Paperwork when you want it Featured

10:08am EDT July 22, 2002
How much business do you lose because your employees go home after work? When it comes to processing orders for price lists, product specifications, credit applications and other routine paperwork, you may not need employees if you set up a fax-on-demand service.

"The rationale of fax-on-demand is to enable your business to be open 24 hours a day," says Maury Kauffman, managing partner of The Kauffman Group Inc., a Cherry Hill, N.J., enhanced facsimile consulting service to clients such as IBM, AT&T, Chemical Bank and Johnson & Johnson. Automated literature fulfillment through fax-on-demand allows customers and prospects to find out about your company on their timetable as well as yours.

A typical fax-on-demand system consists of a computer; voice and fax hardware installed on the computer; on-demand software to run the service; phone lines (usually at least four); and technical support to prepare the fax documents, record the voice messages and make the pieces work together. Turnkey systems start at $15,000.

If that's a bit over your budget, you can consider hiring a service bureau to lease and maintain the equipment, and handle all fulfillment, for about $500 a month, after a $500-to-$1,000 set-up fee. Most service bureaus (either listed in the Yellow Pages under fax services, or referred by a fax-on-demand client you've already used) also charge a nominal fee per page or per minute on customer requests.

Fax-on-demand is most appropriate for companies with large volumes of routine client and prospect requests for uniform pre-printed literature. This may be delivered more expeditiously by fax than by using office labor to locate, sort, fold, label, stamp and mail (not to mention making customers wait for) the materials. Trucking companies and those with far-flung sales crews rely on fax-on-demand when laptop computers are either too expensive or can't be connected remotely. Some very large firms use internal fax-on-demand systems to distribute insurance forms and human resource information to their employees.

To prepare an effective fax-on-demand service, Kauffman-who has authored dozens of articles and books on facsimile technology-suggests the following:

Analyze current customer service and document fulfillment. Likely your most requested materials include order forms, sales literature, technical documents, price lists, articles reprints, etc. Consider including surveys, special offers and other interactive forms that feed back data on your customer demographics.

Review your current materials for fax-worthiness. Don't use photos; they reproduce poorly. Keep documents under five pages in length. Only offer those documents most often requested.

Promote your service. Train your staff to tell everyone you use fax-on-demand. Ask employees to test the system before it goes live, and to familiarize themselves with the included documents.

Fax-on-demand isn't for everyone. For some companies, it's slowly being supplanted by e-mail-on-demand, and other Web-based services. Yet fax access and ease of use is still greater than that of computers. "You can put up a small fax-on-demand service for less than the price of what a Website would be," Kauffman says.

To find a fax-on-demand service bureau, Kauffman recommends calling a fax-on-demand client whose service you've found useful. Find out how long the bureau has been in business (the first were founded around 1990). Ask how long it'll take to set up-30 days is normal. How many one-page documents can they fax in an hour? Don't over-estimate your demand; it's likely to be one-quarter to one-third what your office hours' fulfillment volume is. Request that the bureau waive its first monthly minimum fee; it'll take at least a month for your service to get publicized and catch on.