Customer experience will only improve when customers are viewed as individuals, not account numbers says Giovanni Pellegrini
In the business environment waste and inefficiency are quite rightly abhorred. Conversely, efforts are poured into increasing productivity and efficiency. Recent attempts in the field are ever more focused on achieving this objective via improved customer satisfaction and strengthened customer loyalty.
In the highly fragmented media environment, however, consumers are empowered to switch allegiance with the ease of a mouse click. Suppliers are becoming ever more aware that any action that is perceived as a slight by the consumer, such as the still widespread phenomenon of misaddressed mail, will be met with defection.
Recent research by Pitney Bowes Group 1 Software indicates that increasingly fierce competition has not been met by the implementation of successful retention strategies.
"The Dynamics of Defection" report found in fact that customer churn is on the rise throughout Europe having reached almost 19 per cent across key consumer industries in 2007. The mobile telecoms industry was found to be particularly affected by defections with just over one in five consumers (21 per cent) switching mobile telecoms provider in continental Europe in 2007. Consequently European mobile telecoms providers are urgently shifting their focus from acquisition to customer retention.
In order to increase loyalty and improve retention, the telecoms industry needs to depart from an impersonal 'account' approach to campaign management - where elements of the communication cycle are handled remotely and/or disparately - and opt to create a two-way, business-to-individual-back-to-business closed loop-process.
Organisations have invested large amounts into implementing complex Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, but general opinion holds that they have failed to take off due to a lack of change in corporate mentality: customer experience cannot improve if customers are still viewed as account numbers and not individuals.
Sets of activities that lie at the heart of CRM and come under the heading "customer communications" have in the past been largely overlooked. These activities include everything from data management to address data quality; from personalised document generation to electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP) and document management and even call centre operations.
To ensure these customer communications fulfil their purpose and truly engage the customer, it is necessary to integrate them with the appropriate business processes they connect with, however disparate they may appear. The analysis drawn from these integrated information streams equips businesses to reach out to their customers intelligently. This integration of key business processes and their related information streams into CRM defines and drives Customer Communications Management (CCM).
While CRM is fundamentally customer facing and outwardly focused, CCM, by capturing the external customer information and linking it to internal business processes such as those drawn from the marketing, sales and other departments, can create a comprehensive Single Customer View (SCV).
There are seven equally viable points of entry to a comprehensive enterprise CCM solution. This solution should at all times be fully scalable and entirely compatible with line of business legacy systems.
Data access and integration
The first step to more effective customer communications is gaining an all-round view of the customer as an individual. To this end the CCM data access and integration tools give instant, seamless access to customer information wherever in the business it is stored.
Companies can then consolidate and integrate this data across the systems in which it resides to finally obtain an SCV. These tools also give marketers the ability to generate business intelligence reports, marketing campaign analyses, customer segmentations and audits. Most importantly, however, managers are empowered to make more timely and informed business decisions.
Data manipulation tools perform address cleansing and mail coding tasks to avoid duplication and reduce print and mail costs, ensure prompt delivery and increase response rates.
More sophisticated data manipulation tools are able to target offers based on specific business geographies and create customer profiles defined by household demographics. As a result, companies can accurately predict response rates for a range of offers and identify up-sell and cross-sell opportunities on the fly.
Document creation tools provide a single, easy-to-use approach to creating one-to-one multi-channel communications for both high volume and interactive lettering. These tools are designed to efficiently create different documents: contracts, complex billing, insurance policies, bank account statements, and even packages containing multiple documents like travel booklets.
Document creation tools can also help speed the document development process: once created, a design can be re-used across applications and multiple delivery channels for business rules, templates, text and other content, and distributed via the web, SMS, fax e-mail and print.
Production / Distribution
Production/distribution tools streamline both high-volume and on-demand production off all forms of customer communication. In addition to this, they allow users to distribute and proof documents over the web prior to giving final authorisation.
The data vault places all customer data into a single, secure yet accessible electronic environment. The vault will need to be able to integrate both print and digital files at a much lower cost than the expensive PDF- and HTML-based solutions. The modular architecture of a CCM data vault should be able to rapidly deploy call centre, customer self-service, and EBPP applications.
Customer & call centre support
With the availability of a centralised CCM data vault call centres can drastically reduce call handling and conflict resolution times by instantly retrieving exact replicas of all customer documents.
Customer support can also be extended to provide 24/7 web customer self service for the individual's customer account, enabling them to autonomously retrieve information and make online payments.
Replenishment tools create closed transaction loops by providing automated updates and connecting all communications back to the related business processes. For instance, they can link to accounts receivable for round-trip processing, mine data from dynamic documents and continuously refine business intelligence. With replenishment tools it is possible to reduce remittance processing errors and costs and generate accurate time-sensitive financial reporting.
Giovanni Pellegrini is Sales Director Southern Europe, Pitney Bowes Group 1 Software