The other day I mentioned that Royal Mail has made some changes to its opt-out scheme for unaddressed mail. And then I went on to have a longish rant about the fact that Royal Mail falsely claims that you're still not allowed to register online because they need to verify that opt-out requests are genuine. Royal Mail has never made such checks, and they never will. It's a lie, and a convenient excuse for running a complicated, customer-unfriendly opt-out service.
Today, I want to have a rant about another aspect of the Door-to-Door Opt-Out: the fact that Royal Mail doesn't send confirmation letters and reminders to households that opt out.
Running a paper-based opt-out scheme is very expensive, you know
First, let's tackle the absense of confirmation letters. When you send your completed registration form to Royal Mail you have to hope that they'll receive and process your form. As someone who uses Royal Mail's service daily* I know all too well that some mail items simply disappear of the face of the Earth. And as anyone who sends stuff to large organisations will know, there's no guarantee that your stuff will get processed. Confirming that your opt-out request has been dealt with seems a sensible and polite thing to do.
In June, I asked Royal Mail why they don't send such letters. I got this stunning response:
The Opt Out [sic] service is a totally free service and we even provide you with a freepost address with [sic] which to return your completed form. As we have a high number of households that register with Royal Mail to be opted out, if we were then to send out confirmation letters and reminder letters this would then incur a high cost which Royal Mail would need to recoup, which would mean we would then need to actually make a charge for the service, which we do not want to do, as we want to keep the service free.
I'm not joking, Royal Mail is saying that they can't send its customers confirmation letters because this would
incur a high cost – even though they would be paying themselves.
I took the opportunity to suggest that sending confirmation letter would solve the problem that Royal Mail isn't in any way verifying whether or not opt-out requests are genuine. Confirmation letters would provide the level of security Royal Mail so desperately wants; if a household that has never even heard of the Door-to-Door Opt-Out receives a confirmation letter they are likely to contact the Royal Mail. If Royal Mail is seriously worried about fraudulent opt-out request they could beg recipients to contact them if they haven't asked to be opted out.
I also took the opportunity to ask why Royal Mail doesn't allow households to simply opt out online. I've no doubt that the vast majority of households would rather submit an online form than complete (and post) a paper form. The cost of providing the freepost address would drop dramatically and, more importantly, households could easily be send a confirmation e-mail. (There are other advantage as well. Royal Mail would need fewer data-inputters and the system could automagically notify the relevant sorting office of a new opt-out registration – the time it takes for the opt-out to become
fully effective would drop from six weeks to just one working day!)
Needless to say, Royal Mail stopped talking to me after making such outrageous suggestions. After five months, many chase e-mails and a formal complaint I finally got some sort of response: my feedback has been noted and passed to the relevant department for future consideration. The relevant department, of course, will be the team that refused to discuss my question / suggestion.
Reminders? Why would people want to continue use our service?
An online system would of course also make it affordable to send people a reminder when their opt-out registration is about to expire (which happens after just two years). My actual job is making and hosting websites, and so I know that this sort of stuff is very, very basic. A so-called cron job could identify registrations that will expire in, say, a month's time and fire off a reminder e-mail to these poor people.
Clearly, Royal Mail is not interested. Which is odd. I mean, do you know any other company that assumes that existing customers no longer want to use the company's services?
I tell you why Royal Mail doesn't send its customers a reminder. A couple of years ago I asked the manager of Thomson Local's opt-out scheme whether or not their opt-out expired at some point and, if so, whether or not they send households a reminder. I was told that registrations used to expire after two years and that they did ask households whether or not they still wanted to be opted out.
You can imagine the sort of responses we got, the manager told me. As a result, registrations with Thomson Local's opt-out scheme no longer expire. It's probably the right thing to do for a company such as Thomson Local – they know the days of paper directories are numbered and they've changed their business model accordingly. Royal Mail, on the other hand, prefers to put its head in the sand by automatically sacking customers after two years, without warning.
* To fund this website I'm selling anti-junk mail stickers. Generally speaking, I'm quite satisfied with Royal Mail's non-junk mail delivery service, although there are times when quite a few items go missing. The last couple of months have been particularly bad; about 5% of all orders I've dispatched have never reached their destination.