A necessary nuisance, or a fantastic opportunity?

Well, it's all in how you look at the potential in your statements to connect with your customers. In an era when most organizations are hell-bent on pushing their customers away from paper and into receiving their statements and invoices electronically, it's a brave soul who would make the argument for spending more, not less, on their paper statements.

The key is not to look at your statements as a purely operational issue or strictly as a financial artifact. The fact is, statements are an important brand link — increasingly so as the number of personalized, physical touch points that organizations have with their customers become fewer and fewer. Statements and bills are one of the few things that you can actively push out to your customers that they will actually pay attention to, rather than passively posting these documents on your server, sending out an email and hoping that customers will come to have a look at them.

The key is to start thinking of the statement as a driver of ROI. To do this, the documents first need to start with a solid foundation of clear language and intuitive information design that makes the information easy for customers to use and understand. The most compelling, targeted and personalized message doesn't stand a chance if it's hidden by a confusing layout or if the customer is so frustrated with the document because they don't understand it that they become completely unreceptive to whatever you might be offering. Second, the offers themselves need to be personalized and relevant to each individual customer. If you can do this, your statements can move from costing the organization money each month to making money through specific offers (which have a higher response rate because they are targeted, personalized and printed on something that customers actually pay attention to) and through higher customer loyalty and brand awareness. Add to these the operational efficiencies (such as reduced call center volumes) that well-designed statements can bring and suddenly there's a solid ROI shaping up.

When you start looking at your statement with this frame of mind, as something that can help the bottom line rather than be a drag on it, suddenly options like adding variable color to make your statement messaging even more effective (something a marketing department wouldn't even think twice about) no longer seem so outrageous. In this model, even if you end up spending 15 cents per statement instead of five cents, the ROI generated by a well-designed statement that's used as an effective marketing and communications tool will make up for those increased costs many times over.

SCOTT WATKINSON is a senior communications consultant specializing in the writing and design of customer-focused business relationship documents. Send your comments to scott.watkinson@primus.ca.

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