By Cassandra Balentine
Customer communications management (CCM) strategies help organizations manage customer correspondence. CCM continues to evolve with advanced technologies like the cloud and artificial intelligence (AI), making it more effective and efficient, while also posing new challenges.
According to Gina Ferrara, senior analyst, Madison Advisors, CCM traditionally consisted of transactional communications, such as bank statements, utility bills, trade confirmations, and other documents that were required to be generated and delivered to customers to provide a history of activity or collect payment. “Changes in technology have a huge impact on this industry, and as a result, organizational priorities have changed as well to match consumer expectations for a digital experience,” she shares.
This brings us to the intersection of customer experience management (CXM) and CCM. “In the past, CCM and CXM were on two separate paths. Today, CCM is considered to be a major component of the overall customer experience and has now taken center stage when CXM strategies are being designed,” she offers.
Here we discuss the biggest changes in CCM, how advanced technologies like the cloud and AI play in the technology’s evolution, as well as the continued importance of printed communications.
CCM strategies evolve as businesses realize the need to improve efficiency of communications and customer experience.
The transactional space continues to see shifts in CCM to include replacement of legacy systems with automation, intelligent, or predictive actions; additional visibility from onboarding to delivery; and technology inclusions like augmented reality, video in print, and beacon technology, shares Jonathan Malone-McGrew, senior director of engagement, Solimar Systems. Even in the book market there is opportunity for adding engaging content through video in print, augmented reality experiences, and book of one production that allows for highly personalized content. “While CCM has been around for a while, it continues to evolve and even overlap with other theories of communication,” he adds.
Bryan Ten Broek, VP, business development, Nordis Technologies, notes that a primary use for CCM technology is transactional print communications. “In recent years, CCM has expanded into more digital channels—email, text, and digital wallet. As a result, companies are moving beyond creating content for letters, bills, and other print communications to managing content across communication formats, including texts and emails.”
Ferrara says customer journey maps are one change that help provide a mechanism for organizations to enhance the understanding of the customer experience for a particular interaction starting with the sales process, onboarding, and customer service and maintenance. “Journey mapping can be a great tool to identify all customer touchpoints and the communications generated throughout an interaction. This exercise not only helps organizations identify pain points for customers, but also provides an opportunity to closely examine the communications that are generated, both of which help to improve customer experience.”
Simon Tindal, CTO, Smart Communications, believes that a company’s success is related to the experience it provides to its customers and central to exceptional experiences is the quality of the conversations these companies are engaging them in.
“Today, customer-facing processes lead digital transformation initiatives across industries,” shares Tyler Suss, product marketing director, Intelligent Automation, Kofax. “Laggards that haven’t implemented a digital transformation strategy to enhance customer experience are running out of time to catch up and will soon be disrupted by more innovative entrants. Forward-thinking organizations are focused on eliminating manual, time-intensive steps within customer-facing business processes. The modern buyer expects speed, communication, and a digital-first experience,” he continues.
While this holds true regardless of the industry, Suss adds that it is particularly important for highly regulated industries such as financial services, insurance, and healthcare, which must deliver these conversations at tremendous scale while also transforming their approach to be consistent across all channels.
Further, while the need to distribute required regulatory and compliance documents will never decrease in importance, companies embrace the fact that these transactional interactions are no longer enough. “CCM platforms are now helping companies shift from static, one-way communications towards true, two-way interactions that are highly personalized and delivered across all channels throughout every stage of the customer lifecycle. And they are successfully incorporating these interactive strategies into their ongoing batch and on demand communications as well. Companies expand their customer communications programs to include a transformation of their forms processes and embrace intuitive, guided journeys that are contextually aware based on the customer’s personal preference, device, and location. This eliminates unnecessary fields and the need to enter and re-enter information into a static form. All of this improves the customer experience and speeds up the business process,” explains Tindal.
Scott Draeger, VP of customer transformation, Quadient, says customer communications often require multiple iterations to complete a transaction, requiring modern CCM solutions to keep track of messages as they execute across a variety of discrete interactions. “Communications can also shift channels mid message,” he offers.
