Insurance organizations make very substantial investments to attract new customers and reach new markets, only to risk losing loyalty as a result of poor customer communications that can erode customer experience once they are on board. Month after month, many companies continue to print and mail a host of critical business documents, including letters, statements and disclosures, that don't look very different from those produced 30 years ago. As a result, these companies are missing out on the potential that documents have to function as powerful touchpoints with direct influence on the experience customers have with them and brand loyalty over time.

Insurers have much to gain by giving full attention to a holistic approach to customer experience management that will put their organization in a better position to recognize communication performance gaps and opportunities for improved communications. Establishing what is now called a document center of excellence (DCOE) can play a central role in achieving these goals.

Most critical functions within insurance companies have a center of excellence or a similar notion of central governance; legal, marketing, information technology (IT), research and development and human resources are typical examples. However, despite recognizing the critical importance of customer experience to the success of their business, insurers often overlook the potential for a DCOE to achieve better results with customer communications.

Requirements for a DCOE
A DCOE is an enabling body that allows the organization to develop and efficiently implement specific communications projects with high return on investment (ROI), balancing longer term strategic considerations with the realities of day-to-day document management operations. In other words, the charter of the DCOE is to ensure efficiency and cost savings in document systems while fostering advanced techniques and abilities in customer communications that will result in a superior revenue-generating customer experience. A DCOE brings the right stakeholders, resources and process owners together in a forum that allows for greater control and governance over documents and communications.

As with any center of excellence, a DCOE needs to have executive buy-in and ongoing support. One way to ensure this high-level sponsorship is to establish a DCOE steering committee that includes executive membership from all involved stakeholder departments. This cross-functional membership helps ensure that the DCOE perspective, objectives and activities align closely with the broad demands of daily operations and the critical technologies that make them work.

The DCOE should have cross-functional members so it has the right knowledge, skills, abilities and responsibilities necessary to address the many technical, process and business issues that often arise with producing customer communications. It's best if the members include both in-house resources and third-party providers. A highly skilled, cross-functional DCOE team will promote the kind of innovation that results in competitive advantage through a creative collaboration process grounded in the realities of maintaining efficient and effective day-to-day operations.

Optimizing customer communications
One of the primary benefits of establishing a DCOE is that it fosters a more integrated approach to document creation and customer communications. The integration involves a mindset that marries both design and development. Document design is concerned with the aesthetic appearance of each document, the content it contains and the color and graphic elements that propel the message. Carefully considering these design elements is essential in order to realize the full communication potential of an organization's documents. Development is concerned with bringing those designs to life in the operational world.

Working at the interface between design and delivery, a DCOE can help the organization ensure communications are readable, understandable and inspire the desired response to a call to action.

Additionally, a DCOE will encourage stakeholders and process owners to harmonize the needs of both document design and delivery for an enhanced customer experience.

In many organizations, existing technologies and systems present a fundamental barrier to optimizing customer communications and achieving strategic results. Having a governing DCOE makes it possible to overcome these barriers by leading the difficult task of ushering in changes in processes and systems. As a result, business stakeholders will be empowered with more direct control over managing business user content.

Without a DCOE, making changes to document content or design could take weeks or more to schedule, program test and implement. This lack of agility is an obstacle to improving customer experience, especially when multiplied across large volumes of communications with numerous versions and variations. By virtue of its structure, composition and governance role, the DCOE can work to reduce or remove common document workflow barriers while enabling business stakeholders to take a more proactive role in integrating documents into broader operational marketing programs and campaign strategies.

Achieving continuous improvement
Peter Drucker, the well-known and respected management consultant, once said, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it." One important task of the DCOE is to ensure results are centrally monitored and managed. Process stakeholders and technical resources must be accountable for measuring and tracking results and reporting back to the governing DCOE. For customer communications, key performance indicators may include time to market, customer satisfaction, response rate for calls to action and cost of delivery.

With a mindset aimed to "measure and improve" and acting on behalf of the organization, the DCOE is driven to make decisions based on facts and to design and select communication strategies grounded in real-world measurement data. This continual pursuit will lead to activities that save money, strengthen customer communications and ensure a meaningful return on investment.

Nick Romano is the co-founder and CEO of Prinova Inc. He specializes in business process reengineering for enterprises migrating to new document delivery solutions. Under his direction, Prinova is helping companies achieve savings, flexibility and integrity in the document design and development process. Follow Prinova on Twitter @prinova_inc.

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