Feb. 24 2007 08:34 PM

    Consumers today are as elusive, restive and empowered as never before. They are increasingly costly to locate and acquire. They are inundated by and easily susceptible to appeals from competitors. They can select from an array of new channels to receive marketing messages. And they can deploy new technologies to block the receipt of unwanted messages.


    These key factors, coupled with a shift toward a "connected but more mobile" lifestyle, are providing consumers with more choices than ever before. Collectively, they have tilted the balance of power in business relationships dramatically in favor of consumers.


    They are the key reasons why savvy companies today are increasingly relying on the monthly billing or account statements as the centerpiece in an integrated multi-channel and multi-messaging effort to re-connect with customers and maximize the potential of every customer contact.


    In a world that is fast-paced and fragmented, the monthly billing or account statement provides what every customer-relationship or marketing manager wants: focused and attentive eyeballs. Consumers still view transaction-based statement mail as highly valuable and personal. Virtually all customers open and carefully review their statement-based mail.


    In fact, studies show consumers spend more time and more undistracted time reviewing individual account statements than they do viewing the more traditional modes of advertising, such as TV, radio, direct mail, direct email, text messaging and even personalized customer communications.


    In several markets, such as insurance protection, the monthly account statement is the only tangible evidence that the ongoing business relationship exists and the insurance remains in force. In other markets, such as credit card processing, the statement is the single greatest factor in determining customer satisfaction. And in just about all markets, the account statement serves as the equivalent of a monthly appointment with the customer where the status of the relationship is regularly reviewed and can trigger a costly or lucrative inquiry to a call center.

    Increasingly, consumers indicate they want the relationship with the organizations they choose to do business with i.e. their partners to be efficient, accurate, comprehensive and custom-tailored to their needs.


    Consumers expect that their "partner" organizations will collect, update and verify all transaction-related data. They expect that one division or department will know about the purchases they made through another. They want offers and messages custom-tailored to their interests.


    In effect, consumers want to be treated like an important repeat customer when they make repeat purchases. They expect their business partners to handle the essential record-keeping chores (consumers especially don't want the burden of furnishing the same background data every time a new order is entered). And they want to select from among a choice of contact options.


    As a result, companies are upgrading the appearance of the monthly account statement. They are consolidating data from throughout the enterprise. They are custom-tailoring the statement content. They are offering electronic delivery options and are utilizing those options to initiate additional high-value contact with customers. They are tracking delivery of messages across the USPS mail stream. And they are making the statement and delivery data easily available via a multi-channel customer contact center that can support telephone, email, the web and wireless technologies.


    This strategy provides customers with a regular stream of highly targeted and personalized information, better and more customized service and a choice of digital contact options that respond to the lifestyle needs of the customer while serving to reduce the number of "live" phone calls handled by customer service representatives.


    This comprehensive or strategic approach to high-volume customer messaging is achievable when the task is viewed as four key separate activities that are related and fully integrated for optimum effectiveness. The four components are document composition, customer segmentation, color printing and a full range of electronic options.


    Also viewed as a life cycle approach to customer messaging, this solution integrates pertinent internal resources with external modes of contact to yield a continuing stream of high-impact outbound messages that are highly targeted to individualized needs, flawless in appearance, delivered in a manner of the customer's choosing, structured to facilitate easy payment and bolstered by proactive alerts related to the account and the customer relationship.


    An effective document composition component encompasses a variable design and messaging capability that is intended to yield statements that are both visually appealing and highly personalized. It will include key features such as weight and white space management, logos, signatures and variable lines of text and full paragraphs. It will also enable use of variable images, photographs and graphic devices, such as boxes, lines, shading and even data-driven charts and tables that can be populated online as bar charts and line graphs.


    An effective customer segmentation component provides organizations with an easy and effective way to target marketing messages to virtually any group or customer segment. It allows organizations to quickly develop and launch offers and campaigns via a range of options, including on-statement text and headline messages, graphics and images, such as checks and coupons, as well as the enclosure of special envelopes and pre-printed inserts.


    Such a quick-response and highly targeted messaging capability has virtually unlimited application. It can enable the tailoring of marketing messages according to region and season, income, family status, past or most recent purchases and other factors. It can also aid special promotional situations, such as the need to build rapport among customers following a merger, or foot traffic when new stores or dealerships are opened. And it can even respond to special situations, such as disaster relief. For example, customers residing in an area impacted by a hurricane could receive a supply of easy-to-use checks, an emergency increase in credit limits or a one-time payment forgiveness notice.


    Increasingly, color is essential to attracting attention, and an effective color print component will yield statements and on-statement messages that are visually appealing. High-quality, full-color statements produced at high speeds provide a significant competitive edge. Any color printing component should also feature a selective perforation capability, along with MICR printing, to give each page in the statement an array of 1:1 coupon and check alternatives.


    An effective electronic messaging component enables customers, particularly the more technologically savvy ones, to choose a range of secure digital delivery options to receive their confidential billing and account data. These will include fax, email and the web as well as the capability to receive activity or event-related notices via wireless (SMS) devices or email.


    Aside from fostering good customer relations and lowering the cost of customer care and paper-based delivery, these electronic alerts also serve to reduce the very real risk of fraud. The event-related alerts can include notices about pending or late payments, unusual account activity and even special offers related to recent purchases.


    Dan Oswald, Senior Vice President of Strategy for First Data's Output Services division, has more than 20 years of industry experience. For more info, visit www.firstdataclients.com or phone 888-565-5990.