May 9 2024 10:03 AM

With the proper process controls and automation, your organization can become as effective at receiving customer communications as it is at delivering customer communications


    Every day, large organizations face multiple challenges with the hundreds or thousands of pieces of mail received through the USPS and other carriers, documents that include general business mail, customer correspondence, payments and returned mail. There are also thousands of emails to a general mailbox, voicemails and communications through other digital channels. Each of these inbound communications requires identification, evaluation and processing in a timely fashion.

    To manage the incoming deluge of both physical and digital documents, the concept of the digital mailroom model emerged. A digital mailroom uses machine learning (ML) and optical character recognition (OCR) to extract data from both physical and digital documents in order to eliminate manual data entry. The data extraction serves the goals of both reduced labor and enhanced accuracy. Using key data elements, automated workflows route the scanned images to the appropriate departments or individuals, further reducing processing time. A digital mailroom can be integrated with core business systems to quickly process payments, improve customer service and deliver images to a document archive for regulatory compliance and to maintain retention schedules.

    Extending the idea of digital mailroom further, intelligent automation solutions were developed to support a wide range of business processes as they consist of a number of modules that work together. These modules include intelligent capture, task automation and process automation. Once stand-alone systems, vendors have woven these elements together into integrated solutions that offer low-code interfaces to allow business users to create workflow processes without significant IT involvement. The workflow engines utilize machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) to streamline collaboration by routing work step by step through the entire process, providing both consistency and workload balancing.

    Through integration to line of business systems, intelligent automation solutions can combine the data from inbound mail with corporate content to improve business operations. For example, a customer inquiry such as an inbound letter or email received into an automated workflow, can be scanned for an account number, which is used to look up customer account information and pre-populate a letter template. The template is then presented to a customer service representative or manager for approval.

    Advancements in cloud computing have opened the digital mailroom to a distributed model supporting encryption, disaster recovery and multi-site redundancy. Cloud-based applications have gained more general acceptance, such that even financial services organizations have accepted hosted solutions for customer communications. Robust hosted CCM solutions provide an encrypted platform and offer disaster recovery to further reduce risk of adoption.

    Despite technological advances, customers may choose to hand write communications, many of which are unintelligible, and sometimes customers will select two options on a paper form, when only one is required. This makes it important for organizations to build exception processing into their inbound document workflows. Digital mailroom implementations will always need a manual exception process. Automated workflows can be configured with manual steps where the inbound document can be examined and corrected before being submitted back into the process.

    In addition, there are a few special types of inbound documents. Undeliverable mail represents a special case and is handled differently. For each undeliverable mailpiece returned to the organization, the barcode on the piece is scanned and then matched back to the original mail file. Based on the type of mail and regulatory requirements, the organization generates a digital mail file for production of email notifications or the organization contacts the customer to collect updated contact details and delivery preferences. Physical pieces are destroyed or held for a given amount of time, based on the organization’s preference or requirements. Check payments also represent a special case. Checks are printed using a special MICR magnetic ink, which enables banks and other financial institutions to process payments without manually keying in account numbers. By scanning an inbound envelope for the presence of MICR, mail sortation machines are capable of detecting the presence of a check inside a payment envelope and can route these normally, while routing other envelopes to a separate handling process.

    As with any system implementation, organizations need to identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) beforehand and track them in order to measure the success of the implementation. In most cases, time-based KPIs, such as application time and approval time, will be the most important for the customer experience. Quality metrics will reflect the solution’s ability to process inbound documents correctly. Reporting mechanisms can provide quantitative measurements of abandonment rate, response time and other metrics that reflect the efficiency of interactions between the organization and their customers.

    How an organization handles its inbound documents and responds to its customers directly affects the customer experience. Inbound document processing deserves the same degree of consideration as the process of composing, producing and distributing outbound documents. With the proper process controls and automation, the organization can become as effective at receiving customer communications as it is at delivering customer communications.

    Richard Huff is Senior Analyst at Madison Advisors, an independent analyst and market research firm that addresses the needs of the electronic and print customer communications management marketplace. Visit

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