When to send letters, and the future of email

Stuck in the middle with… mail

There are those who embrace email, and there are those who don’t. And stuck in the middle between these two groups, there are property managers. Mail was an early casualty in the digital revolution, and yet debate over when and to whom it should be sent persists. Why?

It’s about customer preferences versus business processes. The question, in other words, goes like this:  if you have 250 properties in your portfolio, and one or two owners prefer to receive mail with a postage stamp on it rather than email, is it better to communicate with everyone via one system and send 250 letters? Or is it better to adapt your systems to cater for the two owners, meaning you can send two letters and just email the remaining 248?

We’ve made it sound simple, but we understand it’s not. Change is time-consuming, sometimes costly, and often stressful. Nonetheless, the future of communication is about meeting the customer where they want to be met. So if 248 people don’t particularly want to receive a physical letter, it might be time to contact them the way they want to be contacted. So save yourself the expense, and learn about the future of email.

Why mail is on the ropes

Sending letters en masse was, and still is, an expensive business. Beyond postage, stationery and labour costs, there is also the cost of failed letters. We’re talking about those sad little bundles of return-to-sender mail that turn up periodically in your PO box.

Failed letters cost businesses more than delivered ones. When a message is not received, more action is almost always necessary, and more time has lapsed (which is bad if what’s been sent is an invoice for payment). Failed letters require more follow up phone calls, the chasing of payments, or, (sigh) the sending of even more letters. More action means less efficiency.

Paper vs pixels

Let’s view the core underlying reasons some agencies insist on paper-based documents. First, there’s a common misconception in that email is not legally binding. But in fact, email carries the same legal weight as mail. While wording varies, Australia’s States and Territories and New Zealand all have electronic transactions laws in place (most of which are called The Electronic Transactions Act).

These laws are in part designed to give electronic commerce the same legal weight as paper-based transactions. And they make clear that any information that needs to be given in writing or requires a signature can usually be done so electronically. Of course, we recommend reading through the Act and Regulations that apply to you.

However, email is not perfect. Between accidentally emailing a large database of clients (this happened to us once last year, whoops!), bounced addresses and ending up in somebody’s junk mail, things can of course go wrong. But for the most part, personalising your emails and putting processes in place to prevent misfires is the way forward.

Email is still in the ring, for now.

Even as communication channels are growing and people are finding more (and more efficient) ways to contact each other, for now, email is still on its feet. We know that email can be counted on for secure and immediate delivery, tracking correspondence, electronic filing, enhanced security, and sending attachments with equal legal weight to snail mail.

These are just some of the ways email improves business life. But email can be an easy excuse for not picking up the phone, even when that call can bypass several rounds of email ping-pong. For more information on email efficiency vs. email reliance, checkout this Real Estate Business blog article.

That which cannot be sent electronically

That does not mean the total end of mail, of course. As we noted earlier, many people have at least one client who insists on using cheques and, for whatever reason, loathes email. Nonetheless, they shouldn’t be railroaded into changing their ways—at least, not  if you intend to keep their business.

As more options emerge for contact, that might mean you’ll need to offer more channels for contact: not fewer. It’s time, in other words, to ditch the process-driven approach to communication. There is not ever again going to be one communication system to rule them all. Sometimes, you’re still going to need to send letters—just not nearly so many.

Make mail personal again

Top agencies are accommodating these customers by adapting their communications channels cater to their client base. As the list of paper mail recipients shrinks, it’s easier than ever to make paper mail personal again. Some add that touch with hand-written envelopes instead of printing labels (which also saves doing mail merges). Others send hand-written birthday and Christmas cards. We think it’s fair to say that the person who appreciates mail will also appreciate the personal touch of a handwritten envelope.  

The future of letters

In 2011, the first Kindle was released, and it caused a stir among book lovers. The fear was that a digital book spelled a mass extinction event for all physical books. Option A (the e-book) would totally and utterly replace option B (the physical book).

It turned out that some people preferred A, and others preferred B.

The same goes for communication channels today, and into the future. Digital evolution means moving from having only option A (letters), to having options B (email), C (portals), D (apps), and so on. And some customers are going to prefer different options. So where email makes sense? Send email. Where mail makes sense: use mail. And where other channels make sense? You get the idea.

With more smartphone apps, online portals, cloud-based communications and an avalanche of alternatives rising up to replace email, the chances of communicating with your entire customer base through one medium is looking less and less likely. So why keep trying to do it that way?

The best way to ensure the long-term sustainability of your business is to embrace change. You’re sick of hearing it, but finding a way to meet rising customer expectations is how you can stay competitive. Because if you’re the last one to change, you’ll be the first one to fail.

As Thomas Edison is famed to have said, “There’s a way to do it better—find it.”


Wondering what to read next? Learn about the five qualities of highly effective real estate software migrations, or read about our new Console Cloud permissions and rent roll insights tools.