March 3, 2017

A Conversation About Multi-Channel Communications and the Coming Revolution

As the founder of Crawford Technologies, Ernie Crawford continues to look to the future for the next set of solutions that will help our customers do business easier, faster and with a higher return on their investments. With the experienced CrawfordTech team he has built over the past 16 years, one thing is certain, innovation is rooted in the foundation of every new product developed.

CrawfordTech’s newest offering is no different, but the benefit to customers as well as the print and mail industry is set to accelerate the pace for the revolution of multi-channel communications and customer preference management.

PRO Channel Manager manages and connects customer delivery preferences between multiple channels in order drive significant savings to our customers, increased end-user satisfaction and wider adoption of paperless delivery. Join us for the following conversation with Ernie Crawford on PRO Channel Manager and how it will change multi-channel communications and the implications for the print and mail industry.

Q. What does multi-channel mean to Crawford Technologies?

A. Multi-channel means the use of different communication channels when an organization is communicating with customers. The range of channels includes traditional print and mail, online portal/biller direct, online bill consolidators, Digital Mailbox Services, mobile/tablets, Braille, large print, e-text and audio. Many of the channels have additional capabilities to provide notifications and reminders to recipients using various channels which can include email, SMS and social media. The point of it all is to provide each customer with communications using the channel that they prefer to use for that type of communication.

Q. How long has the company been involved in multi-channel communications?

A. Crawford Technologies is in its 17th year of business. We have been involved in multi-channel communications since 1996, when we partnered with BlueGill Technologies, one of the first companies in the Electronic Bill Presentment and Payment (EBPP) market. Since then, a significant amount of our business has been in multi-channel communications. We have customers all over the world who use our software to achieve their multi-channel communications goals.

Q. What opportunities do you see for mailers to take advantage of multi-channel in the future?

A. Over the past 16 years many organizations have utilized their web sites to provide customers with access to documents online. Today approximately 35% of the people in the U.S. have at least one online account, but only 15% print suppression has been achieved. The utilization of paperless communications has pretty much stabilized, disappointing mailers who had hoped that they would get greater print suppression numbers from online usage.
Nevertheless, a perfect storm has formed for multi-channel communications. Mailers are striving to find ways to achieve paperless cost savings. Email suffers from lack of security, phishing, scams, spam and overuse. The growth of mobile smart phones, and more importantly tablets is astounding (Apple alone expects to hit an install base of 100 million iPads by the end of the year). The penetration of Cloud-based applications is huge (iCloud alone signed up 85 million users within 6 months of its launch). People are more mobile than ever before, and paper mail has become cumbersome for many. Having to sign on to 15 different online websites to get bills and statements is just too difficult to manage. Out of this quagmire has emerged Digital Mailbox Services which have added yet more channels to consider, and these are channels that are the choice of people who want to live their lives without paper.
The bottom line is that the opportunities are everywhere. The 65% of people who do not have online accounts are a huge opportunity. The 35% who have taken advantage of alternative channels have a proven desire to go paperless, and are looking for a solution that will give them everything they need to feel comfortable going all the way. Will Digital Mailbox Services fill this gap? The smart money says so.

Q. Do Digital Mailbox Services play a significant role in the future of the multi-channel market for transactional documents and customer communications?

A. Digital Mailbox Services provide users with a solution that meets all of the needs that people are looking for in a paperless solution for communications from their suppliers. Combined with a single sign-on, long term storage, backup options, sorting, searching and automatic filing, these systems offer users the perfect solution. Mailers get major benefits including significant cost savings, improved online marketing reach, improved customer loyalty and better cash flow from online payments. With all these benefits, DMS services offer a win-win solution, and are bound to play a significant role in the e-Delivery of customer communications of all types.

Q. What barriers are there currently in the adoption of DMS?

A. Content, content, content. The biggest challenge is getting mailers to sign up and feed their documents to the DMS services. Many mailers are waiting to see which service will be the winner in the field before they commit. All of the services have excellent benefits for users and the owners have deep pockets so they are all in it for the long haul.

