This article appears in the Fall 2017 digital issue of DOCUMENT Strategy. Subscribe.
In our recent study titled “Enterprise Customer Communications–Trends & Strategies from Around the Globe,” we conducted over 60 interviews with key individuals collectively responsible for delivering over 50 billion customer communications in the last year. We found many common insights across all of our conversations, but one overarching theme seems to sum it up best—enterprise customer communications are shifting from siloed, operational functions to a more strategic, holistic approach in the wake of digital transformation.
Enterprises Rethink Customer Communications with Customer Experience in MindIn our key findings, we see that enterprises are rethinking their approach to customer communications in the name of improved customer experience. In fact, 64% of the global service providers and market stakeholders we interviewed agree that this is the most important trend of the moment. Agreement with this sentiment drops to 50% among respondents in North America, but that is still high enough to make it the leading trend for this demographic.
This doubling down on customer experience takes the shape of more targeted and personalized communications, along with seamless, multi-channel dialogues between the business and the consumer. “Customers today want to communicate with businesses on their own terms,” a Senior Vice President of Sales and Client Relations at a major service provider told us, a trend that “will only grow stronger as millennials replace baby boomers as the leading consumer group.”
Newly empowered consumers of the digital age—media- and tech-savvy with instant access to information, products, and services—put pressure on enterprises to meet their open-ended, multi-channel customer experience expectations and preferences.
Centralized Communications Strategies in DemandTo a similar effect, enterprises are also adopting a centralized communications strategy. As much as consumers want consistent communication across a variety of channels, enterprises want that same fluidity throughout their customer communications strategy and customer touchpoints.
Digital advancements have enabled an interconnectedness between channels that enterprises have just begun to utilize. The ability to design, publish, and track a single message across all channels is a modern reality. Enterprises will continue to incorporate technologies and partners that allow them to harness this ability with the hopes of capturing an ever-increasing return on investment (ROI), which is achieved by sending customers the right message through the right channel at the right time.
Along with integrating the multi-channel dimension, a centralized communications strategy also unifies the ways in which some enterprises leverage their transactional and marketing customer communications. All of this not only makes it easier to keep consumers engaged but also helps to cut costs and smoothly bridge data across all communication activities—an invaluable strategic advantage.
Enterprises Seek Partners Offering a Broad Range of ServicesAs enterprises strive to cut costs, improve response rates, and increase ROI, they are fully aware of the need to reform their customer communications strategies. Yet, keeping up with new wants, demands, technologies, and trends is a tough balancing act. Not surprisingly, enterprises are seeking partners that can offer a broader range of services to manage this evolving landscape on their behalf.
Enterprises want their outsourcing partners to be a one-stop shop to help them navigate customer communications trends and obstacles as they emerge. This includes the effective implementation of newer channels, like mobile, and handling data management in a time of heightened data security and regulatory compliance.
Enterprises also want partners to future-proof their customer communications strategies, acting as advisors on the latest platforms. In our study, we found that enterprises are cautiously hesitant about many up-and-coming customer communications technologies, like personalized video, augmented reality, and voice command, which haven’t necessarily been around long enough to have established efficacy or proven use cases. Outsourcing partners can play a leading role here in helping to implement these trends into an enterprise customer communications strategy that works.
Customer Communications Strategies Struggle to Master MobileWhile there are plenty of opportunities and innovations in enterprise customer communications, enterprises should be wary of the learning curves as well. Mobile delivery is a prime example. Without an understanding of the channel’s nuances, enterprises lack a strong mobile delivery offering even as the channel gains prominence.
The mobile channel is one of the most important elements to a holistic, centralized, and strategic approach for customer communications. SMS messages, apps, push notifications, email, web browsing, and user portals all flow through the mobile channel. As a result, mobile presents an almost infinite, evolving buffet of options when it comes to customer communications, and that is likely why enterprises struggle with it. The depth of the channel is too new and scattered; there is no set of tried-and-true mobile strategies that apply across industries or even within them. While many enterprises have yet to find widespread mastery of this channel in their customer communications strategies, the resources to achieve it are well-positioned.
Regulatory Compliance and Data Security Are Universal ConcernsNotably, the concerns around regulatory compliance and data security loom over all the trends in the enterprise communications space. Just behind improved customer experience, these concerns are the second most important enterprise trend, with 52% of our respondents (45% of North America) addressing it as such.
The growth of data-friendly digital channels, multi-channel data integration, and the increased use of data for personalized communications all contribute to the growing responsibility in managing customer data. In May of 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will become law, affecting all international enterprises that deal with data of customers in the European Union (EU). Penalties are considerable. Yet, in our annual research report titled “Annual State of the Transactional Communications Market,” we find that less than half of our North American respondents feel confident that their companies will be prepared for the GDPR, and about a fourth of them are completely unaware of the regulation.
This statistic is concerning given the implications. Any business that handles EU customer data, which certainly applies to many North American enterprises, will need to restructure their customer communications accordingly. They will be required to have customer data (including how it’s used, accessed, stored, and managed) readily available to share upon request and, potentially, even onboard new staff, like a data protection officer (DPO), if the business handles enough sensitive data. Failure to comply can result in fines up to four percent of a company’s global annual revenue.
The Bottom Line
Enterprises began to go digital to cut costs and because of competitive pressure, but now it is an integral element of any customer communications plan. Businesses need to maintain relevant, consistent dialogues across all channels or get left behind. Today, digital transformation is facilitating this ability.
Together, consumer preference and digital innovation push an enterprise’s customer communications strategy from a traditionally siloed and operationally focused function and toward a more centralized, strategic future. The novelty around this approach presents its fair share of challenges, but we expect a proliferation of outsourcing partners and platforms to supply the demand and help guide the way.
David Stabel is the Research Director of the Customer Communications Advisory Service at Keypoint Intelligence–InfoTrends. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @davidstabel.
Pat Nolan is a Research Analyst of Customer Communications at Keypoint Intelligence–InfoTrends.