As data governance and security evolve in regard to privacy, the pressure increases from the customer perspective as well as the regulatory and technical pressures. In the past, privacy concerns were limited to compliance and regulations, but new regulations allow the customer the right to request a full audit of any data relevant to them. “This brings a customer experience dimension to compliance that didn’t previously exist. Cautious companies will reduce the amount of data they hold to lessen their burden on the supply side. Others will approach this challenge from the demand side, building systems responsive to the communications that are part of consumer privacy requests,” shares Draeger.
Malone-McGrew points out that access to technology that composes and delivers customer communications has changed not only how organizations manage their processes, but also how service providers fulfill print and electronic delivery. In the healthcare industry, he’s heard of clients that use web interfaces and cloud-based communication tools for billing and ad hoc communication creation, which make it easier for organizations. “However, print providers tell us that these files impact their print workflows as many solutions today are geared more for electronic delivery and don’t optimize output for the high-speed inkjet technology that printers are continuing to invest in and install. New methods are required to preflight incoming files, which continues to drive the need for post-composition changes and enhancements,” he offers.
Cloud technologies and infrastructures have an undeniable impact on CCM strategies. They have allowed providers to transform their solutions and offer a range of services.
“Traditional infrastructure barriers that impede communication launches give way to purpose-built, cloud-native solutions that accelerate and dramatically enhance communication initiatives as the cloud’s reach is so much broader than traditional processing alternatives,” says Steve Biancaniello, CEO, Messagepoint, Inc. He adds that most cloud deployments are combined with subscription licensing, which better align with enterprise purchasing preferences.
Gautam Jit Kanwar, president, BelWo, believes cloud technologies have driven the implementation cost of CCM down drastically and leveled the playing field for vendors by making it easier to provide support to customers.
“The cloud has been one of the most positive disruptive forces in the world of CCM over the last decade, completely revolutionizing the speed, agility, efficiency, and return on investment businesses are seeing from their CCM operations. On premise solutions can no longer deliver the desired results that businesses and their customers are looking for when it comes to CCM today,” explains Tindal. Therefore, he sees companies shifting more to cloud-first infrastructure and solutions.
According to Broek, cloud technologies are a necessity for modern CCM. “It’s what business customers want. That’s where software is going. It’s so much easier and flexible to implement and eliminates the need for costly infrastructure investment.” He adds that cloud CCM software accelerates digital transformation, a priority for corporations everywhere.
Effective CCM strategies use the latest technologies to personalize customer communications and manage communications efficiently across channels.
“To manage effectively, you need a platform that enables full visibility and control of all inbound and outbound communications—providing quicker access to information while ensuring compliance and reducing expenses,” suggests Suss.
Centralized communication servers are also utilized to enable the integration of inbound and outbound channels, which Suss says is instrumental in creating an efficient, reliable, and secure exchange of increasing volumes of business-critical messages and minimizing operation expenses.
Areas where the cloud isn’t taking hold are instances where significant processing is required or files are too large to move back and forth. “The cloud in a traditional public sense creates risks in areas including performance, up time, and security exposure. Truly, performance and up time are the concerns on a daily basis that cause volume printers to evaluate this very closely in CCM,” notes Malone-McGrew. He adds that time is fleeting and every print production floor is trying to do more. “If processing times increase because of a cloud-usage strategy, that just doesn’t make sense.”
Madhavi Sriramoju, VP marketing, In10s, says advanced technologies like the cloud and AI need to be incorporated into CCM strategies to remain relevant in today’s world. “Integrations like Amazon’s Alexa and connected things are essential to enhance the customer experience.”
AI technologies maintain an evolving role in the CCM world. Whether it is refining processes or utilizing real-time data to drive personalization, Tindal says AI is set to shake the CCM industry up even further. Providers that best harness this potential will likely be the most successful in the years ahead. It is important for companies to embrace AI to increase efficiency by automating processes and reducing design time as well as the customer experience.
