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Many firms in just about all industries have been struggling to keep pace with digital transformation in customer communications management (CCM). The pace of change has increased so dramatically that large organizations with centralized CCM competencies can barely develop a strategy and secure funding to get started on the plan—when, WHOOMP, a new trend in mobile or digital communications emerges, leaving them either stuck in the starting gate or left embarking down a path that leads them to yesterday’s target.

So, what should you do? If you’ve taken a centralized approach to CCM historically, how can you become more nimble and responsive to the changing environment while, at the same time, making progress on established objectives for customer communications and customer experience? I think it’s time for organizations to explore some alternative approaches.

The hybrid approach

One option is to centralize your CCM or customer experience strategy while decentralizing the writing, development, and composition resources within your organization (or leaving them decentralized).

For many firms, the concepts of organizational centralization and decentralization feel like rotations on a wheel, which come full circle every seven to 10 years. The debate rages on regarding how to balance customer experiences and remaining close to your markets with operational efficiency and cost reduction objectives. Rather than getting caught in this rotation, use the best of both—the centralized and decentralized approaches.

Start by centralizing your communications and customer experience strategy. Fragmented experiences can often arise when each department or business unit defines its own strategy and approach. Differences in vision, funding levels, and abilities to execute can result in operational gaps across entities. When trying to present a common experience or to operate as “one” enterprise, groups must work together and align with a strategic direction and roadmap.

Then decentralize, or leave your delivery teams distributed within business units, if that enables you to implement your strategies and tactics more quickly. Generally, this means that writers and editors, development, testing, and measurement resources remain within specific business units or dedicated support teams. While you may lose some economies of scale with this model, you can make up for it with speed and flexibility that is hard to achieve if it is centralized. This distributed delivery model also works well when business units each use different technologies to generate content.

The bottom line is that the hybrid model works well for firms that resist shared services models or with business units that are used to operating very independently. The key to success is building the common strategy and holding each other accountable for delivering on it.

Outsourcing your CCM composition work

Some organizations take it a step further than the hybrid approach and outsource their composition work to a service provider, while retaining their centralized CCM strategy and decentralized authoring and editing functions internally.

Consider a few of the key drivers for composition outsourcing:

1. Return on investment for centralization hasn’t met expectations.
Some companies have made large investments over the past five years and feel that they’ve hardly dented the surface of the issue. The combination of organizational challenges with technology consolidation or a refresh has many wondering about the "bang for the buck."

2. “Halfway” measures have produced limited results.
We get it: Money is tight, but running key customer communications projects on a shoestring budget is not going to “wow” anyone. If management says they are committed to the customer or customer- centric future—and believe that it’s critical for retention and profitability—then put your money where your mouth is. A true sign of lip service is the supportive talk without the funding commitment.

3. Can’t keep up with the pace of change.
Simultaneously keeping up with the changing regulatory landscape and the rapidly evolving technology marketplace has proven to be more than some firms are willing or able to deal with and are looking for some relief.

I could continue, but you get the gist. More importantly, what are the kinds of benefits that companies think they’ll realize by outsourcing their CCM composition? Some include:
  • A focus on the customer, not the technology: Outsourcing the manufacturing of your communications with a service provider enables you to focus on your customer experience, content, and compliance, while the provider focuses on technology trends and market forces within the CCM space.
  • Improved skills and capabilities: Service provider consolidation—especially within the print services sector—is enabling economies of scale that individual companies cannot achieve. As the print services firms have merged, they’ve combined technology stacks and resources, leveraged best practices from each party, and expanded their physical and intellectual scale, with resulting improvements in both the depth and breadth of their CCM offerings.
  • Multi-channel support: Particularly within the print services provider space, the focus is on grabbing a portion of the electronic delivery market to supplement declining print volume. Leading vendors have made significant commitments to serving customer needs across any and all communication channels.
  • Reduce capital investment: Outsourcing is a way to avoid the multi-million dollar spend on new technology and platforms by having the development and execution hosted externally.
  • Reduce fixed costs: Outsourcing enables you to leverage a variable pricing model, which can more directly reflect the customer-focused activity levels with the spend level.
  • Shorter ramp-up time: Again, if faced with a significant technology upgrade or consolidation, it can be much faster to leverage someone else’s environment, platform, and process than to rebuild your own.

To outsource or not to outsource?

Ultimately, the decision will come down to service levels versus risks and costs. Can you really deliver better communications and a better experience for your customers for less cost and less risk by sourcing your CCM activities?

Each assessment is different and will depend on the size, scope, and complexity of your current environment. Yet, more and more firms are starting to believe that outsourcing is the way of the future—or maybe it’s just the old adage: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

For some organizations, outsourcing CCM composition is too difficult to justify for political reasons, and understandably so. If outsourcing is just not right for you, then make sure you’re aligning internally on a common customer communications and experience strategy and put the appropriate operating organization in place to deliver on the strategic commitments.

For more information, don't miss our special session at DSF '17, "Shared Services for CCM: Not One Size Fits All," on May 2, 2017.

Tom Roberts 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 visit www.doculabs.com.