Creating a multi-channel delivery strategy

Davis Marksbury, Exstream Software

The utility industry is at a crossroads regarding customer communications. It must reach new and existing customers through such ever increasing contact points as e-mail, the Web and more. At the same time, it must also provide more individualized information. According to a recent study, an average utility with $2 billion in revenue can actually increase its pretax profits by $250-$360 million by improving critical customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities. Additionally, the study found that among companies surveyed, 80 percent of the difference between low and high pretax profits is explained by the attention these companies place on customer service, marketing and sales.

The challenge utility companies face is ensuring that messages are relevant and communicated consistently across all contact points. Effective management of interaction with customers and prospects is becoming as critical a component of successful business strategies as CRM itself.

eGeneration sets the pace

The eGeneration, a growing community of consumers who are demanding highly individual treatment in a 24/7 world—today’s fastest growing consumer market—wants information on demand and in real time. Greater convenience is driving them to alternative channels, such as online self-service. Successful utility companies won’t ignore this fast growing population’s demand for timely, personalized information online.

Customer communication used to occur once a month, when statements were sent; now, the rate of interaction has accelerated. Many customers log on daily. And when they go online for account information, they expect an updated statement seconds later. Response rate becomes more urgent. Communications through all contact points must be relevant based on the last customer contact—wherever it occurred.

In addition to statements, the Web, and other routine business correspondence, customer contact points include branch offices, customer service call centers, e-mail, faxes and direct mail.

Self-service operations—from reviewing account information online, to electronic bill payment, to requesting additional services online—allow companies to deliver services more efficiently and cost effectively. Personalized information must be delivered consistently across all these channels, too.

What happens if a customer completes a transaction via the Internet, yet your next mailed statement doesn’t reflect the change? Channels must be synchronized, and responses need to be automatic, through both print and electronic channels.

Greater marketing opportunities are some of the best reasons for utilities to implement a multi-channel strategy. The ability to cross-sell and build stronger relationships across both print and electronic channels is critical to remaining competitive and increasing profits.

Today, time to market is measured in hours, so it is critical to bring marketing into the development process early. Marketing has historically been locked out of complex document composition technology. As a result, companies miss opportunities to connect with customers through traditional business communications like statements and general business correspondence.

Because of the Internet, it is easier than ever for your customers to move their business elsewhere. Business communications must be leveraged to make it more convenient and valuable for customers to stay with you.

Crafting your strategy

It is important to identify a multi-channel model that delivers consistent and relevant messages to customers across all touch points. The information systems or operations team must determine what platforms and applications are involved, and which channels must collaborate.

When determining what multi-channel strategy is right for your operation, consider how you will handle:

“- Developing efficient documents for ease of use, quick time to market and multi-media delivery;
“- Integrating multiple format standards for electronic documents such as PDF and XML;
“- Maintaining the processing speed required for personalized messaging and complex applications;
“- Managing consistent document appearance across different media;
“- Integration of a central set of messages used to personalize customer communication;
“- Integrating, re-purposing and adding content to legacy documents.

Cost, customer preference, speed and other factors all determine the necessary channels. A carefully crafted multi-channel strategy, combined with the right technology solution, ensures the most appropriate channels to strengthen customer relationships and build business.

Effectively managing message delivery also requires tracking all messages delivered to all customers through all channels. This requires a centralized database to store information about all touch point interactions so communications can be consistent and relevant.

How will you manage tracking across multiple channels? Monitoring and evaluating marketing campaigns is never easy, and is even more challenging when you multiply the media. Digital content, automation and intelligent archiving have made it easier to track, report and analyze the results of a multi-channel delivery infrastructure. Marketing can establish important tracking mechanisms early on to help campaigns achieve maximum revenue.

Organizations want to automate and control 1:1 communications across the enterprise, but how will everyone know what other departments are sending to customers? Companies considering multi-channel strategies should avoid dividing applications across media or creating islands of messaging. An enterprise-wide delivery strategy must have a total view of all customer touch points.

Consistent messaging over multiple channels can reduce confusion and inquiries to call centers. Given an average of $8 to handle each call, this is a significant opportunity to reduce costs. Tie your call centers in to the same campaigns and messages customers receive. This accelerates call handling and assures that the most appropriate and productive conversations take place.

As utility companies stand at the crossroads of information delivery, everyone’s choices are expanding rapidly. A good multi-channel delivery strategy helps control and empower communications, but is flexible enough to leverage new opportunities for strengthening customer relationships.

Marksbury is president and CEO of Exstream Software of Lexington, Ky., provider of Dialogue software, one tool that combines personalized document creation, campaign management & tracking, content management, and multi-channel delivery. He can be reached at davis@exstream.com or at 859-296-0600.

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