Episode 18: Creating Efficient Customer Correspondence Management and Content Services


Here’s a hard truth: Your current methods of creating, distributing, and archiving customer letters or other communications probably include a lot of manual steps with outdated or disconnected systems. Carolyn Kane, senior product evangelist for Hyland, talks us through the many benefits that automated customer correspondence management can bring to your organization.

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Kate Storey: Welcome to the Paperless Productivity podcast, where we give you the tips, tricks and know how to solve your biggest workflow challenges, and bring great productivity into your workplace every day.

Think about your typical day. From the moment you wake up to the moment you close your eyes, you’re likely in communication with someone, probably more than someone. From face to face conversations and phone calls, to emails and even automated forms, everyone has correspondence they have to manage in some form, whether it’s with customers, constituents, vendors, students, patients, or even your own employees. But here’s a hard truth. Your current methods of creating, distributing, and archiving customer letters or other communications probably include a lot of manual steps with outdated or disconnected systems.

What if there was a way to manage these efforts so that you’re providing a high level of information and service without spending your entire day only managing these communications? Automation of these types of communication processes can make a huge difference and can make your organization more efficient by providing information as quickly as possible without sacrificing the support that these communications are meant to provide. Today, we’re joined by Carolyn Kane, Senior Product Evangelist for Highland, who will help talk us through the many benefits that automated customer correspondence management can bring to your organization. Thanks for joining us today, Carolyn.

Carolyn Kane: Thanks for inviting me to talk about customer communication management.
Kate: All right, So first, can you define for us what customer correspondence management involves?
Carolyn: Sure. Well that’s a mouthful, customer communications management. I’m just going to go ahead and call it CCM from now on. It’s really more of a strategy that an organization might use so that they can improve the outbound communications that they have for all of those types of scenarios that you just mentioned. And it includes a lot of things like the creation of that information, the delivery, even the storage of that final communication so that you can retrieve it at some point in time for auditing purposes, or even just because that customer, or that constituent, or that patient requests to have that information. I mean, there are so many things that this could involve from marketing and sort of those mailers that you might get, to things like renewal notifications that might come up frequently throughout the year.

In insurance we see claims correspondence, which can oftentimes have a lot of correspondence between that insurance company and that claimant. So there’s just a lot of this communication and when you start looking at all of it, it really does add up. And we’re not just talking letters to the mailbox. I mean, that was what we were talking about 15, 20 years ago, but now we have so many different ways to interact with customers. That could be through SMS text, it could be through web portals, there are so different places that they expect to have these touch points. I mean, I think the most common that we see is email, but we are seeing a lot of our customers moving away and having a preference for something like texting.

So we really need to look at CCM solutions that are going to support all of this across a spectrum. And so that an organization can really automate these outbound communications across this entire process. And then, in the end, they’re going to improve their relationships with not just their customers, but even other businesses that they do business with, like partners and vendors and things like that.

Kate: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So now that we know what kinds of communications we’re talking about, and no pun intended, tell me about the technology side of it. So what does a good technology solution look like to manage all of this? What are some of the components that serve these efforts?
Carolyn: Well, sure. I mean I’ll walk through some of the things that I think should be included in any kind of end to end CCM solution. But it’s important for customers to realize, or for any organization to realize, that you might need a little bit of a CCM solution or you might need a whole, full-blown, dedicated CCM platform depending on how much of this communication you’re managing, how much volume you have, how frequent that is.
Kate: So it’s not necessarily a one size fits all kind of scenario?
Carolyn: Absolutely not. Yeah. I mean, so what I think that should be at the basis of just every CCM solution is some kind of repeatable template. So some kind of template that says this is what this letter will look like, but then also includes the ability to have some dynamic component as well. So what I mean by that is you’ll have a template that will have all of the information you normally will send, but then things that will change, like that correspondent’s name or their address, any of their personal information they’re going to put in there, you want that to be able to be dynamically inserted. And we’d prefer to automate that.

I’ll tell a little story. This is why I’m so passionate about CCM is that about 15 years ago I actually worked in admissions for a secondary school, and all of our letters were templates, but we had to copy and paste all of the information into those letters. And so that was all manual. And, I mean, we had some mail merge that we would do, but it couldn’t pull information from all of the different places that we had it. So there was a fair amount of copying and pasting. And I’ll be honest, some mistakes were made, and it also was just really inefficient.

So you put those two things together, we couldn’t rely on the information that was going to be in those letters, we weren’t always sure that it was 100% correct, and then just the time it took that I think is a really good reason, if you’re looking at your correspondence processes and there’s any kind of a manual component, you’re going to have those problems. So ideally, for me, some kind of a template that you to have dynamic insertion of data from multiple data sources would be ideal.

And my preference is always to be able to have those templates be managed without necessarily having to have custom scripting, or have the IT department have to manage that. Because these letters are always changing. Legal language that you need to put in there is always being changed by a legal department. We frequently have that where I work, where they’ll say, “Okay, here’s our new legal paragraph that we need to include at the end of that because we’ve updated it.” So those things are constantly changing. If you always have to go to IT, you’re going to have a little bit of a backlog and it’s going to minimize the amount of correspondence that you can automate just because it always needs to be maintained by that IT department instead of the people who own it, the people who are always going to be sending out that correspondence and they really know it.

