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Response Handling and Fulfilment

By The Drum | Administrator

June 26, 2003 | 14 min read

Fulfilment and response handling has been described – by no less than a fulfilment house owner – as “the dog-end of the job”. While many companies handle small jobs in-house, the fulfilment business abounds with stories of them coming to grief, and having to bring in a handling house to pick up the pieces.

The definition of fulfilment can vary across the industry, from simply getting a campaign out the door in the form of a mailing to broader-based response handling, such as when customers submit enquiries from a coupon or website, and the handling house responds with a pack or a sample product.

Consumers’ expectations are rising constantly. Delivery time alone has improved dramatically, and that mail order item from a catalogue, which used to take 28 days to arrive, may now turn up by next day service.

Along with other developments like changes in direct mail legislation, new postal pricing and regulations and ongoing advances in IT, it takes a bold company to enter the minefield of fulfilment without a specialist house to guide them through.

If left to their own devices, businesses can commit some basic and costly errors. Says Irene Selby of Selby Marketing Services in Ashton-under-Lyme: “We\'ve had clients who have not put the correct amount of postage on their mailings, so that the recipients picked up bills from the Royal Mail. Other companies haven\'t realised they were sending illegal items through the mail.”

“We can offer clients the most efficient and cost-effective method for putting their item together and despatching it. For example, if it’s a direct mail piece, is it suitable for machining or will it have to be hand-filled? Clients need to be aware that the paper should be machinable and not just the cheapest they can get.”

With client demands constantly shifting and changing, fulfilment houses are developing their range of services to meet their demands.

For example, Selby says that database management is a key issue currently and that quite complex work can be done with even a simple Microsoft package, such as setting up multi-faceted databases, which provide clients with increased customer analysis for marketing purposes.

She continues: “With the development of the European market, a lot of promoters are a bit shy about where the law stands, and they\'re moving away from on-packs and other types of promotion. So handling houses are looking into the fulfilment of direct mail and taking on more and more clients who have customer information, haven’t done anything with it for years and are asking, ‘What can we do with it now?’”

Duncan Marrison, business development manager at Two-Ten Communications in Wetherby, explains that one of the main reasons for outsourcing fulfilment is capacity. Seasonal peaks and troughs are handled with ease. Outsourcing removes large fixed overheads such as warehousing, which can have a detrimental effect to a mail order business in its quiet periods. Fulfilment houses will strive to have a variety of clients, ensuring high volumes of work throughout the year, enabling staff and their experience to be retained.

“Another reason is the continual investment in technology, which enables us to offer improved facilities and services to the benefit of our clients. We have recently purchased and implemented a new order processing system, enabling us to provide comprehensive marketing, and management information. This ensures our clients maximise their sales opportunities and at the same time make their businesses as efficient as possible. Simply providing detailed stock information can mean you’re not over-spending on buying and incurring excessive storage charges.”

Marrison explains that fulfilment houses can offer a menu driven price structure, which is activity based – per “pick” in the warehouse (ie to take an item out of stock), a charge per phone call handled by the call centre, and a cost to enter postal responses. It is essential to streamline costs without compromising on service. Good communication between client and fulfilment house enables information such as product due in dates to be relayed to the customer avoiding costly query calls. Further information regarding products can be utilised for up-and cross- selling.

A key trend in direct mail is towards full colour personalisation, particularly with high value products. Says Mike Coleman, director of Basingstoke-based Document Despatch: “This is where we hope the differentiation will come and where we’re playing our hand. For example, rather than send someone a 200-page travel catalogue, you can send them a reduced version personalised to the destinations you believe they’re interested in.”

Coleman explains that this increased “people-profiling” is enabling more precise targeting. While this means that mailings are becoming smaller – good news for mailing houses, which can charge a higher unit price – they are also more frequent and, crucially, are eliciting a proportionately higher response rate.

Despite these advances, Coleman says that much direct mail is still surprisingly staid. With more elaborate production methods usually requiring a large run-through to justify them, creativity can be stifled because it is inherently cost-prohibitive.

Nevertheless, small can be beautiful. Based in Elland, West Yorkshire, Lick UK (logo: a stylised tongue) limits jobs to 300,000 packs, giving them the flexibility to drop in jobs within 24 hours, which bigger companies are not able to do.

Explains Lick MD Linden Kitson: “A lot of companies are saying, ‘There’s no point spending £5,000 mailing 100,000 people, because we can’t follow them up.

