Jan. 7 2021 09:16 AM

Take this opportunity to look at your communication processes, evaluate what was working and what wasn’t and set a new direction

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In October, McKinsey published a report that shared how COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technological tipping point, accelerating demand for digital transformation of their customer interactions. It certainly goes without saying that 2020 has been a tough year for many businesses and, due to the pandemic, many organizations have struggled with how best to communicate with customers who are experiencing their own struggles. The report aptly points out that, as we head into 2021, staying competitive in this new business environment will require new strategies and the tools to execute them.

While you may believe you have effective systems in place to handle what McKinsey calls a rapid shift toward interacting with customers through digital channels, effective customer communications management (CCM) processes can still be difficult to manage. In many large organizations, every department typically has its own system (or even different systems for each channel), each one added individually and set up for specific purposes, such as billing, sales and marketing. They may work well for the individual application, but too often these systems don’t communicate with one another and they may even be issuing messages at cross purposes—i.e., marketing sending out promotions to a customer who is also receiving late payment notices. This kind of proliferation has created what one might call “CCM sprawl.”

CCM sprawl happens because every CCM system is a type of data silo that can contain thousands of bits of information, many of them duplicates and outdated material. A great example of this is when you see the mail on your kitchen table pile up and up or the count of your unread emails going over 10,000 and eventually you think: “This is a disaster. I have to clean this up.” Managing CCM processes is similar; we have to find a better way to address the inefficiencies brought on by the silos that created the sprawl and do more than just add another team or another workaround. This is why it may actually be a good thing that the pandemic has caused an increased focus on the need for fast and efficient digital communications. We have been forced to look at how to tackle all the types of communications a company has, all the channels and all the silos, and have realized that the time to do something about it is now. Now is the perfect time to finally clean it up.

Sorting it out
However, to clean it up, someone has to sort through all of these communications to see where duplicate content, similar content, brand violations, reading-level violations or sentiment issues exist. The question then becomes: Who can do this and how, particularly at a time when many staffers are working remotely? Fortunately, modern technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) are available and increasingly being used to automate and improve the consistency and outcomes of these types of content-related operations.

Let 2021 be the year to bring your company’s long-ignored consolidation efforts forward. Here are three steps to get you started:

1. Explore the benefits of leveraging AI. The McKinsey survey indicated that investments in data security and AI are the changes respondents most often identify as what will position organizations better than they were before the pandemic. AI is not a new process and currently is being used in a number of different applications. It’s been around long enough that it has evolved to the point where, for example, it can read and remember ingested information from document A, then read and compare document B to document A. It can root out and flag duplicate documents and/or data, such as words or phrases that you like or would like to avoid. Perhaps its most attractive feature is that AI can do all this at much higher speeds than human beings can and without the distractions or loss of interest that human beings are likely to experience. Applications using AI, guided by your predetermined standards and rules, can help clean up your content, templates and files much more quickly and cost-effectively than hiring and training a team of temps or by taking existing staff away from their primary responsibilities.

2. Consider resurrecting the idea of a document center of excellence or, perhaps more aptly, a customer communications center of excellence. Most critical functions within an enterprise typically have a center of excellence or a similar concept of central governance. Legal, IT, marketing, research and development and human resources are common examples. Despite the critical importance of customer experience to business success, enterprises often overlook the potential for establishing a center of excellence to achieve better results with their customer communications. I know in the past such an initiative was often perceived as a) a loss of control and b) a massive amount of work in order to be successful. But now we can bring technologies like AI into this initiative, making it easier for organizations to centralize content into a content hub and create a digital library that stores all the best reusable data and messaging from various departments, yet still remain accessible to authorized business users for authoring and delivering future communications.

3. The best approach to undertaking this kind of project is to start small. Those in the C-Suite typically don’t like massive changes that are not well understood or already proven. You don’t want to spend two years polishing your business case when you can actually demonstrate success in narrower ways and then build upon those successes to gain competence and buy-in—and eventually to be able to make bigger and broader transitions. Find one project (such as a servicing communication—i.e., account updates, billing or notices) that can enhance customer experience if relevant details and personalization were added and that could help to support a better digital process for the business. Do it with an eye toward how this particular document fits as part of the overall strategic objectives you’re trying to demonstrate. Even though it may seem like just one proof point, every proof point is part of a bigger picture.

Getting through this last year has been both challenging and eye-opening. One challenge (among many) was to quickly find new ways of communicating with customers to accommodate the unexpected disruption brought on by the pandemic. But that scramble also gave us the eye-opening opportunity to look at our communication processes, evaluate what was working and what wasn’t and set a new direction that will take us into 2021 with less stress and better positioned to meet changing customer needs.

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