Let’s stamp out snail mail in 2020

Why do so many businesses prefer the postbox to the inbox?

Here we are on the cusp of 2020 – a date that still sounds ridiculously futuristic to me – and yet we’re still clinging to a mode of communication that was invented when the Pharaohs were knocking around Egypt.

Email should have killed off the postal service years ago. It’s certainly given it a good kicking, to be fair, but I’m still dealing with businesses that insist on communicating via ‘snail mail’ for no good reason whatsoever.

I’ve spent the past week getting quotes for a new boiler. The first company was referred to me by the very forward-thinking energy supplier Octopus, which literally changes my energy prices every half an hour in line with demand, takes all my readings via smart meters and hasn’t sent me a single piece of paper in the year I’ve been with them. The company it recommended wants to install a “smart boiler” and took a survey of my house using a Skype-like app, where the surveyor was on the other end of a video link. Yet, when it came to delivering the quotes for the job, the company said it would send them in the post – quotes, I’m still waiting for almost a week later.

The same was true of the second, more local firm, which came to price up the job. This chap spent 10 minutes talking to me about the benefits of installing a Hive smart meter, relayed stories of how one customer kept turning the heating down at home while he was sitting on a beach in Barbados, fearful that his stay-at-home kids would be running up his bill while left unsupervised, and yet he too insisted on sending the quotes in the post “because I’m a bit old-school”. 

I love my accountants. Avuncular old Pete and his efficient assistant Rachel are brilliant at patiently dealing with my lifelong aversion to making money (I do words, not numbers, as I told them at our first meeting).

They finally convinced me to stop running my business on patchy Excel spreadsheets and move to the online accounting system Xero instead, which has cut the amount of time I spend on tedious admin such as invoicing and filling in VAT returns enormously. Rachel can log into Xero and correct my inevitable errors (“no, Barry, you can’t claim a six-pack of Wagon Wheels as a business expense”) and everything is submitted electronically. 

And yet, every time they write to me or send me an invoice, it comes through my letterbox on bits of paper that the dog will inevitably chew, or that I won’t see under the mountains of pizza menus and appeals to save donkeys in Derbyshire.

Why is this? How can these businesses – which are selling and working with cutting-edge technologies – rely on a postal system that is woefully inefficient, more costly and less convenient for the person on the receiving end? What has trackable, searchable, instantaneous email ever done to them? 

So, here’s my early resolution for the new year (which I’m still convinced is only 2006, by the way): any company that insists on using the aptly named snail mail won’t be getting my business. I’ll write to them to let them know, obviously.

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