May 4 2021 08:19 AM

In this installment, DOCUMENT Strategy asked Ernie Crawford, President & CEO of Crawford Technologies, to share his thoughts on current challenges facing communication providers and what lies ahead in 2021.

What do you see as the most significant challenges facing communication providers in 2021 and beyond?
1. We hear it said all the time: “Employees are our greatest asset.” In 2020, business leaders had to navigate a rapidly changing environment with a shift to remote work and the pandemic’s impacts on their mental health. While we continue to see signs of recovery, organizations will still need to remain focused on how best to support their employees’ well-being.
2. In 2020, many organizations had to implement what they thought would be temporary measures to keep their businesses going. It is now clear that these temporary measures need to shift to permanent policies. Organizations need to make sure they are not only providing a safe work environment, but that their employees have access to all the necessary systems, tools and services so they can do their jobs effectively and efficiently.
3. Organizations continue to struggle with effectively managing customers’ ever-changing expectations for an exceptional, high-quality, personalized experience across all channels. This requires organizations to ensure they can provide consistent and efficient digital and physical access to all communications.
4. The USPS just released its “Delivering for America” 10-year strategic plan. This plan could significantly impact the mailing industry and a push toward digital communications.
5. Organizations that have ignored accessibility regulations and compliance for the blind and partially sighted have done so at their own peril/risk. The continued litigation and enforcement of regulations will require organizations to implement accessibility solutions to address all physical and digital communications.

What do you believe are key strategies or imperatives that communication providers must implement to thrive beyond 2021?
1. Organizations must adapt to “anywhere operations.” Remote work became the new reality due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so many organizations found themselves challenged not only to provide seamless customer support, but also to deploy their products and services irrespective of where their employees and products were located. This new work environment brought into focus the deficiencies within existing processes, systems and platforms. Anywhere operations will be the new imperative, but it can only be successfully executed when existing operations ensure secure remote access, automation, productivity and collaboration.
2. Communications providers must ensure that they can meet the expectations of all their customers. This includes the ability to provide exceptional and personalized support across varied channels and touchpoints. Those businesses that have successfully implemented digital-first transformation initiatives will find themselves in a great position to deliver on their customers’ expectations.
3. Cloud technology has evolved significantly to provide organizations with the flexibility, security, scalability, productivity and cost savings needed to address workflow inefficiencies and many of the imperatives previously mentioned. Organizations that adopt cloud technologies will be in a better position to address anywhere operations, digital-first and process automation initiatives.
4. Organizations must remain focused on complete inclusion for every recipient, customer and member across all standard and developing channels. The ability to provide communications, services and support quickly and cost effectively across all channels and formats is now and will continue to be an imperative for success.

What “big trends” are you seeing in the transactional print market?
The COVID-19 pandemic fast tracked or forced digital transformation upon businesses. Seemingly, everyone has learned that sales and services engagements can be done via video conference calls, signatures can be collected digitally and orders can be placed online. We think these practices will continue, forcing new processes and technology to support and enhance these universal changes. From this viewpoint, we expect print service providers (PSPs) to look for solutions that provide virtual enablement and anywhere operations.

How do you see personalization of customer communications impacting the transactional print market, digital print technology and electronic delivery?
Consumers no longer accept a one-size-fits-all approach to customer communications. They expect companies to personalize their communications and recommend products and services based on their preferences. This includes transactional communications like notices, bills and statements. Customers also want the ability to select their own preferred communication channels: USPS, email, self-service portal and others.

Continuous feed inkjet printers have been a game changer in the transactional print market. They provide the ability to customize high-volume print jobs and deliver them with outstanding color, print and image. Combine that with variable data printing and organizations can have transactional promotional or “transpromo” printing. This provides the capability to print large quantities of transactional documents with fully personalized images and text to encourage people to upgrade or expand their current services.

Making documents accessible for the blind and partially sighted is a major business focus for many organizations. Last year was especially challenging for everyone. How has the pandemic affected the world of accessibility?
2020 was a bad year for people with disabilities in many ways. Masks made it difficult to communicate for those who rely on reading lips, the lockdowns made it difficult to go to the store for many who are blind or partially sighted. In addition, regulations on which way to go down store aisles, inaccessible signage and inaccessible instructions were just a few of the problems.

Grocery store online ordering and delivery became almost the norm and an acceptable alternative to dealing with pandemic restrictions, which required stores that had never offered this service to build a website specifically for this. However, for individuals who are blind or partially sighted, if these websites were not developed with accessibility in mind, there was no possible way they could use them.

Brick-and-mortar stores of every variety discovered there was a need to host e-commerce sites, but many did not realize these sites needed to be accessible and created them without accessibility in mind. In doing so, they cut off access to those who require not only accessible websites, but also accessible documents. This has left retailers exposed to litigation.

There were many accessibility initiatives that were in progress, but were halted because of the pandemic. The pandemic did not free organizations from the responsibility of making information accessible. Section 508, ADA, AODA and other regulations were still in effect. Accessibility-related lawsuits in the U.S. slowed down during the first 2-3 months of the pandemic, but then they picked up steam and have been escalating ever since.

Something else that came into forefront was the presidential election. Many states were sued due to inaccessible mail-in ballots and inaccessibility of actual voting sites. Most ballots were not designed for people who needed them in accessible formats, such as braille and large print. There were many lawsuits that resulted in state governments scrambling, trying to figure out how to solve this problem.

More than ever, during 2020 we saw the need for organizations to do the right thing, stay on track and make information accessible. Becoming compliant and meeting the needs of many by offering alternate formats and accessible websites is not as difficult as the unfamiliar may think.

Prior to 2020, litigation seemed to be a driving force to make information accessible. Is litigation still the driving force or is that changing? If it is changing, then how and why?
The threat of litigation is still a major driver in the marketplace, especially after what we saw happening in 2020 and the effects of the pandemic. Looking forward there are other drivers that are growing in importance. In some circles, people are feeling that 2021 is the year that accessibility will go mainstream.

One of the drivers is the realization that there is a large ROI related to accessibility programs, largely because of the market opportunities. According to “A Hidden Market: The Purchasing Power of Working-Age Adults with Disabilities,” in 2018, the total after-tax disposable income for working-age people with disabilities was approximately $490 billion in the U.S. People who are blind, partially sighted or have cognitive disabilities represent approximately $130 billion in disposable income. Nearly two-thirds of online transactions attempted by people who are blind are abandoned due to inaccessible sites.

Making websites and documents accessible is not only required by law, it is the right thing to do.

These and other trends and strategies to help businesses thrive beyond 2021 will be discussed on May 5, 2021 during the Crawford Technologies’ 2nd Annual Customer Communications Virtual Summit

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