Customer Letters Get Automated

It can cost as much as $20 to send a letter to a customer, mostly because of organizational and administrative time, plus production expenses. Nancy Schuring, the owner of Devon Fine Jewelry, Wyckoff, N.J., has decreased those costs, even while making customer letters more personalized. She does so through LetterMatics, a system she and her fiancé, Joe Portale, developed with help from friends in software development.

LetterMatics is a software package that can be integrated into most POS systems. A sales associate can create a unique customer letter by accessing a database where the customer’s name and address are automatically transferred into a new MS Word file. Staff members can choose from among 20 retail jeweler—specific letter templates, which range from thank-you to call-to-action letters and include an electronic signature. Highlighted areas indicate portions of text that need to be customized. The user uploads the letter to an FTP (file transfer protocol) server with three clicks, and it’s then downloaded at LetterMatics’ New Jersey facility. There it’s printed, folded, stuffed, addressed, and posted, arriving at a customer’s home in one or two days.

Schuring and her staff have been using the system for just over a year and have signed on 30 retail jeweler users in that time. (Schuring, a part owner of LetterMatics, has a lead marketing and promotions role for both it and her retail business.)

Vendor-specific correspondence can be sent to a specific customer or group. For example, follow-up letters to purchasers of Hearts On Fire jewelry or Breitling watches can include news of new collections or coordinating pieces, and the software allows Schuring’s staff to send letters more frequently at less cost. "Black and white letters cost 91 cents, and four-color letters are about $1.31," says Schuring. "This includes postage."

The system, which produces high-resolution (600 dpi) black-and-white letters and high-quality four-color mailers, has sparked a move away from traditional printing and also has cut waste. In the past, printers required orders in round numbers, like a minimum 500 or 1,000. "Now if I need 267 direct mailers to go out, I can print and send that exact number of cards," says Schuring. "If I missed a few customers, no problem; single sends or small groups of the same direct mailer are easily done as one-offs."

Smaller, targeted mailings are getting better responses. Last year "Devon Dollars" were sent to the store’s top 150 customers, and 45 redeemed them, a 30 percent response rate. This year a "Devon Stimulus Package" went to the store’s 675 next-best customers, and 66 redeemed $50 coupons, a response rate of 10 percent.

LetterMatics users can track how sales associates are using the system and record sales linked to customer letters. Devon’s top sales associate, Michaelene Mason, says she can "customize and send a letter in the time it takes for a customer to leave the store and exit our parking lot." Mason recalls one letter that generated $10,000 in business and another that brought in $3,500.

The biggest challenge is creating and updating customer profiles. "The software is only as good as the customer database," says Schuring. "The more detailed the customer profile, the more opportunities sales associates have to reach out to their clients."

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