By Richard Huff
Ensuring the success of your customer communications strategy requires constant vigilance and willingness to make improvements. By starting with small, measurable steps and working toward implementing your organization’s overall CCM goals, improved processes can enrich the overall customer experience.
A great way to start is by creating customer journey maps that outline the many ways in which a customer interacts with departments within the organization. This exercise will reveal bottlenecks and disconnects in the process, typically between departments or communication channels, defining areas where improvements can be made.
An area that represents one of the most common challenges in a customer journey is business forms. Forms collect data so the information can be relayed in an organized fashion. However, organizations create forms to cover a number of situations and customers frequently need to skip sections or repeatedly enter the same data to navigate a business process. If multiple forms need to be completed, the process becomes quite time consuming and frustrating for both customers and employees.
Finding a way to automate the forms process can be done in different ways, from screen scraping data, which is collecting data from one application to then repurpose it to another, to full digital forms applications; however, successful automation requires more than just data collection. The goal should be to simplify the entire workflow to avoid situations where customers need to re-start a process due to missing information. Multiple software solutions exist that provide true forms process automation.
A fully automated forms process makes for a better customer experience by auto-filling fields from corporate data sources, skipping fields or entire sections based on the data and answers provided during the process, and intelligently routing the completed form through multiple individuals involved in the workflow. These features accelerate the end-to-end process and take advantage of the investment in existing systems. A simplified process can also reduce customer service call volumes by better addressing customer expectations.
As we look to improve processes and identify areas that need improvement, another opportunity can be found in how we produce our documents. Organizations that have made a significant investment in CCM systems resist migration to new solutions due to the time required to bring a new CCM system online. Many of these solutions are complex document composition systems capable of generating hundreds of thousands of unique invoices, statements and policies. While these systems are capable of handling letters and other smaller documents, they are often not the priority.
Line of business and IT resource limitations force organizations to first target the largest and most complex applications or those that have the most impact on business. Low-volume documents do not seem worth the effort to re-create in a new CCM solution.
There are many well-established CCM toolkits on the market capable of quickly reengineering archaic documents by adding color and marketing messages or by replacing older corporate logos to provide customers with a consistent look and feel. These solutions work in parallel with the primary CCM solution utilizing the same content resources.
In the same vein, smaller process automation solutions can be implemented to address the needs of smaller departments and applications. These solutions can be implemented quickly while still being in line with the organization’s overall CCM strategy. In some cases, these solutions can be installed remotely, further reducing the burden on IT resources. Smaller process automation systems operate independently or feed documents into a centralized production facility. The solutions come with established connectors for common business platforms, such as Salesforce, which enable quick integration. It is important to collect the tracking data from the independent systems and feed that information into a central repository to provide an enterprise-wide view of processes. Detailed tracking and data collection enables the organization to make informed decisions regarding the success of the project.
By leveraging several smaller solutions in parallel with core CCM applications, organizations can roll out automation over time with less investment and less risk. Organizations can also resolve process bottlenecks in a timelier fashion than waiting for core CCM resources to become available.
Of course, all automation efforts should be made with the overall CCM strategy in mind. In putting a focus on smaller solutions that feed into the bigger picture, it is important to measure their value to your business and to your customers. Finding ways to automate processes through small, measurable steps will result in a faster, more efficient workflow overall. Forms automation and process reengineering projects will have a significant impact on the customer experience and enable organizations to see improvements without the heavy lifting associated with a full CCM solution implementation.
By Amber Knight, Program/Project Manager and Analyst
Typically, requirements gathering is conducted at the beginning of a project and can take up a large portion of the project timeline. The documented requirements are used as specifications to build the solution being delivered (deliverables), often in the form of a solution design document or similar. Once the solution has been built, it will be validated/tested. Hence, it is vital that requirements are correct and provide the appropriate level of detail for the best initial build of the solution. Issues found during testing typically require rework and subsequent retesting/validation which can impact both the project timeline and budget.
At a high level, a requirements traceability matrix (RTM) is a list of all project requirements and links them to test cases, which can provide value in numerous ways. Here are some of the benefits of using an RTM:
Running the right tests - Requirement traceability helps your test and quality assurance teams understand what needs to be tested, as well as how it should be tested. An RTM ensures all deliverables are tested by mapping each test case back to its corresponding requirement. Additionally, opportunities to streamline the test/validation process are easily identified with an RTM.
