Preparing for Digital-First Communications

Whoosh! Was that the sound of your customers or technology passing you by?

If you’re still printing and mailing the majority of the communications and interactions that you have with your customers, then it likely was. The world is getting more and more connected, the baby boom generation is rapidly embracing the use of technology, and mobile devices now outnumber traditional PCs and laptops. In fact, IDC predicts that by next year, 87 percent of connected device sales will be tablets and smartphones. These undeniable trends should be informing your strategies for customer experience and customer communications today—not tomorrow.

Given the large investments that many firms have made in traditional document composition platforms or what Forrester calls DOCCM (Document Output for Customer Communications Management), it’s only logical that organizations seek to leverage these platforms to bring together a consistent, cross-channel customer experience. After all, print still represents the majority of most statement and correspondence production, so why not leverage the processes in place, along with the technology to produce content for your digital channels? Trouble is, some of these tools just don’t do a very good job in the digital space. Sure they can produce PDF, but online and mobile customers expect more from their experience.

An additional hurdle is that business staff and developers who’ve worked on the digital side are resistant to the often less advanced or less sexy tooling in the traditional document composition space. True, some of the products are getting better, offering more digital capabilities or tighter integration with the web publishing tools from their own portfolios, but the coordination across print and digital channels is still rather rudimentary.

So what’s a customer communications manager to do? You’ve essentially got three options:

  1. Continue to duplicate effort, content, and process across channels and technologies. This approach, which represents the current state for many organizations out there, essentially ignores the issue and maintains the status quo—although it could also be regarded as the “best-of-breed” approach. If you can live with the inefficiencies and deliver an exceptional omni-channel customer experience, then perhaps this will work for you. In my experience, this may have suffice for the past year or two, but in the meantime your competitors have been moving forward, while you’ve essentially been standing still.
  2. Leverage your composition tool vendor and press them to improve their digital capabilities. As I said, they’re getting better. Some vendors of traditional high-volume batch production tools are more tightly integrating those tools with their web content management (WCM) counterparts. Change, however, has been slow in coming. Additional drawbacks to this approach include limited mobile device support with responsive design, and cross-product support only within a vendor’s own portfolio of products. This effectively eliminates going forward with a best-of-breed approach.
  3. Prepare to go digital first. This means switching your thinking to solving the problem from the standpoint that, going forward, the majority of your content and correspondence volume will be delivered digitally, rather than being printed and mailed. It means the digital channels will have a greater impact on your customer experience and satisfaction than the print channel. It also means that digital publishing vendors will have to ramp up to enable their solutions to handle the volumes and complexities that the traditional document composition tool excel at today. Other challenges include the reluctance or the laggardly response from regulators to approve of digital-only or digital-first communications—although they’re starting to catch up.

In the meantime, get prepared. Here are a few considerations on the road to digital-first communications:

  • Look at adjusting your investment mix. If digital is driving customer engagement and experience, then you’ll want to ensure that you’re spending your dollars appropriately as well. Put more emphasis on digital design and experience, investing not only in tools for publishing, but also measuring and assessing the customer experience in real time.
  • Train your staff in those areas where you’ll get the greatest return for the dollar. Responsive design is certainly part art and part science. Invest appropriately, develop internal expertise, and don’t be afraid to supplement your efforts early on with external experts.
  • Get your business teams more directly involved in the creation and control of the content. Define clear boundaries and set quality standards and processes in place, but by all means drive control of content upstream into the business user’s hands.
  • Rethink your publishing processes. Many of the actions in existing processes are still needed, but you’ll need to optimize them as much as possible for digital speeds. Quality and compliance cannot be compromised, but ownership and accountability should prevail over bureaucracy. Ask yourself: Do you really need six to ten sign-offs to change a paragraph in a simple piece of correspondence?

I’m certainly not suggesting you jump to digital-first before you’re ready, but you’d better be thinking about it now, because your competitors already are. Start planning today; the future will be here before you know it.



Rich Medina
Tom Roberts
I’m a Principal Consultant for Doculabs with more than 25 years experience, focused on delivering strategies that improve clients’ enterprise content management capabilities, with an emphasis on customer communications management strategies.