By Julie Hesselgrove
A recent Forrester report commissioned by Xerox titled ‘Organisations seek the Human Touch in Communications Through Greater Process Control,’ provides insight into improving customer communications through a series of interviews with 20 large companies from Europe, Canada and the United States. As part of the study, corporate marketers were asked to discuss what best practices and methods they use to improve the customer communication process, visibility and profitability.
Three areas were highlighted as being critical to improving communications: changing practices, implementing better programmes and engaging with emerging technologies.
Changing Communication Practices
Centralisation is an important step to improving customer communication. 75 per cent of the companies interviewed said they plan to change their communications functions through implementing a more centralised process.
For large enterprises especially, political, cultural and change management challenges need to be addressed before a shared corporate services model can be implemented. By way of an example, a multinational telecommunications company had a vision of acting as one purchasing and delivery business for marketing. In reality, it had no way to force regional businesses to use particular marketing suppliers, processes or technologies, other than to demonstrate by example.
Over three years each new signing has delivered additional savings and improvements in marketing turnaround times, quality and consistency. Now, nine countries voluntarily partner with the preferred supplier and the company is increasingly achieving cross-enterprise control and visibility of marketing— without losing the ability for regional teams to serve their markets in different ways.
Implementing Effective Communication Programmes
Identifying the problem can be fairly straightforward, but implementing change to solve it often proves far more challenging. Forrester’s research highlighted three approaches that companies find effective in delivering more effective communication programmes:
• Outsource paper-based processes
Through outsourcing, companies have been able to make short term gains by reducing costs, replacing platforms and helping a business unit solve problems. One UK-based retail food chain interviewed finds this approach hugely beneficial. It hired a customer communications management provider to outsource its end-to-end print and fulfillment process covering point-of-sale print, labels publications and other materials for back-office use. The print experts and buyers analysed the processes, and suggested improvements allowing the company to deliver the greatest impact at the lowest cost.
• Centralise communications as a shared service
Companies interviewed think that providing a “corporate solution” with one consistent message that is shared across business units helps their customers view them as a single coordinated entity as opposed to solitary departments or business units.
• Better data on customer communications
50 per cent of the companies interviewed say they plan to aggregate client data into one system which will allow them to cut down on the number of vendors and solutions required. This approach also reduces the likeliness of duplications, helps control cost and increases overall effectiveness.
Engaging Emerging Technology
Over the past 20 years, many companies have seen the emergence of technology and the drive for cost savings as a reason to adapt self-service and automated processes. However, many didn’t anticipate the effect lack of personal contact would have on customer communications. Today, companies that provide the right level of human connection distinguish themselves from competitors.
For example, an insurance and investment company recently decided to do something about poorly designed and impersonal customer communications. The company had a mutual fund statement that was so confusing it was actually causing customers to withdraw their funds. After this was overhauled and the design personalised, customer queries and fund withdrawals immediately fell.
Technology platforms (twitter, blogs, social networks etc.) also play an increasingly important role in communications by allowing employees to connect with customers on a far more personal level. One company interviewed routinely monitors Twitter to listen to and engage with customers. Although employees in general regularly use text and instant messaging and social networks in their personal life very few use them to respond to customers. Most companies lack the infrastructure to enable employees to deliver more personalized communications for example sending a bespoke text message to a smartphone.
Overall, companies are fully aware that they need to update their communications strategies however, most still lack the knowledge or technology expertise to do so and run the risk of alienating customers. Outsourcing their communications to a vendor could save considerable costs, maximise customer engagement and avoid them having to implement new systems and retrain staff. As customer communications continues to evolve at such as rapid rate, companies need to be quick thinking and ensure they have the right strategy and platforms in place to maximise customer loyalty and stay ahead of the game.
About the author
Julie Hesselgrove is Group President Communication & Marketing Services at Xerox.