Customer Preference Management Puts IT in the Spotlight


Ernie Crawford, President and CEO of Crawford Technologies, an enterprise software provider, talks about how IT pros position themselves for success in the age of customer experience. The ability to deliver communications to customers through the channel they prefer when they prefer is the new CX paradigm, but the challenge is to make aging legacy systems cooperate with these modern requirements.

Customer experience (CX) has become critical in most enterprises today, gaining a large share of budget and attention. In an environment where many IT processesOpens a new window are seen as a necessary evil and an impediment to the customer experienceOpens a new window , how can IT pros show an understanding of this current business requirement? One answer is preference management, which is an organization’s ability to cater to customers’ desires regarding how they want each communication from a company delivered to them, through which channel and when. By creating preference management capabilities, IT can become a part of a company’s highly visible CX success. When done well, preference management benefits the customer and the enterprise.

While many customers still want to be able to receive invoices and statements via ink on paper and through the mail, not all agree. For example, let’s look at four typical consumers: Tom likes to get statements in the mail, but wants to receive marketing promotions or other non-data sensitive materials via his smartphone. Mary prefers to get her monthly statements on her desktop computer, but her quarterly and annual statements printed and mailed to her home. On the other hand, Latishia wants to receive all her communications on her smartphone. And Brad needs to get all of his documents sent to him in braille. The challenge is to meet all their needs with a single system.

Customer service staff wants to accommodate this as it is an effective tactic for customer satisfaction. However, the best-laid plans of a customer experience officer, customer service rep or marketing manager often result in complex projects for the IT departmenOpens a new window t, particularly with regards to customer communicationsOpens a new window . Actually executing what looks like a simple process is rarely easy.

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Inside and Outside Pressures

The difficulty is not limited to external or customer demand. Internally, many organizations have customer databases that reside in enterprise-wide legacy systems and in isolated departmental systems, and/or in additional systems inherited through mergers and acquisitions. Pulling customer master files from these various sources into a common platform—one probably designed for print output—already has required some coding acrobatics. Now with the output channels being diversified and segmented and made granular, the documents themselves may need to be reformatted for output through different channels for different devices.

If your organization has a very large IT staffOpens a new window and plenty of time, one solution is to create an output file for each of the customer’s preferences: one file for the printed statements, one for sending email notifications to them and one for SMS marketingOpens a new window messages delivered to their smartphones. The documents will have to be created in varying formats. PDFs may work for ink on paper and for email attachments, or to be retrieved by the customer from a web portal, but they can be unwieldy when delivered to a smartphone. All these output files will then need to be stored and managed. This approach violates the “one source of the truth” rule.

The most efficient and cost-effective solution is to look at customer communications management holistically, keeping in mind that the objective here is to deliver information to a customer in a format that the consumer prefers. Rather than frontloading the communication workflow with multiple customer master output files, consider intercepting documents and content at the point where they can be changed without making any major changes to upstream systems. This also handles the ability for customers to change their minds about their delivery preferences.

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A Better Alternative One recommended method requires creating a portal or website where customers can select their varied document delivery preferences with an accompanying database to store those preferences. You would also need to use the information stored in the database to sort the finished documents into the appropriate output streams. For example, 45% of the workflow stream might continue to be for print output, 20% of the documents may go to PDF for email attachments or to a web portal for customer retrieval, 25% to HTML5 for SMS text messaging, and 10% to accessible HTML for those who are blind or visually impaired.

When viewed on a mobile device, whether a tablet or smartphone, an HTML5 web page recognizes the device, and the content flows to conform to the size of the screen, eliminating the need for the customer to “pinch and spread” the display. Transactional documents, such as bills, invoices, explanations of benefits and statements can be transformed into HTML5 without changing the original document creation process.

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Keeping the Customer Satisfied

Being able to send information to customers when, where and how they want is an important part of providing a smooth and positive customer experience and is an indispensable feature of doing business today. Making it actually work is a task that falls to the IT departmentOpens a new window , but achieving that goal doesn’t have to require restructuring and rewriting of existing systems or the creation and modification of customer master files.

Focusing on the distribution end of the process minimizes the burden customer communication preferences place on the IT organizationOpens a new window because none of the existing legacy systems for customer file and data managementOpens a new window are affected at all, and there’s no need to try to integrate disparate systems. The end result is that customers are happy and the legacy systems continue to operate as usual to do the job they’ve always done.

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