Whoosh!!!!!! Was that the sound of your customers or technology passing you by? If you’re still printing and mailing the majority of the communications and interactions that you have with your customers, then it likely was. The world is getting more and more connected; the baby boom generation is rapidly embracing the use of technology; and mobile devices are outnumbering traditional PCs and laptops. In fact, IDC predicts that by the year 2017, 87% of connected device sales will be tablets and smartphones. These undeniable trends should be informing your customer experience and customer communications strategies today, not tomorrow.

Given the large investments that many firms have made in traditional document composition platforms, or what Forrester calls document output for customer communications management (DOCCM), it’s only logical to try to leverage these platforms to bring together a consistent cross-channel customer experience. After all, print still represents the majority of most statement and correspondence production, so why not leverage the processes in place along with the technology to produce content for your digital channels? Trouble is, some of these tools just don’t do a real good job in the digital space. Sure, they can produce PDF, but online and mobile customers expect more from their experience.

An additional hurdle is that business staff and developers who’ve worked on the digital side are resistant to the often less advanced or less sexy tooling in the traditional document composition space. True, some of the products are getting better, offering more digital capabilities or tighter integration with web publishing tools from their own portfolios, but the coordination across print and digital channels is still rather rudimentary.

1. Continue to duplicate effort, content and process across channels and technologies.
This approach, which represents the current state for many, essentially ignores the issue and maintains the status quo, although it could also be viewed as the “best of breed” approach. If you can live with the inefficiencies and deliver an exceptional omni-channel customer experience, then perhaps this will work for you. In my experience, this will suffice for a while yet (maybe 12-24 months), but your competitors will be moving forward while you’re essentially standing still.

2. Leverage your composition tool vendor and press them to improve their digital capabilities.
As I said, they’re getting better. Some of the traditional high-volume batch production tools are getting more tightly integrated with their web content management system (WCM) counterparts. Change, however, has been slow in coming. Additional drawbacks to this approach include limited mobile device support with responsive design and cross-product support only within a vendor’s own portfolio of products. This effectively eliminates the best-of-breed approach.

3. Prepare to go digital first.
This means switching your thinking to solving the problem from the standpoint that the majority of your content and correspondence volume will be delivered digitally rather than being printed and mailed. It means the digital channels will have a greater impact on your customer experience and satisfaction than the print channel. It also means that your digital publishing vendors will have to ramp up to handle the volumes and complexities that traditional document composition tools excel at today. Other challenges include reluctance or slow response from regulators to approve of digital-only or digital-first communications. They’ll catch up eventually. So while we wait, let’s get prepared. Here’s a few considerations on the road to digital-first communications:
  • Look at adjusting your investment mix. If digital is driving customer engagement and experience, then you’ll want to ensure that you’re spending your dollars properly as well. Put more emphasis on digital design and experience. Invest not only in tools for publishing but also for measuring and assessing the customer experience in real time.
  • Train your staff where you’ll get the greatest return for the dollar. Responsive design is certainly part art and part science. Invest appropriately, develop internal expertise and don’t be afraid to supplement early on with external experts.
  • Get your business teams more directly involved in creation and control of the content. Define clear boundaries and set quality standards and processes in place, but by all means, drive control of content upstream into the business user’s hands.
  • Rethink your publishing processes. Many of the actions in existing processes are still needed, but optimize as much as possible for digital speeds. Quality and compliance cannot be compromised, but ownership and accountability should prevail over bureaucracy. Do you really need six to 10 sign-offs to change a paragraph in a simple piece of correspondence?
I’m certainly not suggesting that you jump to "digital first" before you’re ready, but you’d better be thinking about it now, because your competitors are. Start planning today; the future will be here before you know it.

Tom Roberts has more than 20 years of experience in business technology. He serves as a principal consultant at Doculabs, where he develops strategic plans to help organizations use ECM technologies to achieve their business goals. Follow him on Twitter @tomroberts72 or email troberts@doculabs.com.

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