.
We saw that mailers best maximized their assets by prioritizing work based on data. By innovating processes or investing in more efficient technology, mailers improved efficiencies and avoided most of the negative impacts of social distanced labor. We do not know how long workforces will be required to operate under COVID-19 protocols, but when you add in the current severe labor shortage, the time is now to invest in automation and more efficient technologies.
Customer Complexity. Flexible hardware.
Many mailers had to face the tough questions such as: do I have the luxury to be only a transactional or direct mailer? We see that many mailers have decided the answer to this question is no. That luxury is—in many cases—no longer an option. Customers’ demands are changing. Volumes are shifting. Many operations have therefore looked at ways to service all customers with varying levels of volume and sophistication. To do this, you need to have hardware on-site that can flexibly adjust to your mission.
In addition to higher-volume throughput, having flexible, modular solutions make it easier to redesign workflows with the latest and greatest features, such as in-line printing, card-attaching capability, and other features that a diverse mailer will need to nimbly step into this new world.
Additional capabilities mailers should consider as they redesign their processes are:
- Address quality – Address cleansing will play a key role in measuring a mailer’s mail piece effectiveness and will reduce UAA.
- Data services – By leveraging the next level of data, mailers can ensure their mail is going to not just the correct address, but the correct person.
- Presort Discounts – This is critical to maximizing the discounts offered by the USPS. Otherwise, mailers risk losing mail volumes.
- Tracking – Due to the changes in price and SLAs, being able to track each piece of mail throughout the entire mail stream is critical to mailers.
- Workflow automation – Old workflows were built around old SLAs and pricing; the new changes are significant enough for all mailers and service providers to re-evaluate their processes.
- Labor and Productivity – Labor shortages in operations (across all industries) is a prominent reason for mailers to focus on the automation of tasks, including system setup, process monitoring, and Internet of Things (IoT) analytics.
The return of mail volumes is temporary.
Mailers should be prepared to onboard new jobs and accommodate a surge of work in a highly competitive space. We have seen it in other industries, and it should be no different in the mailing space. The work must go on.
While more volume might represent a challenge for some mailers, those mailers who have adequately prepared and innovated will be ready to seize it as an opportunity. With the right technology footprint, you can ramp up the productivity of your organization with less labor required, and now is the time to consider taking action.
Very few of us could have imagined we would still be working through a global pandemic in the fall of 2021. Yet here we are—and with continuing uncertainty around lockdowns and COVID variants, there is no telling if we will come out of this cycle any time soon. That is why it is important for mailers to consider innovation, flexible hardware, and automation today. Waiting until tomorrow might be too late.