Personalizing customer communications--a 'documented' success

Commentary--StreamServe CEO, Chris Stone touts software that creates and presents enterprise documents in any format via any channel to customers, suppliers and business partners.
Written by Chris Stone, StreamServe, Contributor
Commentary--In recent years, companies across all sectors have worked hard to reduce operational costs so they could boost efficiency as well as their bottom lines. While banks, utility companies, telecommunications carriers and distributors continue to pursue operational efficiencies, new growth is fast becoming the main focus for increasing profits.

This includes expanding the number of products and service offerings that the average customer engages, as well as attracting and retaining new customers. The quality of the customer experience is crucial to achieving both of these goals.

As the most consistent point of contact, the last mile of communication between any company and the customer is the key place to establish and maintain positive experiences.

That "place" is a document, such as an account statement, invoice, a bill of lading, etc.

Of course, engaging customers at a personal level is a classic challenge. This is especially true when there are tens of thousands--and sometimes millions--of customers to communicate with, service and support each month. What's new about this challenge is the fast-growing competition for the same customers. What were once differentiators are more frequently commodities: services are comparable, pricing models often match, packages have similarities and commitments are seemingly identical.

Companies need to achieve the same level of personalization in their bills and other customer communications, as they are trying to do through advertising online. Documents can personalize the process from the initial marketing message, to account opening, to the welcome package and periodic bills and statement. Yet few firms optimize the format, personalization, delivery or cost-saving potential of these "last mile" customer communications.

Why not? Well, while every enterprise recognizes the value of implementing a personalized, customer-centric communications approach, the fact is that most don't have the technological dexterity to convert internal information systems into interactive, customized communication channels that provide the client with documents in the format, and through the channel, that best fits their needs.

However, a growing number of companies are beginning to find a way to do just that by adopting Enterprise Document Presentment (EDP) software. The idea behind EDP is pretty basic, but the results can be startling. To boil it down to the most basic description of this new category, EDP enables the automated creation and presentment of enterprise documents in any format via any channel to customers, suppliers and business partners.

How does this help? In banking, for example, consider the value of account consolidation: One well-known multinational bank implemented EDP and, as a result, was able to reduce the number of mailings sent to new customers from seven to two, saving more than $3 million annually.

By streamlining the creation and distribution of enterprise documents, EDP shortens the time required to communicate personalized messages and new product offerings to customers. It also reduces cost by efficiently consolidating information into fewer documents and enabling a shift to electronic and mobile delivery.

EDP facilitates clear and persuasive communication with customers through the automated creation and presentment of documents. By doing this, companies have been able to use their customer-facing documents to increase the value of their client relationships, enhance customer loyalty and reduce operating costs.

From an information technology perspective, EDP complements existing enterprise systems with the means to efficiently craft and present important, personalized and branded documents – printed, electronic, mobile and Web. In addition to giving customers superior documents, it enables marketing departments to extend brand awareness activity deep into the customer base through flexible, efficient channels for ongoing communications and targeted offers.

EDP’s complementary capabilities expand the usefulness of the existing infrastructure; in some cases even extending the lifespan of legacy systems that are otherwise unequipped to meet modern needs without requiring any change or replacement of current systems.

The last mile
EDP can help with processes common to all organizations as well as with vertical-specific tasks.

For instance, every company needs to produce account statements. Account statements provide prime opportunities to generate new revenue. EDP enables companies to upgrade their statements from simple transaction summaries into personalized, highly targeted one-to-one marketing vehicles that deepen the relationship, drive revenue and reinforce brand awareness. Hey, you’ve got their eyeballs on the account statement; why not take advantage of that?

On the other hand, facilitating compliance for financial institutions is a pretty industry-specific task. Financial firms face an ongoing challenge to maintain compliance with a variety of legal and regulatory requirements. For instance, it may take the typical bank weeks to respond to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission request for information. To meet the requirements, the bank has to create multiple formats and even key in data manually.

With EDP, a bank can reduce response time because it takes days, not weeks, to automatically create new templates, and the reports will be more accurate because the need for manual entry of information has been eliminated.

To be sure, the last mile of communication between the firm and the customer is the key place to reinforce positive customer relationships. People respond best when regular communication--such as the account statement--is intuitive and easy to read. When it is, the better experience reinforces loyalty and prompts customers to engage additional products and services.

EDP empowers a customer-centric communication strategy. It enables companies to convert internal information systems into dynamic, interactive and customized communication channels for the creation and presentment of documents and customer statements in any format through any channel.

This not only makes for a richer customer experience, including personalized cross- and up-sell opportunities; but it also reduces costs by streamlining communication between the firm and its customers.

In addition to improving the customer experience through superior presentment, EDP also enables marketing to extend brand-awareness activity deep into the customer base. It gives marketing flexible, efficient channels for ongoing communication and targeted offers.

Given the understandable desire across the board to enhance the value of customer relationships, the acronym EDP may soon become as recognizable as CEO in business circles.

Chris Stone is president and CEO of Burlington, Mass.-based StreamServe Inc. (). He previously worked at Novell, first as executive vice president of corporate strategy and development, and later as vice chairman of the Office of the CEO. Stone also founded two companies: Object Management Group, the largest software development standardization group of its kind, and Tilion Inc., now merged with Synquest, which developed a software service to present a unified view of the logistics supply chain for the Web.

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