Traditional print communicators are at a crossroads. They must reach new and existing customers through such ever increasing contact points such as e-mail, kiosks and more. At the same time, they must also provide more individualized information. Effective management of interaction with customers and prospects is becoming a critical component of successful business strategies.


"With the introduction of the Web and the need to acquire and retain online customers, the typical organization's ability to communicate with customers in personalized ways over multiple channels has become an absolute requirement," declares Bill Chambers, group director of research and Services at Doculabs, a market research and advisory firm.


eGeneration Sets the Pace

The eGeneration, today's fastest growing consumer market, wants information on demand and in real time. Greater convenience is driving them to alternative channels such as online self-service and e-fulfillment. Companies can't ignore this fast-growing population's demand for timely, personalized information online. 


But research shows that paper-based communications, as well as personal interaction, remain critical to consumers. According to one survey, use of the Internet for monthly business-to-consumer (B2C) communications will not equal mail until 2020. 


For some industries financial services, insurance and retail multi-channel communication demands are coming very quickly. Customer communication used to occur once a month, when statements were sent; now, the rate of interaction has accelerated. Many customers log-on or expect a daily e-mail. And when they go online for a transaction, they expect an updated statement seconds later. Response rate becomes more urgent. Communications through all contact points must be relevant based on the last customer contact wherever it occurred. Customers are also intolerant of information they don't actually need.


Consider All Customer Touch Points

In addition to statements, the Web and other routine business correspondence, customer contact points include branch offices, kiosks such as ATMs, customer service call centers, outside sales representatives, e-mail, faxes and direct mail.


Self-service operations from checking bank balances at ATMs to paying for gas at the pump to requesting auto insurance online allow companies to deliver services more efficiently and cost effectively.


What happens if a customer completes a transaction via the Internet, yet your next mailed statement doesn't reflect any change? Channels must be synchronized and responses need to be automatic, through both print and electronic channels.


Crafting Your Multi-Channel Strategy

Managers should ask specific questions to identify a multi-channel model that delivers consistent and relevant messages to customers across all touch points. The information systems or operations team must determine what platforms and applications are involved and which channels must collaborate. 


When determining what multi-channel strategy is right for your operations, consider how you will handle:

  • Developing efficient documents for ease of use, quick time to market and multi-media delivery

  • Integrating multiple format standards for electronic documents such as PDF and XML

  • Maintaining the processing speed required for personalized messaging and complex applications

  • Managing consistent document appearance across different media

  • Integration of a central set of messages used to personalize customer communications

  • Delivering color output across multiple media

  • Integrating and re-purposing as well as adding content to legacy documents


    Embracing Marketing's Role

    Greater marketing opportunities are some of the best reasons to implement a multi-channel strategy. The ability to cross sell and build stronger relationships across both print and electronic channels is critical to remaining competitive.


    Today, time to market is measured in hours, so it is critical to bring marketing into the development process early. Marketing has historically been locked out of complex composition technology. As a result, companies miss opportunities to connect with customers through traditional business communications like statements and general business correspondence.


    Tracking Is a Critical Component of the Solution

    Effectively managing message delivery requires tracking all messages delivered to all customers through all channels. This requires a centralized database to store information about all touch point interactions so communications can be consistent and relevant.


    How will you manage tracking across multiple channels? Monitoring and evaluating marketing campaigns is never easy, and is even more challenging when you multiply the media. Digital content, automation and intelligent archiving have made it easier to track, report and analyze the results of a multi-channel delivery infrastructure. Marketing can establish important tracking mechanisms early on to help campaigns achieve maximum revenue.


    Tapping the Channels across Your Enterprise

    Organizations want to automate and control one-to-one communications across the enterprise. Companies considering multi-channel strategies should avoid dividing applications across media or creating islands of messaging. An enterprise-wide delivery strategy must have a total view of all customer touch points.


    Consistent messaging over multiple channels can reduce confusion and inquiries to call centers. Given an average of $8 to handle each call, this is a significant opportunity to reduce costs. Tie your call centers into the same campaigns and messages customers receive. This accelerates call handling and assures that the most appropriate and productive conversations take place.


    Multi-channel delivery can encompass not only externally destined documents, but internal applications as well.

    All documents and content within an enterprise are fair game for consideration.


    As companies stand at the crossroads of information delivery, everyone's choices are expanding rapidly. A good multi-channel delivery strategy helps control and empower communications, but is flexible enough to leverage new opportunities for strengthening customer relationships.


    Davis Marksbury is president and CEO of Exstream Software. He can be reached at or at 859-296-0600.

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