Compliance validation - Compliance regulations can be complex. Using an RTM can simplify the capturing and tracking of regulatory requirements. Using an RTM in this way may also be referred to as a “compliance matrix.”
Acceptance criteria - One of the key aspects of acceptance criteria is having requirements that have satisfied testing/validation.
Scope and change management - An RTM can be used to identify gaps in specifications that were documented during the requirements gathering process. It can also be used in later project phases as part of the impact analysis of changes in scope or requirements.
All project artifacts, including the RTM, should be accessible and easy to understand, regardless of expertise. Using simple and straightforward language reduces confusion. After the team feels the requirements have been thoroughly documented, they should be reviewed by applicable stakeholders as part of the requirements validation process. Requirements should be formally approved.
A project repository with updated version-controlled artifacts is highly recommended. Any concerns regarding sensitive information that is not meant for the entire team can usually be handled easily via user access privileges. Additionally, the repository should be organized in a way that is conducive to locating documentation. This can go a long way in reducing the frustration of all parties.
Requirements are critical to the success of any project as they set the stage for what is delivered and accepted. Assumptions can lead to a project's failure by causing it to go off course and requiring many iterations of rework. By using tools such as an RTM, project teams that have a clear understanding of the requirements are more likely to succeed in delivering successful projects. This is a win-win for everyone—especially the customer.
As an analyst and consulting firm, Madison Advisors takes immense pride in offering enterprise clients context-specific guidance that leads to success in customer communications management (CCM). While it’s true that the quality of our research reflects our team’s combined experience in the industries we serve, we’re also committed to staying current on market predictions and trends to offer up-to-date and insightful analyses and take advantage of every opportunity to expand our expertise by learning and networking alongside industry leaders.
Most recently, members of our team attended and spoke at Xplor International’s 2023 CCM Summit, an event held from November 14-16 that featured various panels, exhibits and discussions related to CCM. It will likely come as no surprise that the two and a half days of the Summit included plenty of buzz around the topic of AI, with a number of educational presentations taking a close look at how these technologies can be applied within CCM. In addition to exploring recent advancements in AI, such as the generative capabilities popularized by ChatGPT, these presentations explored how AI platforms offer solutions to common CCM challenges, from organizing customer data to tailoring content for a particular reading comprehension level.
The intersection of AI and CCM is one that’s especially interesting to us, given the growing market of solutions that leverage AI technologies to enhance, personalize and streamline all processes related to customer communications. With generative AI, new drafts don’t begin with a blank document and a blinking cursor; instead, they can draw from an organization’s full archive of previous communications and offer greater agility when it comes to tailoring each message to an individual customer profile. Generative AI capabilities are now being built into the vast majority of current CCM systems and processes, which means that an organization’s choice to opt into these technologies is less a matter of “if” than “when.”
Madison Advisors’ forthcoming market study explores this current landscape of AI-augmented software tools and their ability to improve processes, reduce costs and perform functions that were previously outside the scope of CCM. While still in progress, this study currently includes evaluations of 14 solutions from 8 different vendors. Each solution is assessed for its capabilities in the areas of customer data processing, content migration, onboarding and process workflows. Additional data points include the ability of the platform to adjust communications for various reading levels, offer conversational responses and reflect an appropriate sentiment—all of which are essential components of outstanding AI-augmented customer service.
Staying abreast of current trends and technologies is fundamental to our work at Madison Advisors. This current landscape of AI-augmented software tools is exciting and one that we will be following in the new year.
Click here for more about our market research and the industries we serve.
By Amber Knight
In the past, I was a senior project manager for a large international customer communications management (CCM) service provider. Over the years, I supported several areas within the organization including sales, implementation and production. I was fortunate to be one of the employees selected to participate in our Six Sigma program. As part of our training, we were given examples of operational issues and were asked to apply what we had learned and utilize the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) tools to propose a solution. At the beginning of our training, I was eager to solve the issue and often wanted to skip right to the Improve phase because I felt confident that I would solve the problem with the information provided. As our training progressed, my hypotheses occasionally proved correct, but there were many times when the information provided by the detailed analysis drove a different solution than what I had anticipated. I quickly learned that without measuring and analyzing, my solution was based on limited information. I still possess a strong desire to solve problems, but I've learned that the solution path requires careful consideration of the details.
