A recent study from research firm IDC suggests that CEOs are taking greater responsibility for customer communications and upping spend on software to manage this area. While this survey focuses on insurance companies (across US and Western Europe), the findings echo what’s happening in many industries: the way businesses communicate with customers is becoming a hot issue on company boards.
Pressure from consumers, empowered by new technology, is the main driver. We all know the web has increased competition in most markets, making customers fickle and more demanding. There is downward pressure on price, and upward pressure on service and customer experience. These factors all contribute to the drive for a more coordinated approach to communications that is both customer friendly and efficient.
It’s harder to make a connection with customers
As consumers we are spending less time talking with companies face to face or even on the phone. Much communication is now digital, so companies need to work harder to make a connection and build rapport. Business leaders are asking: how can I get better at everyday communications with my customers – everything from bills and statements, to chat and social media – and make every interaction count.
Mobile is a disruptor
Mobile devices have been an agent for radical changes in consumer behaviour. We now want companies to be available around the clock, and respond at the click of a button. We also demand levels of consistency and interconnectedness between channels that most organisations still struggle to deliver.
Consumers use mobile phones to access email, SMS, social media, chatbots – and expect a seamless journey as they pass between these and more traditional touchpoints such as call centres. Paper and postal communications remain an important part of the overall picture, but they must complement the interactions that are happening elsewhere, rather than operating in isolation. If you work in customer experience, customer service or marketing – or in the IT teams that support these areas – you’ll know about the headaches of managing and integrating so many different channels, and delivering the quick responses that customers expect.
Customers expect personalisation
While customers engage in fewer face-to-face and telephone conversations, they still crave a personal service and respond well to personalisation. We all know that companies gather a wealth of information about us, our preferences and buying habits. The quid pro quo of allowing them to hold all of that deeply personal information is our expectation that it will be used responsibly, and in a way that ultimately benefits us; documents and other customer communications need to be relevant and of value to the individual, and preferably personalised to their specific circumstances.
One consequence of these trends is that tech analysts such as Gartner and Forrester are predicting high spending (over $900m a year) on a growing class of software for managing the dialogue with customers: customer communications management (CCM).
Forrester says that customer communications management software is 'used to compose, format, personalize, and distribute content to support physical and electronic customer communications and improve the customer experience.' Gartner says it supports businesses that want to produce 'individualized customer messages, marketing collateral and transaction documents'.
Customers can rejoice
Why is this good news for customers? At its heart customer communications management technology exists to help companies get away from producing dull, 'one size fits all' paper documents (everything from direct mail and brochures to invoices, statements and policy documents), and start creating digital communications that are more interactive, more personal, and more useful to the customer. It also helps companies to manage interaction across the growing list of new channels, while continuing to support paper communications.
The greater adoption of customer communications management means consumers can look forward to a better all-round experience in the way businesses interact with them, with less spam and junk mail, and fewer generic marketing approaches. Accurately targeted, personalised communications will both be more relevant to the customer and will deliver better results – in terms of increased sales and customer loyalty – for the company. And there will no longer be any excuse for bombarding customers with duplicate, confusing or conflicting information because communications can be co-ordinated and managed centrally across multiple departments and channels in a joined up, intelligent way.
Evolution, not revolution
While the demand for customer communications management is driven by digital disruption, as a class of technology it is in itself non-disruptive, designed to re-use and adapt existing content that is readily available. That could include reformatting and enhancing data and documents from a company’s core business systems – such as billing and finance, logistics and marketing – and managing the processes of personalisation and digital delivery. As there is no need to create new systems from scratch, it is a very cost effective approach. Given the continuing pressure on price – and operating costs – in most markets it is not surprising to see customer communications management becoming a focus for so many business leaders.
About Lynda Kershaw
Lynda Kershaw is marketing manager at software and services company Macro 4, a division of UNICOM Global. A marketer with over twenty years' experience, Lynda helps organisations use technology to personalise customer interaction, improve customer experience and make a painless transition to digital communications. www.macro4.com