We’re going to mail 500 people this month and get a tele-marketing team to follow them up. Then we’ll do another 500’.”

Lick provides a full range of fulfilment services, including data management, personalisation, enclosing, stock control and monitoring order levels via a “real time” viewing facility. About 80 per cent of the company\'s business comes from advertising agencies, and it is heavily staffed by former agency personnel.

Consideration should also be given to hiring a data cleansing bureau, which will supply accurate telephone numbers, enhance addresses to the latest postal standards, erase duplicate files and run home-mover and deceased suppression files.

These activities ensure that calling and mailing campaigns are accurate and sustain a brand’s positive image.

Says Adam Powell of Warwick-based UK Changes: “Too little attention is paid to the importance of data quality and accuracy. Some call centres seem to be in the volume business and aim to win contracts by offering cheaper solutions, often cutting out what they view as unnecessary extras, such as the data bureaux.

“As a result, the value of a campaign can be shot, with poor connection rates on calls resulting in wasted effort and resource as well as diminishing morale for the call centre agents, who become worn down by repeated calls to dead lines and by annoyed recipients of poorly targeted calls.”

Finding the right contact centre/fulfilment house

ï Choose a company with Quality for Mail Production (QMP) accreditation. Sponsored by the Royal Mail and the Direct Marketing Association, this scheme demonstrates that a mailing house has met a benchmark standard. Every year QMP randomly surveys 20 businesses on every member’s client list to assess their performance in 13 service areas, such as delivery turnaround, production specifications and tracking.

ï Look for a dedicated customer service and account management function. Some mailing houses are proficient in production, but fall short in prompt enquiry response and job follow-through.

ï Favour a fulfilment house that permits site visits – preferably, at short notice – to check job, quality and production control procedures.

ï Check references with a handler’s existing clients and ask about length of contracts. Long-standing clients presumably mean happy clients.

ï Above all, speak to a mailing house before you start the creative. Many a beautifully designed, intricate mailer has been produced, only to find that it cannot be machine-enclosed – and hand enclosing is very expensive. Show the mailing house what has been dummied up for the client before it gets committed to production.

In the tough world of response handling and fulfilment you have to be armed to the teeth to survive. But how can call centres and fulfilment houses add real value to a client’s business. Ian Sclater investigates.

Fulfilment and response handling has been described – by no less than a fulfilment house owner – as “the dog-end of the job”. While many companies handle small jobs in-house, the fulfilment business abounds with stories of them coming to grief, and having to bring in a handling house to pick up the pieces.

The definition of fulfilment can vary across the industry, from simply getting a campaign out the door in the form of a mailing to broader-based response handling, such as when customers submit enquiries from a coupon or website, and the handling house responds with a pack or a sample product.

Consumers’ expectations are rising constantly. Delivery time alone has improved dramatically, and that mail order item from a catalogue, which used to take 28 days to arrive, may now turn up by next day service.

Along with other developments like changes in direct mail legislation, new postal pricing and regulations and ongoing advances in IT, it takes a bold company to enter the minefield of fulfilment without a specialist house to guide them through.

If left to their own devices, businesses can commit some basic and costly errors. Says Irene Selby of Selby Marketing Services in Ashton-under-Lyme: “We\'ve had clients who have not put the correct amount of postage on their mailings, so that the recipients picked up bills from the Royal Mail. Other companies haven\'t realised they were sending illegal items through the mail.”

“We can offer clients the most efficient and cost-effective method for putting their item together and despatching it. For example, if it’s a direct mail piece, is it suitable for machining or will it have to be hand-filled? Clients need to be aware that the paper should be machinable and not just the cheapest they can get.”

With client demands constantly shifting and changing, fulfilment houses are developing their range of services to meet their demands.

For example, Selby says that database management is a key issue currently and that quite complex work can be done with even a simple Microsoft package, such as setting up multi-faceted databases, which provide clients with increased customer analysis for marketing purposes.

She continues: “With the development of the European market, a lot of promoters are a bit shy about where the law stands, and they\'re moving away from on-packs and other types of promotion. So handling houses are looking into the fulfilment of direct mail and taking on more and more clients who have customer information, haven’t done anything with it for years and are asking, ‘What can we do with it now?’”