“AI is a real game changer for many technologies today,” says Jamie Harris, EVP, Transformations, Inc. “The use cases for CCM could be significant, but that is still being vetted out. Currently, AI for CCM revolves around the recognition of content for the purpose of either migration, re-use, or consolidation. Over time, AI will certainly improve and provide significant value to CCM users.”
Tapping into the Power of Print
Print is an essential component for many CCM strategies. The latest improvements in inkjet continue to make it more affordable and attractive.
“Print in CCM strategy is still relevant despite the growing adoption of digital channels. Moreover, it would be incorrect to say that the print medium is eliminated from the scope. Today, CCM solutions evolve to leverage advanced printers and options for AFP and other technologies that reduce operational expenses like continuous printing, remote print, automated sorting, and suppress printing,” shares Sriramoju.
Draeger says CCM experts understand the channel distribution makeup. Trillions of print-based touchpoints are created, delivered, and read every year. “These often represent valuable parts of critical transactions, including contracts, proposals, and policies that are directly responsible for revenue generation.”
An intelligent automation platform that supports active multi-channeling allows organizations to generate alternative content and formats for different delivery channels. “To utilize print within a CCM strategy for instance, active multi-channeling allows you to send an email that includes a personalized link to a portal and requires the recipient to register to log into the portal for the printable version of the communication,” offers Suss.
Malone-McGrew points out that print is still required as part of regulatory statues for many communications. “We’ve seen research from analysts in the print and communications industry that show coming generations are looking for companies to deliver in many channels, including print. Print from a transactional and direct mail perspective still has good engagement rates and in some cases, performs better than email due to the over saturation of email.”
“Print remains a key channel as part of an overall hybrid communications experience,” agrees Biancaniello. “Organizations recognize that some individuals still prefer print or a combination of print and digital experiences based on demographic and individual preferences. Print cuts through some of the noise often associated with crowded inboxes and applications proliferation and in some cases, is simply seen as a more trustworthy channel by customers.”
“The companies we work with that send critical documents like bank statements have print as part of their CCM strategy because statistics show these documents are opened, read, and archived more so than email,” offers Kanwar.
Harris says print is still the primary result of most CCM applications. “Inkjet has greatly improved the ability and cost of providing a white paper factory. Now that color can be more easily and automatically reproduced, there is little use for pre-printed stock and the associated waste that comes with it. CCM solutions have made it possible to offer a more personalized look and feel with the use of variable images, charts, and colors; and inkjet has made it financially more attainable.”
“Print continues to play an important role in an organization’s overall communications strategy. While it is critical that organizations embrace digital, what is even more important is that they focus on ensuring that they meet the needs of each individual customer and that the conversations they are having with them are happening via the channels they prefer,” explains Tindal. This likely means a mix of channels depending on the type of communications being delivered.
Production inkjet advancements bring speed and color to applications that never would have had access to this type of power. “With this technology the designs can improve, which is a contributor to improvements in CX,” shares Draeger.
“Inkjet presses make it possible to unleash the power of CCM software by allowing creation of individualized documents, down to a single recipient based solely on real-time data,” adds Kanwar.
Biancaniello says organizations looking to differentiate themselves with respect to print rely heavily on the capabilities of production inkjet presses to provide rich, low-cost, full-color tactile communications experiences.
Kanwar points out that with everything controlled by CCM software, the chances of mismatched shell stock errors on the print floor are greatly reduced.
New printing technology keeps print relevant and more affordable. “New high-speed inkjet printers enable fully dynamic, variable production with color for nearly the same price as B&W. Companies can personalize messaging, imaging, and color for customer segments or individual customers. Companies program communications to switch out the photo or content on every single page. This technology is bringing the advantages of digital to print. The marriage of CCM with modern color inkjet equipment creates a powerful solution,” says Broek.
Tindal believes continued advancement of production inkjet presses has helped to improve customer experience by making it financially available to move away from strictly B&W to color output.
Many organizations rely on CCM to ensure effective communications with customers. An omni-channel approach is attractive, but must be handled correctly to reduce costs for the business and maintain ease of use for the customer. Print remains a critical channel. dps
May 2020, DPS Magazine