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For any business, managing costs is a vital aspect of day-to-day life. Particularly for smaller businesses just starting out, it can be difficult to stick within budget, which means outgoings can soon spiral out of control. It’s therefore imperative that start-ups take steps from the beginning to optimize business processes and save money that can then be spent on expanding the company.
One area that is often overlooked, but can provide very real cost savings if managed effectively, is communications. The proliferation of communication channels may be seen as daunting and complex to new businesses, however those that make the necessary investment will not only be in a better position to meet the demands of customers, they will also be able to cut total expenditure on customer communications. For example, using email instead of post for certain messages (or certain customers), or scanning incoming mail to reduce the amount of space taken up by filing cabinets. Managing the delivery of physical and digital mail as part of a unified workflow can overcome many of the practical difficulties associated with multi-channel customer communications, enabling new businesses to cut costs through digital substitution.
An important aspect of any customer communications strategy is a consideration of the storage and inventory costs of what the business sends – envelopes, letterhead, documents, forms, brochures, etc – and what you receive. Digital substitution will reduce many hard copy costs; however no business can eliminate physical mailings in their entirety – and in an age of customer-driven multichannel communications, few would want to.
If you look around any office, you will see cupboards and filing cabinets full of stationery, pre-printed forms and brochures. There is a tendency to view inventory as an unavoidable cost of doing business, but it is no longer necessary to tie up money in documents that could become out-of-date before they are used. By using print management solutions, start-ups can create and use electronic templates that remove the need for pre-printed forms. Furthermore, on-demand digital printing technology reduces, and in some cases removes, the need to hold any pre-printed documents.
Reducing stocks of pre-printed stationery and marketing material also frees up storage space. Addressing how you receive customer communications, in particular in-bound mail, can subsequently have an impact on the size of the office required. Indeed, instead of opening the post and distributing the physical contents, businesses could scan mail at point-of-entry and route files electronically. This has many benefits, including a significant reduction in local file storage.
Another hidden cost of communications is money wasted on unnecessary, mis-directed, duplicated or badly planned communications. With the cost of producing and sending a document in the region of 35p-65p for the largest mailers, and even more for small businesses, in the UK, working out when and how each customer prefers to be contacted and switching them to digital billing where appropriate could lead to big savings.
Sending documents with incomplete, inaccurate, out-of-date or duplicated addresses can also result in wasting money unnecessarily. In the UK this could lead to disqualification from Royal Mail postal discounts, damage to your business's reputation, and the creation of extra work for staff who have to deal with customer complaints or process returned mail. Worryingly, studies have suggested that up to 25% of address data held by small businesses is inaccurate or wrong. By implementing tools that validate addresses and ensure contact details are up-to-date, businesses can save money on a regular basis, which all adds up.
Another big communications challenge faced by small businesses is the risk of human error. Indeed, many organizations still rely on manual processing, which can add significantly to the total cost of communications. Any process that is done by hand – whether the collation of multiple documents or the opening, sorting and delivery of mail – can be improved through automation. As well as improving productivity, automation can help save money by reducing labor costs and minimizing the risk of errors and lost items.
A successful communications strategy will not only reduce communications costs; it can also help a business improve its cash flow through reduced labor costs, faster business processes and payment for postage in arrears. Ultimately, some start-ups may be reluctant to invest in tools that optimize their communication strategy due to perceived high costs and complexity, but by automatically relying on manual processes, they are overlooking a number of opportunities to reduce costs.
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