Several years later, my Six Sigma Master Black Belt coach was asked to create a small continuous improvement task force, which initiated our company’s Continuous Improvement Delivery Team (CIDT). CIDT team members would retain their existing jobs while spending about 20% of their time supporting a continuous improvement project. Over the next few years, I would travel to different sites in order to identify the root cause of an issue, propose a solution, and ultimately manage implementing it. I recall someone asking me why I would want to do all the added CIDT work. My answer back then was the same as today: I love making things better! Process improvement is my passion.
The skills and knowledge of continuous improvement can be applied to a variety of project activities, such as looking for process improvements when gathering requirements. I have found that one of the best tools for this is a process flow diagram, which is a visual representation of the steps involved in a process, providing a way to identify areas where improvement is needed. A process flow diagram can be used to represent any process within an organization. Here are a few situations where they can prove useful:
A process flow diagram is a multi-tool in your project management toolbelt.
Looking to accelerate your implementation timelines? Do you have over-stretched resources?
Madison Advisors is here to help — from advisory services through managing a revamp of your onboarding process or project management office. Madison Advisors can fully examine your CCM strategy with a focus on supporting a positive customer experience and engagement.
By Richard Huff
Organizations collect and store personal customer data for a wide range of purposes, including marketing, fraud prevention, and identity verification. As a result of the public’s concern over how their personal data is used and shared, regulations have propagated at state and federal levels to establish consumers’ data privacy rights. Organizations must now balance their needs for customer data against the customer’s right to privacy.
Data privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States, are projected to cover 65% of the global population by the end of 2023, which is sharply risen from roughly 10% in 2021. These regulations include penalties for organizations that do not abide, based on the location of the customer and not the organization.
This presents a challenge as customers’ personal data is vital to an organization’s marketing efforts. Digital advertising relies on personal data to serve up offers and promotions tailored to a customer’s interests. Organizations leverage cookies, preferences, and first-party data to deliver highly personalized marketing. Google, the largest digital advertising platform, has announced changes to how its products will manage and deliver digital ads. Google will phase out support for internet cookies, driving organizations to rely on first-party data collected directly from its customers to support personalized marketing.
Consent and preference management (CPM) technology encompasses two aspects of data privacy. Consent management refers to the collection and management of customers’ explicit permission to collect, use, and share their personal data for specific purposes. Preference management involves allowing individuals to define and manage their preferences related to how they interact with an organization. These preferences can include communication channels, frequency of communication, content types, and more. Preference management is used to enhance the customer experience and personalization while respecting individual choices and consent.
A number of vendors offer cloud-based CPM solutions to organizations. These solutions use packaged and customizable application programming interfaces (APIs) to collect data from an organization’s back-office systems, including accounting, sales management, and customer relationship management systems. The collected data is assembled to create detailed customer profiles to be used for marketing purposes, which are also used for responding to data inquiries, requests to delete personal data, and requests not to share or sell personal data.
Building trust with customers is crucial to the success of any organization. By maintaining a consistent message across all channels, the organization fosters customer loyalty and repeat business. For organizations, CPM solutions ensure that the organization has each customer’s explicit consent to use personal data and send physical or digital communications. For customers, the solutions’ interfaces provide an easy mechanism for changes to preferences and authorization.
Building trust with customers is an ongoing process that requires consistency and a commitment to customer satisfaction. Trust takes time to build, but can be lost quickly if not carefully maintained. As such, consent and preference management acts as one part of an overall CCM strategy designed to build long-term relationships with customers through effective and personalized communications.
For more details about balancing personalization and privacy in customer communications and the current landscape of cloud-based CPM solutions, Madison Advisors’ complimentary research brief, “Consent and Preference Management,” can be downloaded here.
By Amber Knight, Senior Project Manager and Analyst
The customer communications management (CCM) onboarding process is the first opportunity for your organization to connect with a new customer and is a key building block in the foundation of the relationship. An effective onboarding process not only gives your customer a clear path forward, but also supports the lasting first impression of a long-term relationship.
