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The Operations Business Case for APIs
April 4, 2017

The Operations Business Case for APIs

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Joe Singh

Direct mail is not going anywhere. The teams who manage the operational mail segments themselves, sending direct mail for compliance purposes, know this better than anyone. But there’s the old way of sending direct mail for compliance purposes, and then there’s a new way.

These teams stand to benefit, tremendously, from APIs. But let's take it all the way to the top. Most seasoned direct mail operators have been doing this for a long time through print and mail vendors. It's not a perfect system, but it works. Why is an API a better way?

What is an API?

An Application Program Interface (API) lays out a set of rules and directions for interfacing with a given system. Imagine being able to operationalize a line of communication based on a human behavior. If a patient checks into a doctor’s office, you can trigger a piece of mail, without any human input, to make sure they follow up on payment.

Today, most mail vendors ask their customers to share files via email, FTP, or (best case) an archaic XML API. Data cleanup and creative alignment are manual; all data transfer is one-way. This creates built-in 4-5 week delays that really shouldn’t exist in the 21st century, even when working with direct mail.

An API creates a two-way street for information, allowing programmatic and powerful compliance triggers. When sending files to a vendor via FTP, you ultimately cross your fingers and hope your mail was processed correctly. When sending mail via API, you get immediate feedback on what worked and what didn't. Thanks to automation, these delays don’t have to exist at all.

With an FTP, important questions often go unanswered. Are addresses correct? How quickly is mail arriving? When are customers actually receiving a mail piece so the next piece of compliance mail can be triggered? As non-critical failures build up, data degradation can seem inevitable.

With an API, companies sending massive monthly volumes of direct mail can realize huge savings up front. Data verification is instant, resource allocation is efficient, and direct mail operators can focus on segmentation rather than execution.

Building Compliance Workflows with APIs

Those who build unique solutions with APIs, specific to their use case, see even more benefits beyond just responsiveness. Transparency, scalability and automation are how operations teams relying on APIs to send compliance mail differentiate themselves.

Via webhooks, operational teams get a clear idea of where their mail is in the mailstream. As a letter or postcard goes through every step in the mail stream, a delivery notice is generated and delivered. For companies required to leave a certain window between pieces of mail, this awareness unlocks a level of precision simply unavailable with traditional processes.

Using an API for programmatic mail also allows for archiving. Whether a team needs to understand when they mailed a specific letter, or mailers need to undergo QA, using Lob's API means all the relevant data is stored on an enterprise-grade infrastructure. If a customer wants to know exactly when to expect a piece of mail, that information is readily accessible. If a customer has filed a change-of-address, saved in the NCOA database, that information is readily available as well.

Similarly, leveraging an API means more easily finding the right mix of electronic and physical communication. For example, we've seen customers build algorithms around sending collection notices. Based on a person's responsiveness to a given medium, they can set up the right cadence for direct mail and email to complement one another at optimized trigger points.

Address verification is another great use case tying direct mail with electronic communications. Hospitality and travel services can automatically trigger a direct mail piece to verify listed addresses. Even customer experiences can be better curated with the granularity afforded by APIs. Instead of just using direct mail to tick the boxes, A/B testing and precise analytics can help every piece of branded mail deepen a customer relationship.

Moving Forward

Electronic communication is in a constant state of disruption, while companies' direct mail operations are often fossilized. An API approach to direct mail will automate and scale. Learn more about how Lob is modernizing direct mail here.

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