For years, businesses have wanted to reduce the amount of printed mail sent to their customers, for both cost and environmental reasons. At first, it seemed that digital communications would quickly replace most printed communications. Unfortunately, many organizations, particularly those in highly regulated industries, have been unable to make the transition. When the technology infrastructure used to create and deliver communications consists of siloed legacy systems lacking a unified system of record, the process of switching can be complicated and costly.
The benefits, are clear. First and foremost, is the issue of cost. The price of print and postage is rising, and only getting higher. Even a fraction of a cent per page adds up when the business prints millions, if not billions of pages per year. And that doesn’t even factor in postage costs which typically cost an organization 4 to 5 times more than printing, nor the environmental costs of using so much ink and paper. On the other hand, email, SMS, and Web portal posts are much lower in cost and vastly more ecologically sustainable.
Just as important are customer preferences. Today’s digitally savvy consumers like the ease and convenience of online communications, even for complex transactions. According a Change Healthcare survey, 70% of members considered themselves comfortable moving to a paperless, digital-only experience, even one requiring an e-signature, or involving digital payments.
Despite considering the move to digital customer experiences a priority, many regulated industries are not keeping pace with their customers. As an example, the adoption of paperless billing in the US insurance industry remains at a lacklustre 19%. Most businesses have the capacity to send email and other digital communications, however, a surprising number still rely on physical print and mail.
As tempting as it would be to just start sending all customers digital communications, there isn’t a one-size fits all solution. Customer preferences must be respected, and the fact is many still prefer print. Secondly, there are certain communications which can’t be sent digitally such as those which contain paper checks. There are also communications which are required by law to be sent in printed form. Mortgage servicers, for example, must send out escrow statements by mail.
The larger problem is that the technology and processes of communications infrastructure in large organizations are not set up in a way that encourages and supports the transition to digital customer communications. Multiple business units are often involved in the production of communications, and each unit might have their own siloed technology infrastructure. Some may use platforms and applications that are decades old; others might have custom built systems that are highly engineered to match a specific use case. This doesn’t just apply to the creation of communications, there also can be multiple systems or third-parties involved in the delivery of communications. Some organizations may have their own print facilities, others will outsource printing to third-party print service providers or use a combination of both. The same goes for digital, where each channel might be using a separate delivery provider.
As new digital channels are added, a new system, process, and team are put into place, adding further complexity. These operational and technological silos pose large barriers to the transition from print to digital since digital channels often require a high level of coordination to be an effective substitute for print. Typically, the simplest approach is taken – posting PDFs to online Web portals. This approach requires a separate notification to be generated and delivered, usually via email or SMS. In a siloed organization, the system responsible for generating the PDF might be disconnected from the system that posts it to the web portal. And both could be separate from the systems that generate customer notifications.
Many businesses also struggle to keep track of the customer journey. They might be able to send digital communications but lack the ability to track and aggregate the deliverability or engagement with those communications. Even when they can, again, the fragmented nature of their ecosystem poses a challenge. Every system might produce its own analytics, and this makes it difficult for business users to get the full picture of their customer’s behavior. This can create internal resistance when the business considers adding new channels or experiences.
A traditional communication supply chain has two main steps. First, generation: meaning all the activities that lead up to composing a document like a monthly statement, which usually results in an output file from a CCM system. Next is delivery: all the activities associated with manufacturing and delivering a single communication, whether printing or mailing or in digital form. Most organizations have a technological infrastructure which supports these two steps. However, there needs to be a third step: communications processing.
The systems responsible for this are called Enterprise Communications Processing or ECPs. They sit between the systems producing customer communications and those systems responsible for delivery ensuring that no matter how many systems an organization might use, how old they might be, and how many output formats are being produced, all communications for all channels will be passed through into a single unified platform.
Once ingested by an ECP, all communications, no matter the format, can be normalized to a single unified file type. In that normalized state, an ECP system can automatically perform important post-composition work, such as converting print-ready files into PDFs which can be used as a substitute for print or stored to a digital archive for archiving. This capability, when combined with an ECP’s ability to respect customer preferences, unlocks the ability to eliminate a significant portion of printed mail without having to rip and replace upstream composition systems.
An ECP also operates agnostic of downstream systems meaning it can integrate with any of the physical or electronic delivery systems the organization is currently using. ECPs can aggregate deliverability and engagement data at both the batch and individual level for all communications. This includes open rates, clickthrough rates and even read receipts. That customer information can be fed directly into CRMs or customer data platforms from a single connection. This makes it far easier for the business to track complex multichannel customer journeys.
ECPs can also orchestrate digital interactions so they are an effective substitute for print. Centralization with an ECP means the entire customer communications ecosystem can function as a whole. Actions performed by the system can automatically trigger appropriate follow-up actions, since the actions performed by siloed communications technologies and processes are now being guided by a centralized system. To go back to our earlier example, an ECP can recognize when a PDF has been posted to the Web portal and will automatically trigger a notification to be sent to the client, either by email or text message as per the customer’s preference, alerting them to the new communication in the portal.
The wholesale effort large enterprises would need to modernize the ecosystems responsible for the composition and delivery of customer communications are very expensive, risky, and time consuming. The investment of labor and capital would be considerable, and there would be tremendous risk in attempting to deconstruct such complex and delicate infrastructure. There is a simpler, more effective solution.
ECPs can be installed relatively quickly and are much more cost-effective. Most importantly, an ECP will work with a business’ existing infrastructure. No need to risk loss of time, money, or effort; instead, ECPs offer a shorter transition from print to digital.
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