Image by: Stasiek Pytel, ©2016 Getty Images

From personalization to multichannel, to what is today omnichannel, we have been talking for many years about the best way to communicate with customers. With all that has been studied, written and discussed on the subject, it would seem that by now communicating with your customer base should be a lot easier than it is, but it isn’t.

Large enterprises still have portfolios of thousands of different types of touchpoints they send to customers. Within those touchpoints, there is a wide variety of content to serve marketing, regulatory, financial and a host of other purposes. Added together, these discrete pieces of content number in the millions, which, when multiplied by the number of touchpoints, result in an enterprise actually creating and sending billions of messages to customers every year.

The scope and the complexity of this process are enormous—and the pain points continue to get in the way:
  • Even simple changes, such as replacing a signature or fixing a typo, become a project for information technology (IT), can take four to six weeks, at a minimum, to complete and can cost thousands of dollars or more.
  • Keeping current changes in sync with later releases is a major challenge.
  • Dozens of cumbersome spreadsheets are used to manage content and rules.
Unfortunately, those closest to the customer get the short end of the stick because of these hurdles. They don't have the right tools at their disposal to manage content changes, which are instead the domain of IT, because they require programming. Making a change requires a request from the business user, followed by processing the request, scheduling the work required and painful delays while programmers make changes and test them. Once the proof is ready for review, it often isn't quite right and the business user has to go through the process all over again. As a result, making changes to content takes too long, costs too much and significantly inhibits return on investment (ROI) for the organization and time to market.

What is the message here? It is simple: Communicating with your customers shouldn't be so hard.

So, how can an enterprise overcome these obstacles? The answer is to put control of the entire customer communication life cycle in the hands of the business stakeholders so that they can create and manage their own content, independent of IT. That way, needed content changes can be accomplished in hours, instead of weeks, and at greatly reduced costs.

Accomplishing this transformation requires addressing the following key components to a business user-driven workflow.
  • Business rules: Most of the content in an enterprise will have business rules associated with it, so there needs to be a mechanism for the business user to manage those business rules with an easy-to-use, natural language targeting capability.
  • Duplication: Organizations typically have massive amounts of redundancy when it comes to how content is stored. For that reason, it is also important to have a centralized content library so that all types of content can be shared. With centralized content storage, updating elements, such as a signature or a logo, become an easy task that can be performed once and distributed to every relevant piece of content.
  • Touchpoint variations: Another key requirement is having a means to manage touchpoint variations. Sometimes, communications require several versions with different messages and rules. Having the ability to manage global content at a master template level and to customize variants that blend master version content with custom content will streamline the creation and management of these variant communications.
  • Content proofing and testing: To truly empower business users to manage their content, self-service proofing and testing capabilities are also needed. That way, they can see and validate all the changes they make in real time and a preferred approval workflow can be designated for the changes so they can move to production quickly.
  • Release dates: Organizations typically work on content changes that will go into effect at different times. For example, one team may be working on changes that will become effective next week, while another group is working on changes that will go into effect next quarter. Therefore, it is important to have a way to manage the swim lanes for changes so that they go into production at the right time and can be in sync.
  • Tracking and reporting: Finally, when an enterprise is sending billions of messages to customers each year, it needs tracking and reporting to know who's receiving what as well as when and how they received it.
At the end of the day, managing and delivering millions of print and digital communications containing billions of messages to customers is not easy. Finding ways to give control of the entire customer communications life cycle to business users, independent of IT, is the best way to ensure customers receive timely, relevant and effective communications.

Nick Romano specializes in business process reengineering for enterprises migrating to new document delivery solutions. His primary expertise is on implementing messaging and personalization strategies, workflows and ROI tracking. He is a popular international speaker on the implementation of successful document solutions, with topics ranging from design, messaging and personalization to shop floor automation and advances in document delivery. He is a graduate of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario with a bachelor's degree in engineering and management. Follow him on Twitter @nickrprinova.

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