My experience in the field has uncovered 3 key considerations that support both a smooth onboarding process and customer satisfaction:
1. A clear map for the journey - Be a tour guide
2. Streamlined framework - Be prepared to modify as needed
3. Communication - The extra effort goes a long way
1. A clear map for the journey
Be a tour guide
The first step to successful onboarding is to clearly define the journey. Much like a tour guide, the project manager should provide an overview of the process and highlight key milestones to be expected along the project’s journey. Throughout the project, the map should be reviewed to communicate items such as current status and next steps. This should be presented in a simple and easy-to-follow visual representation of your organization’s standard process, so that customers are not overwhelmed or confused by what you have presented to them. Showing them a process map in the form of a flow chart can be a highly effective communication tool.
2. Streamlined onboarding framework
Be prepared to modify as needed
When it comes to onboarding a new customer, it is equally important that the framework is flexible and allows the team to pivot based on the circumstances that are unique to the project.
Keep it simple. Try to make processes as straightforward as possible, so that everyone can easily understand and follow. Keeping it simple supports more efficient and effective teams.
Expect the unexpected. It’s important to be prepared for the changes that will inevitably come up, so be prepared to adjust when and where needed. Your initial plan may be as accurate as possible, but it will almost certainly need some tweaks after you’ve worked with your new customer for a while.
Communication is key. Establish clear lines of communication and keep all business partners in the loop. This will ensure that everyone has all the information they need to make decisions with confidence, while avoiding confusion and misunderstandings.
The extra effort goes a long way
Empathy cannot be understated. It is important to remember that every customer has different requirements, expectations and experience. Being empathetic to their situation by understanding where they are coming from and adjusting your approach accordingly is a powerful relationship-builder.
Consider the impacts of the transition. Having experience with, or at least exposure to, organizational change management (OCM) can be a big advantage. Often CCM transitions impact several business units that are not part of the core project team. Identifying project champions to help promote a positive reception to future changes can be an effective way of proactively communicating changes to come. The idea is to think beyond the customer in front of you. Consider the upstream and downstream processes impacted. Ensure that communication plans include the customer’s internal and external stakeholders.
Ensure everyone is on the same page. Active listening and proactive communication can prevent confusion and support a clear understanding of what is being delivered…then it needs to be documented. Using a requirements traceability matrix (RTM) is a great tool that supports these efforts.
A successful transition and migration project requires these two key things: Understanding your client’s needs and adapting to their needs with empathy, patience and creative thinking.
Looking to accelerate your implementation timelines? Do you have over-stretched resources?
Madison Advisors is here to help — from advisory services through managing a re-vamp of your onboarding process or project management office (PMO). Madison Advisors assists organizations in fully examining their CCM strategy with a focus on how CCM supports a positive customer experience and engagement.
By Richard Huff
With the growth in digital customer interactions, organizations have seen an exponential growth in customer data volume, especially during the pandemic as more customers adopted multiple digital channels for purchasing goods and services. Among the varied data are customer-chosen preferences and consent to contact, which is often distributed across numerous back-office applications with no defined path for utilizing those preferences in a collaborative way across the organization.
The proper management of customer data is critical to providing a good customer experience and meeting various state and regional regulations for data privacy. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the European Union’s regulation for data protection and privacy. Although the U.S. lacks a national regulation, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) was enacted in 2018 and is a model for other states. A key aspect of both these examples is that the regulations designate the rights of any person living in its jurisdiction and must be followed by enterprises with customers in that jurisdiction. As a result, enterprises with a global customer base must meet overlapping global regulations for customer data privacy, which requires documentation of how the enterprise collects and manages customer data.
Enterprises presenting clear and unambiguous forms to collect customer consent and detailed customer communications preferences earn their customers’ trust. The more transparent an enterprise is in its data collection process, the more comfortable customers are sharing data. Proper management of customer preferences across all forms of communication allows organizations to present products and services that would be of interest to a customer while hiding those that the customer already has or in which the customer has no interest. For example, a customer with property and life insurance policies with the same company would view life insurance mailers included with the property insurance arm of the organization as irrelevant and wasteful—and possibly annoying.
