McKinsey Group estimates that the pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital transformation by seven years, and TechUK reported last year how it had seen two years’ digital transformation taking place within just a fortnight.
Remote working, while enforced for many of us, has also been a strong catalyst for digital adoption. Cloud has been a major enabler; businesses have had to quickly find cloud-based alternatives for tasks usually completed in an office and workers have had to get up to speed on new tools for collaboration and communication. Microsoft Teams usage surged 70 per cent, with numbers reaching 75 million, every day.
Cloud-based tools are very good for many tenant-facing requirements, such as logging maintenance issues or booking appointments. And of course, self-service platforms and apps have a crucial role to play in the interaction between tenant and provider, and if they’re cloud-based they can be easily accessed remotely.
However, some tenants prefer to receive printed communications, and recent reports show that mail is generating record levels of action and engagement.
Printed mail is valued and appreciated
One Royal Mail study found that 88 per cent of respondents reported paying as much or more attention than before to mail during the first lockdown in March 2020. Engagement with mail is higher than ever, reaching 96 per cent, and the biggest rise in engagement has come from people aged 18-34. Printed mail is proven to be more memorable and mail-driven online behaviour increased by 70 per cent, and 69 per cent of respondents in research from Two Sides say they keep hard copies of important documents filed at home, believing it to be the safest and most secure way of storing their information.
But delivering (please forgive the pun) printed communications when you’re working remotely is harder. While employees continue to work away from their traditional workplaces, organisations are identifying gaps in their business operations; managing high-volume mailings is one of these gaps.
Certain communications, such as service charges and ground-rent notices, must be sent by physical mail, and some of those within specific time constraints. In theory, an employee with a printer, the right stationery and access to a website or post office could manage these mailings. But for organisations sending mail under the current circumstances, it’s not practical to expect individual members of staff to manage the process themselves at home. And with higher mail volumes comes greater risk, and the wrong mailings sent to the wrong addresses could be classed as a breach of GDPR. Trying to keep on top of this when you have employees working from different locations is next to impossible, not to mention expensive.
In 2020, we took a deeper dive into the challenges, behaviours and investment plans of 250 public- and private-sector organisations with 500+ employees. We were particularly interested in how these organisations maintained business continuity in the areas of shipping and mailing since the beginning of the pandemic. If your business regularly sends hundreds of invoices or statements to your tenants, clients and partners, you probably have efficient processes and the right technologies at your normal workplace. But remove your workplace from the equation, and straightforward tasks quickly become complicated, time-consuming and expensive.
Business continuity challenges
The businesses we spoke to were, like many, hit by continuity challenges during the early phases of the pandemic. While the top strategic challenge (as expected) was around protecting the health and safety of employees, 30 per cent said they were challenged by the ability to produce and send critical customer communications and documents such as bills, notices and certified mail.
Cloud-based software is automating and solving some of these challenges. Automating labour-intensive manual processes such as mailings can be a prudent decision, and one that doesn’t have to involve major investment. Because many of these tools are now cloud-based, they can be accessed from anywhere with a network and used on demand. This also gives you the opportunity to trial the services and work out how they fit within your workflows.
SaaS-based software platforms are helping our clients, including housing providers, automate their printed communications. They can achieve regulatory compliance and stay connected with their tenants while employees are working remotely. Organisations prepare their documents then print them as if they were using a standard print driver. At this point, the digital document is effectively handed over to Pitney Bowes. We add barcodes for accurate tracking and reporting, print and seal the documents and hand them to the Royal Mail for delivery. Users log into a secure website to check on the progress of the mailing and view reports.
Residential managing agent Preim is responsible for 12,000 properties. Because a lot of communications need to be paper-based, Preim sends around 40,000 mail items each year, including 7,000 service-charge invoices which must be sent out on one specific date. The company found that the physical demands of printing, folding and sending them was too labour-intensive. Outsourcing the process and using the Pitney Bowes cloud-based Hybrid Mail application has increased the productivity of its core team and allowed them to focus on what they do best. And because we merge Preim’s mailings with post we send for other clients, Preim benefits from preferential postal rates, too.
While ‘business as usual’ may seem rather distant, cloud-based technologies are giving businesses some of the continuity they need right now.
Ian Johnstone is a workflow solutions specialist at Pitney Bowes.