Direct Mail Strategy: The Wonders of White Mail
Step 1: Read it. All of it, not just every nth piece. This is an easy, effective and often entertaining way to stay attuned to your customers’ wants and needs.
In the June issue of Southwest Airline’s Spirit magazine, an article titled “Dear Customer” recounts how for the last 35 years this customer-focused airline has read every piece of white mail it’s received—whether from a customer or employee.
According to the article, while current President Colleen Barrett originally read all the white mail, today the airline has four teams of about 175 people who do nothing but read and respond to its white mail. But here’s what’s really interesting: Barrett still handles more than her fair share, even with her busy schedule as an executive.
Why does this company invest a significant amount of time and money in its white mail? In the article, Executive Chairman Herb Kelleher is quoted as saying, “If you pay close attention to what your customers are telling you, you don’t need formal surveys. Your own customers are your surveys.”
At one time, apparel cataloger Lands’ End encouraged all employees in the company to participate in reading and responding to white mail. Employees would sign up for shifts, then show up in a designated area to read and respond to the company’s mail. Lands’ End wanted everyone from its pick-and-pack crews to its product managers, financial analysts and creative directors to know what customers were saying and thinking.
Step 2: Answer your white mail with an individually composed reply. If you’re going to receive maximum benefit from your efforts, answer every piece you receive. And, not with a form letter.
In the Spirit article, Jim Ruppel, vice president of Southwest customer relations, says, “When a customer gets one of our responses, they’re going to know that it’s not a form letter.” How so? “We’re going to give specifics.”