Madison Advisors has seen strong interest from its enterprise clients in best practices and solutions for customer data management. A survey of these enterprises found that most lacked a centralized customer data repository—a single system responsible for maintaining all customer preferences and consents. While many rely on a customer relationship management (CRM) solution, these fail to account for website and mobile application preferences.
Solutions for consent and preference management (CPM) have been available for many years, but adoption in the U.S. has been slow. Primarily software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, the offerings include pre-built application programming interfaces (APIs) with which to extract customer data from common back-office systems, such as CRM systems. The solutions also enable enterprises to build custom APIs to connect to older or less common applications still in use. The CPM solutions record all changes by customers to their consents and preferences regardless of the application or channel used by the customer.
With the passage of new regulations across more geographies and increased use of digital channels for customer communications, the issue of CPM will become more complex. Madison Advisors considers CPM to be an integral component for improved customer experience and expects enterprises that don’t add CPM to an overall CCM/CX strategy to face greater business and legal challenges. Later this fall, Madison Advisors will publish in-depth research on the CPM market and available solutions.
By Richard Huff
Artificial intelligence (AI) makes for big headlines. Applications such as ChatGPT offer the ability to “write” term papers and also stand as one of the drivers behind the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike. AI impacts all aspects of modern life. In the context of customer communications, AI provides a number of benefits and its integration into applications can deliver remarkable results.
For an enterprise seeking automated document processing, AI uses advanced versions of optical character recognition (OCR) to classify a document by reading metadata and eliminating the need for manual verification and sorting. In addition, an AI-powered document scanning solution accurately extracts the contents and automatically converts the documents, which then enables users to access the document on any platform. The joint power of OCR and AI speeds up the document management process and reduces human interaction and error.
Once the document has been captured and categorized, AI-driven systems streamline and automate business workflows by routing documents to the necessary departments or individuals. The elimination of paper-based workflows enables enterprises to support work-from-home and distributed workplace environments. Industries with the highest percentage of paper-based workflows, including healthcare and insurance, faced the most difficult challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, when employees were unable to come into the office.
For enterprises with volumes of legacy documents, new AI-driven software analyzes existing documents with unsupervised algorithms that enable the software to create new content using existing content. Alternatively, the software can devolve the legacy documents into content elements and organize the content for re-use. For example, a collection of claims approval letters, which share a significant amount of the same legal language, can be converted from a dozen or more unique document templates into a single template with a small set of selectable text.
AI-driven software tools also transform content. The tools proofread the text to ensure it is grammatically correct and also simplify the text by tuning it for a given reading level, streamlining the formatting and suggesting alternatives. These tools enable enterprises to quickly refresh decades-old content without laborious manual editing processes.
For digital-first customer communications, such as blogs and chatbots, AI tools analyze content and customer data across business lines and generate communications for the topics in which most customers would be interested. AI tools also cleanse customer data by merging data and preferences from multiple sources to deliver a single view of the customer. The result is more effective customer interactions and improved click-through rates.
With new and emerging AI-powered software, enterprises will be able to create an improved customer experience while, at the same time, reducing the manual labor involved in CCM. By investing in AI-powered CCM tools now, enterprises can both reduce costs and grow market share through an improved customer experience.
By Richard Huff
Document accessibility was a hot topic of conversation at Madison Advisors’ 2023 CCM/CX Executive Roundtable in March. At the Roundtable, digital document access was identified as a top priority for improved customer experiences. Accessibility refers to features that enable recipients with disabilities to read a document. For digital documents, accessibility can range from large print to full tagging of all text, tables and objects.
As enterprises deliver more communications through digital channels, they must remain in compliance with federal requirements and provide a positive customer experience by ensuring that digital documents are accessible. Enterprises are at risk of losing customers with poorly designed customer communications that result in a poor customer experience. While customer acquisition costs vary by industry, they can range in the hundreds of dollars.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 61 million U.S. adults—one in five—live with a disability. Roughly 4.9% of the U.S. population is blind or as has low vision, meaning they experience serious difficulty with eyesight even while wearing glasses. People with vision-related disabilities often use screen readers, alternate text and other accessibility features to consume digital documents. Enterprises are increasingly expected to meet these varied ways of receiving information to provide their customers with full access to both personalized and non-personalized information.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III requires many enterprises to provide full and equal access to people with disabilities. This portion of the legislation covers websites, internet portals and digital documents, all of which impact the relationship between enterprises and their customers.