Duncan Marrison, business development manager at Two-Ten Communications in Wetherby, explains that one of the main reasons for outsourcing fulfilment is capacity. Seasonal peaks and troughs are handled with ease. Outsourcing removes large fixed overheads such as warehousing, which can have a detrimental effect to a mail order business in its quiet periods. Fulfilment houses will strive to have a variety of clients, ensuring high volumes of work throughout the year, enabling staff and their experience to be retained.

“Another reason is the continual investment in technology, which enables us to offer improved facilities and services to the benefit of our clients. We have recently purchased and implemented a new order processing system, enabling us to provide comprehensive marketing, and management information. This ensures our clients maximise their sales opportunities and at the same time make their businesses as efficient as possible. Simply providing detailed stock information can mean you’re not over-spending on buying and incurring excessive storage charges.”

Marrison explains that fulfilment houses can offer a menu driven price structure, which is activity based – per “pick” in the warehouse (ie to take an item out of stock), a charge per phone call handled by the call centre, and a cost to enter postal responses. It is essential to streamline costs without compromising on service. Good communication between client and fulfilment house enables information such as product due in dates to be relayed to the customer avoiding costly query calls. Further information regarding products can be utilised for up-and cross- selling.

A key trend in direct mail is towards full colour personalisation, particularly with high value products. Says Mike Coleman, director of Basingstoke-based Document Despatch: “This is where we hope the differentiation will come and where we’re playing our hand. For example, rather than send someone a 200-page travel catalogue, you can send them a reduced version personalised to the destinations you believe they’re interested in.”

Coleman explains that this increased “people-profiling” is enabling more precise targeting. While this means that mailings are becoming smaller – good news for mailing houses, which can charge a higher unit price – they are also more frequent and, crucially, are eliciting a proportionately higher response rate.

Despite these advances, Coleman says that much direct mail is still surprisingly staid. With more elaborate production methods usually requiring a large run-through to justify them, creativity can be stifled because it is inherently cost-prohibitive.

Nevertheless, small can be beautiful. Based in Elland, West Yorkshire, Lick UK (logo: a stylised tongue) limits jobs to 300,000 packs, giving them the flexibility to drop in jobs within 24 hours, which bigger companies are not able to do.

Explains Lick MD Linden Kitson: “A lot of companies are saying, ‘There’s no point spending £5,000 mailing 100,000 people, because we can’t follow them up.

We’re going to mail 500 people this month and get a tele-marketing team to follow them up. Then we’ll do another 500’.”

Lick provides a full range of fulfilment services, including data management, personalisation, enclosing, stock control and monitoring order levels via a “real time” viewing facility. About 80 per cent of the company\'s business comes from advertising agencies, and it is heavily staffed by former agency personnel.

Consideration should also be given to hiring a data cleansing bureau, which will supply accurate telephone numbers, enhance addresses to the latest postal standards, erase duplicate files and run home-mover and deceased suppression files.

These activities ensure that calling and mailing campaigns are accurate and sustain a brand’s positive image.

Says Adam Powell of Warwick-based UK Changes: “Too little attention is paid to the importance of data quality and accuracy. Some call centres seem to be in the volume business and aim to win contracts by offering cheaper solutions, often cutting out what they view as unnecessary extras, such as the data bureaux.

“As a result, the value of a campaign can be shot, with poor connection rates on calls resulting in wasted effort and resource as well as diminishing morale for the call centre agents, who become worn down by repeated calls to dead lines and by annoyed recipients of poorly targeted calls.”

Finding the right contact centre/fulfilment house

ï Choose a company with Quality for Mail Production (QMP) accreditation. Sponsored by the Royal Mail and the Direct Marketing Association, this scheme demonstrates that a mailing house has met a benchmark standard. Every year QMP randomly surveys 20 businesses on every member’s client list to assess their performance in 13 service areas, such as delivery turnaround, production specifications and tracking.

ï Look for a dedicated customer service and account management function. Some mailing houses are proficient in production, but fall short in prompt enquiry response and job follow-through.

ï Favour a fulfilment house that permits site visits – preferably, at short notice – to check job, quality and production control procedures.

ï Check references with a handler’s existing clients and ask about length of contracts. Long-standing clients presumably mean happy clients.

ï Above all, speak to a mailing house before you start the creative. Many a beautifully designed, intricate mailer has been produced, only to find that it cannot be machine-enclosed – and hand enclosing is very expensive. Show the mailing house what has been dummied up for the client before it gets committed to production.

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