Q. Does Customer Preference Management pose a challenge for companies looking to implement DMS or other channels?

A.  There are three challenges which require customer preference management. The first is that many mailers do not want to send their customers’ documents to services where the customer has not signed up, since the recipients may object to their documents going to a service they do not subscribe to. The second challenge is that mailers need to have a way to interrogate customer preferences to determine which recipients want to go paperless in each of their print applications before they print their documents.  The third challenge is to implement solutions to the first two challenges without huge amounts of computer program development and process changes.
PRO Channel Manager addresses all of these challenges, making it easy for mailers to match up their customers in the various Digital Mailbox Services, determine where to send their documents, and accurately determine when to suppress printing and mailing documents for customers who have asked to go paperless, yielding maximum savings for the mailer.

Q. Is there a clear solution to break down the barriers that prevent adoption of DMS?

A. PRO Channel Manager is the clear solution to the barriers. It can match mailers to their recipients in any e-Delivery channel, capture and manage customer preferences, optionally convert print files to e-Delivery formats and provide manifests, optionally suppress the printing of documents for customers who have asked to go paperless, and provide a host of other operational capabilities to streamline the use of Digital Mailbox Services.

Q. What are the potential benefits of increased adoption of Digital Mailbox Services?

A. The benefits to the mailers are significant. Mailers can increase their paperless customer base, thus reducing their printing and mailing costs. According to InfoTrends' forecasts and our own calculations, this amounts to at least $1.8 billion in savings annually by 2017. That assumes only a 7% uptake! If adoption is higher, then the savings will be even greater!

Another benefit to mailers is increased customer loyalty. When a customer signs up for a DMS that has a majority of their supplier documents on it, they will be more loyal to the suppliers that provide their documents on those systems.

Growth in the usage of online systems for document delivery has curtailed, primarily because it is too time consuming and does not offer enough benefits to make it worthwhile to most users. Digital Mail Services (DMS) allows mailers to extend their online marketing reach to customers who want more than their online (biller direct) portal.

Another significant benefit is that of improved cash flow. DMS services can offer convenient and inexpensive online payment options using the mailers preferred payment service. On top of that, the payment reminder features can ensure that customers make their payments sooner than those taking paper communications.

Q. When should companies look to present a DMS offering to their customers?

A. Organizations, both commercial and government should offer Digital Mailbox Services delivery options to their customers as soon as they can get the contracts and procedures in place. That will ensure they stay ahead of their competitors and offer upgraded service to their customers, improve their cash flow, all while saving money. The sooner they start, and the more services they support, the sooner and greater their cost savings and marketing and cash flow improvements.

Q. What are the hazards of not offering Digital mailbox Service delivery to customers?

A. While foregoing potential cost savings is not a hazard per se, it is a major lost opportunity. One interesting hazard is losing your online marketing opportunities to the 'screen scrapers'. Screen scrapers are the services that have a user requested document consolidation model. These services provide a report after the user has provided the service with passwords to their online accounts. The screen scraper then uses these passwords to access the information and statements from that user's online accounts to provide a consolidated document delivery system. The hazard comes from the fact that these services use advertising to fund them. Thus, if your competitors advertise on a service used by your customers, their commercials may be playing while your customers are looking at your documents. That is a mighty large hazard, and can cause much embarrassment as well as lost business.

Q. What does Crawford Technologies think the future looks like in this space?

A. We expect that the main four services in North America will get stronger as users ramp up their adoption of cloud applications. It is quite possible that another service or two may enter the fray and if well funded and well marketed, they could well become serious players too. There will not likely be a market shakeout in the foreseeable future, so mailers should plan to work with multiple Digital Mailbox Services to maximize their benefits and cost savings. PRO Channel Manager has been developed to make this strategy possible and affordable.

Have more questions? Contact us and we will be happy to answer them.