Due to the sensitive nature of customer communications and the importance of making them accessible to the customer, a significant number of lawsuits have been filed to ensure compliance with the regulations. The number of Title lll ADA lawsuits has climbed nearly every year since 2013, with at least 11,452 federal filings documented in 2021 alone. Overall, accessibility lawsuits have seen a 320% increase over the past eight years.
The standards for an accessible document are complex and best handled by experts. A variety of factors need to be considered when creating accessible documents including, but not limited to, text alternatives for graphics, robust color contrast and support for keyboard navigation. A number of software companies and service providers offer accessibility solutions and work with enterprises to develop templates for the organization’s document types and a cloud-based solution to create and return accessible PDF documents, conforming to industry standards. The PDF format ensures accessibility for individuals using assistive technology to access digital content.
In an increasingly digital world, customers expect personalized, relevant communications delivered via their preferred channels and devices. The demand for well-designed communications has a direct impact on loyalty with over 50% of customers indicating they would abandon a brand after only one or two negative interactions. Enterprises must find ways to meet this demand, while also providing accessible communications to the millions of adults in the U.S. with disabilities.
By Kemal Carr
We held our 10th CCM/CX Executive Roundtable this March 6-9 in Fort Lauderdale. It is always an exciting time for me to connect again with those who have attended in the past and those who are new to the Roundtable experience. Participants at the Roundtable come from a variety of industries (and a variety of departments within those companies) involved in various stages of customer communications management (CCM). The Roundtable is designed to give them (and us) the opportunity to share and learn from each other. We all learn, too, what is new or on the horizon when it comes to CCM and the transactional document industry from our sponsor partners that give such informative presentations.
There is always an immediate benefit from time spent in thought provoking peer-to-peer discussions about how others are successfully establishing their CCM journeys. There is also huge value in what you can gain from candid information about how companies are working to effectively engage customers throughout the entire communications lifecycle.
There were recurring topics on what we have discussed at other Roundtable events, such as how businesses in these different sectors are implementing their CCM strategies. But there were some new and interesting topics of discussions as well—all relevant to what every company is experiencing today. For example, with the plethora of channels available to reach customers today, how do you address customers’ consent and preferences while ensuring the protection of their personal data based on their rights that the law requires when it comes to their data? There was a lot of talk around that. Laws, too, are now in place when it comes to document accessibility, requiring that documents are accessible to individuals who are blind, partially sighted or cognitively impaired. Complying with document accessibility guidelines can be challenging without the right strategy, so, as you can imagine, every participant in the room was interested in exploring solutions to this challenge.
We learned that digital transformation is still an ongoing journey for most companies. Establishing a digital mindset was mandated during the pandemic, causing many businesses to scramble to keep connected with customers. Everyone was interested in hearing how companies are handling the digital landscape, what technology investments are being made in this area and how customers are being helped to navigate these changes.
Of course, all these discussion topics come down to a focus on one thing: the customer experience (CX). Today, CX drives most everything companies do, so how to expand on CCM to create the CX needed to ensure the optimum health and success of a business is of interest to us all.
This is why this Roundtable is simply not like “your grandfathers conference.” It is an amazingly open forum that makes peer-to-peer sharing safe and extremely valuable. It is an opportunity like no other to collaborate with peers, share insights and take part in invigorating discussions that lead to new ways to unlock the power of CX within your company.
We want to give a big thanks to our sponsors:
Broadridge, Canon, Crawford Technologies, CSG, FIS, Fiserv, Messagepoint, NEPS, PossibleNOW, Precisely, Solimar Systems
Your support and your awesome presentations on what you are doing to advance the CX helped to make this the best Roundtable ever! For the participants that joined us this year, thank you! Your willingness to share your journey openly in all these discussions makes the Roundtable what it is: an event like no other. And if you are reading this and didn’t make it, be sure to join us next year. You will be glad you did!
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