For far too long, the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) was in a jam – both literally and figuratively.
The independent public agency, which supplies water and sewer service to the city of Irvine and portions of Costa Mesa, Lake Forest, Newport Beach, Tustin, Santa Ana, Orange and unincorporated Orange County, was using a folder/inserter from a well-known mail-machine vendor as part of its monthly billing procedure. However, the folding machine constantly jammed, causing a number of problems, including costly service calls, occasional late billing, and all-around frustration.
“The machine would jam incessantly,” recalled Gina Jackson, customer service manager for IRWD, which provides potable water to a total population of about 330,000. “After we’d get it fixed, it would work fine for awhile, but then it would inevitably jam again. The vendor’s service people were in our office so often, they seemed like in-house employees.”
Any alternative solution would have to do more than just not jam. Anew folding machine would have to be capable of handling inserts in addition to the invoices, as each mailed invoice includes a copy of The Pipeline, the district’s newsletter. Also, other special mailings, such as payment reminders, notices, and shut-off notices, would have to move smoothly through the folding machine. What’s more, it would be used to manage mailings of various sizes and shapes for other departments which, in the past, were the root of all the jamming. And it would have to accomplish this last task with minimal disruption to the core business of billing.
With the plethora of choices available, how could Jackson choose? Ultimately, the decision was made to seek a mail system provided by a Neopost company, PFE International Ltd, a worldwide supplier of folders/inserters. Neopost is a global mailing solutions company that has a great reputation with their customers. The relationship between IRWD and Neopost began years before.
“Neopost is right down the street from us,” explained Jackson. “They would come by and check on us every so often to see if they could meet our needs.
“One day, they even brought us cookies,” she added, with a smile. “Because they are not only a great partner, it seems as though they really care about our business. That made a big impression on us.”
Whether it was Neopost’s cordiality or their confectionery approach, IRWD decided to give the company a shot in July 2007. What they provided was the perfect answer to IRWD’s folding/inserting requirement – and IRWD got the chance to see it up close and personal to make sure it was exactly what the doctor ordered.
“We looked at several competitive machines, but we were most impressed with the DS-140,” Jackson said. “We also looked at a couple of water districts that were already using the DS-140. One of the districts actually let us run a few different types of jobs on their folding machine to see firsthand how it performed.”
The DS-140 has the horsepower to handle all of IRWD’s needs, present and future. The device can be configured to almost any application, from single document, to multistation installation, can run at speeds up to 4,500 envelopes per hour and is capable of processing documents from nine different hoppers, with a total pack thickness of up to 6mm – more than enough for IRWD’s relatively slender mailings. A total of 20 user-programmable job memories make switching from job to job far simpler than in the past.
“The bills are pretty straightforward, but we needed something that would allow us to run different jobs without affecting the bill runs,” Jackson said. “So the automatic setting, which helps the machine handle different pieces without affecting our ‘bread and butter,’ so to speak, was a critical feature for us.”
The DS-140 has virtually eliminated the jamming issue. As proof, Jackson noted that, in over a year, there have only been a few service calls, each one no more than 30 minutes in length, so bill processing has never been adversely affected. This benefit cannot be overstated, because when customers do not receive their bills on time due to machine downtime, they are less than pleased. Even worse, shutoff notices and payment reminders that do not reach the recipients in a timely fashion can result in legal headaches for IRWD.
Thanks to the DS-140, the billing process has been significantly expedited. Every day of the month, Southern California Edison reads a certain number of meters for IRWD; that number can vary widely from day to day, depending on a variety of factors. The information that is collected is downloaded into IRWD’s internal billing system. After all the data is appropriately processed, invoices are generated on a printer and sent through to the burster (since the invoices are printed on continuous paper forms, the burster is necessary to cut off the edges and size the final sheet). The invoices are finally inserted into the DS-140 for inserting, folding and mailing.
Regardless of the number of invoices processed per day – it can be as few as 1,000 and as much as about 25,000 – the DS-140 performs admirably.
“With the old machine, the short invoice runs weren’t a huge problem, but with the long runs there were constant jams,” Jackson said. “Now, regardless of the size of the run, the incidence of jamming has been sharply decreased.”
While the DS-140 has put smiles on the faces of many of the employees at IRWD, the technicians who operate them are among the biggest fans.
“We have two people who work with the machine, and they are absolutely stress-free,” Jackson said. “They no longer mind being interrupted by someone in another department who needs to throw something in real quick, because they know that it’s going to get out fast, and they can then just resume the bills.”
IRWD puts a strong emphasis on cross-training workers to fill in for other employees when the need arises. Because of the DS-140’s ease of use, Jackson found that training additional workers was a far simpler proposition than she would have imagined.
While the DS-140 is capable of handling more volume than IRWD is currently throwing at it, that scenario will likely not occur for some time, if at all. To begin with, housing development has slowed down in the Irvine area, so the influx of new customers is somewhat flat. Further, some 15,000 of the IRWD’s 98,000 total invoices are now generated electronically, reducing the number of paper invoices to about 83,000.
However, customers who are billed electronically are not completely excised from the “traditional” billing procedure. They will get a paper invoice if anything changes on their account, whether it’s their address, contact information, or scope of service. An adjusted reading, late fee or shutoff notice will also require a paper invoice to be sent. And the bill to open an account, as well as the one to close it, is produced in paper form. So even the paperless customers are within the scope of the DS-140’s influence.
Soon after IRWD became comfortable with the DS-140, the company investigated additional Neopost offerings. Postage is unnecessary on the invoices since it is laid down right on the invoice during the printing process; however, a Neopost postage meter is used for virtually all other mail pieces. IRWD also has a small DS-62 folder/inserter from Neopost to handle “side” jobs that don’t need to go through the big machine.
Not to get lost in the quality of the products is the quality of service Neopost has provided to IRWD since acquiring its first piece of Neopost equipment.
“I have to say, the company’s service, on the rare occasions it’s needed, is outstanding,” Jackson said. “They don’t even feel like an outside vendor. They handle our service issues like they’re our own employees.”
In other words, they’re always ready to help IRWD out of a jam – even though IRWD rarely sees one anymore.