June 17 2016 04:00 AM

Have you had an experience lately when a company made an effort to connect with you personally? Where you had the feeling they actually knew something about their relationship with you and communicated as if you were an individual instead of a generic customer?

It’s OK if you don’t recall something like that; it’s pretty rare. Most of my interactions with companies don’t come anywhere close to a personalized conversation. They don’t seem to remember any of our past transactions, give no indication they appreciate my loyalty, and rarely use information they know about me to craft messages relevant to my business with them.

Improving the Customer Experience

Business publications, management experts, and analyst firms have produced lots of advice by about improving the customer experience. You can tell it’s a hot topic — it even has its own abbreviation (CX). Oddly, the published material rarely even mentions outbound customer communications. Aren’t the documents and messages organizations deliver to their customers part of the experience?

Improving customer service and developing slick new mobile apps and web sites are worthy goals too. I am glad companies are interested in addressing these customer interactions. Monthly bills, email notifications, and direct mail marketing pieces however, are excellent opportunities to improve customer relationships; especially if the current versions are a source of annoyance or pain. Sadly, that part of the CX doesn’t seem to be getting much attention.

Is your company guilty of producing barely useful customer communications (see sidebar)? You may not have the power to correct these situations yourself, but you can probably recognize them. The CXOs seem to be spending their time worrying about other areas of the business. It may be up to the rest of the organization to improve the customer experience by improving customer messaging.

We Have the Technology

Customer communications have to get better. Inadequate technology can’t be blamed for everything anymore. We have the tools to construct personal, relevant and timely content, and we’ve got the data. Now it is up to people like document designers, marketers, and document operations to take advantage of those resources and find ways to start producing customer documents that actually improve customer relationships.

Many improvements are relatively easy to accomplish, and certainly less expensive than retraining the entire customer service department on a new corporate culture. It probably isn’t difficult to turn on selective inserting for return envelopes, dream up some statement messages that thank customers appropriately for their longevity, or test links and QR codes before going into production.

Those may seem like small gestures, but the customer experience includes the entire relationship. Accurate informative documents that recognize prior customer interactions and are composed to address the needs of specific customers affect customer satisfaction and retention.

Projects to analyze outbound communications from the standpoint of improving the customer experience could reveal opportunities for documents and messages to make a positive difference.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, a firm that helps document producers save money, raise productivity, and make their mail more effective. You are invited to visit www.printmailconsultants.com and sign up for his free newsletters.

How many items like these are present in your company’s customer communications?

· Sending email, direct mail, and transpromo sales pitches for products customers already own.

· Failing to fill out forms customers with information the company already has on file.

· Generating multi-page, small print terms and conditions consisting of mostly paragraphs that start with the words “if” and “or” because the document applies to every customer in every jurisdiction in which the company does business.

· Bill statement messages that haven’t changed in years.

· QR codes that lead to company home pages (or nowhere) instead of the content promoted by the accompanying text.

· Commercial emails without unsubscribe links (or links that don’t work).

· Asking customers to provide detailed information “so we can serve you better” and then continuously sending communications that shows the data was ignored.

· Paper bills that include remittance envelopes every month to customers who have clearly been paying online for years.

· Contact information that is difficult to find or has been replaced entirely with self-help resources.