A robot controls a Pilot pen writing individual notes to clients of businesses, which say the 'personalized' touch of handwritten correspondence helps attract and retain customers. Credit: Courtesy of Handwrytten

In a business world where streaming services, social media and online markets have supplanted in-person interactions, handwritten note cards are making a comeback but in a modern way.

Many are being written by robots.

The robot-written cards that mimic human handwriting let businesses send more personalized messages to lots of customers at the same time, and far more quickly and accurately than if they were penned by hand. Several Maine businesses using the company Handwrytten said the notes stand out to clients who receive them, helping retain customers and gaining new ones.

Portland-based marketing company Space Pilot Digital uses a service from Handwrytten to send ‘personalized’ notes printed by robots to social media influencers on behalf of its clients. Credit: Courtesy of Space Pilot Digital

“It’s a really nice way to break through the clutter and make an individual connection with someone that’s going to be much more meaningful,” Alden Millar, digital director at Portland-based marketing company Space Pilot Digital, said.

Millar’s company uses the Handwrytten service on behalf of its clients, to help them develop and grow social media presence. He looks for social media influencers who have posted about a client’s product and mails a box of products to them, along with a robot-written card. The card arriving at their office stands out among all the web traffic they get.

His company has about 100 notes per month sent for each of its 15 clients. Millar estimates that having the robot print them saves about 10 hours per client per month over handwriting them. He can choose different writing styles depending on what each client prefers. The cards average $3.75 each plus postage.

Handwrytten, a company based in Arizona, has a warehouse full of 175 robots that scribble out letters to business associates, birthday cards to parents and holiday cards to friends.

The robots write each card individually, based on wording from the customer, and mail it. They use a Pilot pen and try to mimic the look and feel of human handwriting. Millar and others using the service can either choose from 23 handwriting styles the company offers or submit their own handwriting style, which the robotic system analyzes and replicates. Users can design their own card online or choose from more than 100 the company offers.

“The robot arms hold a real ballpoint pen and are programmed to write like a human — not perfect,” David Wachs, Handwrytten’s CEO, said.

The robot system accounts for character variation, changing the height and width of individual characters. If one sentence has multiple words with double Os and double Ls, each will look different. The left margin varies so that not every line starts on the same edge. The robots write with a bend that makes it look like people aren’t writing on a perfect line.

“They can even recreate the ink smudge you get when writing with a pen,” said Trinity Dean, office manager for Northstar Mortgage Group in Windham.

Northstar uses the service to send congratulatory cards when a client gets pre-approved for a mortgage or closes on a house. If the home sale falls through, the mortgage lender keeps in touch with the client, suggesting they come back when they are ready.

“We’ve found it helps with client retention,” she said. “Receiving little cards in the mail shows we are making the extra effort, so they’re more likely to work with us.”

That can help in today’s real estate market, where higher interest rates are slowing the number of buyers looking for mortgages. When her company sent out robot-written cards to realtors to try to get business, a handful sent referrals to the mortgage company.

Northstar Mortgage Group of Windham uses a service that has robots print personal messages to congratulate customers on getting pre-qualified for a loan or even closing on a house. Credit: Courtesy of Northstar Mortgage Group

Aubuchon, a hardware store chain with about 32 stores in Maine, is targeting store customers who they want to nudge to buy online as well.

“The card looks like it comes from the local store,” said Mike Mattson, vice president of marketing.

The card offers 30 percent or higher discounts for the first online purchase, and has been more effective in getting people to try digital shopping than the flyers the store used to mail.

Some people don’t like the idea of having a robot write for a human. Yale University humanities lecturer Ellen Handler Spitz told The Washington Post earlier that having a robot write for you “seems like a complete betrayal.” She said handwritten notes are special because they are intimate, with a human touching the paper.

Mattson and others using the technology said it does look like handwriting, and they have not had any complaints about it. However, in the fast-paced digital world where social media and other services go out of fashion quickly, it is not clear whether customers will get tired of robot services or a better or newer technology comes along.

“It won’t be long until customers are onto it,” he said.