So that’s the first component. I know that was a really big one, but moving on to being able to manage those. And I mentioned automation a few times, managing those templates themselves can be a really big job. So making sure that you have some kind of tool in place that doesn’t require you to manually manage all of your components, your fragments, things like clauses is really ideal, because I do know organizations that have 2 thousand, 3 thousand templates they’re going to be using, and they have components that are reused in all of these. So some kind of global component library to go along with template management I think is a complete must, depending on, of course, how many of these templates you have, how many clauses you might have. But it is a really important thing to consider.

Kate: And what about connecting or integrating these with other business systems? Is that something that is an important function to consider as well?
Carolyn: That’s huge. I think so many organizations … And you hear a lot of buzz these days about digital transformation, and at the basis of a lot of the digital transformation message is really the fact that we’ve already created a digital environment for so much of our business. But oftentimes, it’s a little bit of an urban sprawl issue when it comes to technology. We have different systems doing different things, they’re not connected. But anytime you’re sending out correspondence, you might have little bits and pieces of that information in different systems. So it’s really important to make sure that you’re not pulling information that’s outdated from one system when another system might have that updated information and things like that.

So just connecting all those systems together, and it’s going to eliminate those manual touch points that we see when sometimes we have some kind of correspondence management solution that does about 75% and then that extra 25% involves somebody copying and pasting or manually entering that. So, that complete automation going to minimize those mistakes and it’s going to make sure that you have that most updated data that’s being entered into those letters.

Kate: And I would imagine that distribution is kind of that final piece of the puzzle, making sure distribution and then reporting back and seeing how people are responding to this and what the performance is like. Talk to me a little bit about what kind of technology solutions, what people need to consider in those areas.
Carolyn: Sure. Well, so we move, we transitioned from talking about managing templates to composing and creating those final documents. You’re going to break it up into a few different categories. So there are some documents that might be composed on demand. So think of that customer service representative who is going to be talking to a customer and they’ll say, “Sure, I’ll send out your packet right now.” And they hit the button and it composes. And then of course you have the batch scenarios.

So I think when it comes to distributing, sometimes how it’s created is going to determine that. So you have batches that are maybe going to be sent to some kind of production printing and you have to make sure that you have all the correct transformations and you have to have those postage marks that are really important for that. Or you might have a customer service representative who just needs to attach it to an email and send it off. So it’s important to know what kind of a process you have to create the documents and also where that document’s going to go so you can determine. So it’s really important, I think, to have a flexible tool that allows you to account for those different scenarios.

Kate: And you talked a little earlier about the buzzword of digital transformation, right? And we have talked a lot on this podcast about how that drive for going digital often has to do with meeting customer expectations. So I can imagine a big reason why many organizations really want to automate their communications is because their customers now expect it. Is that something that you feel you’re seeing as well?
Carolyn: Absolutely. I mean, customer demand is really driving this because information is so much more available to them, and they’re also doing business at all hours of the day. I mean, it’s really kind of a legacy idea for us to think that business is only happening from 9:00 to 5:00. And people come home from work, that’s when they’re going to start to deal with those things like that insurance claim or even their banking. So it’s really important-
Kate: Insurance disasters don’t only happen during business hours, right?
Carolyn: Well, that is so true. So it’s important for us to consider when they’re going to need access to that information, when they’re going to want to submit requests, when they’re going to want to have that business available to them. And they’re driving it. So they are able to do that in so many areas that their lives. Stores are open late, everything’s available on the internet 24 hours a day, so they’re expecting that. And when they can do that, it makes them a lot happier. It makes them a contented customer, which is what most of us are really trying to achieve, is that customer who’s happy with their business and is going to become a repeat customer, or they’re a happy student, and a happy family, or a happy patient. So that’s what we’re all trying to do.
Kate: Absolutely. All right, so let’s talk a little bit about the elephant in the room. I’m sure there are some people that are listening to this and wondering if automating all of these types of communications are going to make it less personal and if that’s going to negatively affect their relationship with the people they’re communicating with. So what would you say to those who are concerned about this, and is it possible that automating all these communications could actually have the opposite effect to make those relationships better?
Carolyn: Yeah, I mean I absolutely think it can make those relationships better, but it’s an important question, and it really comes down to solution design and making sure that you’re designing a solution that is going to work with your organization and with those that you interact with. And that’s going to change, whether you are a university or you’re a government or whatever that’s going to be, you’re going to have different needs for those people that you communicate with. However, I will say that it can, I mean it can have the effect where it can make it seem less personal. I think some of us have that feeling. We’ve seen that where you get that letter and it has your address on it, but then it says, “Dear resident.”
Kate: Right.
Carolyn: Or my favorite is somebody that I work with forwarded me her reminder for her oil change from her garage, and they said … It was her dealership and they said, “Dear,” and they put her first and last name there and it was all in caps. So while they tried to be personal, it was really clear that it was something that just happened in an automated fashion. They were pulling data from some database that only stored capital values for things, and so we had a good laugh over it and we talked about how important it was to make those things feel personal, to make sure that you have some kind of salutation in there that is going to be something that somebody will respond to and make sure that you have the correct data and that there aren’t any mistakes in the data.

So good data is a huge part of having that good outgoing communication. But in the end, for all of us, for all of us organizations that are sending things out, our business is going to be more agile when we’re not spending time manually going through those letters and correcting the mistakes that mail merge brought in, or making sure … I mean back in the day, 15 years ago, I was still having to insert things in the envelopes and mail them out, and I will tell you we were not very agile. But that digital experience is going to make your business more agile and then you can respond to requests, you can respond to customer needs so much faster and they’re going to be a lot happier.

Kate: Yeah. So do you have any good examples of this that you could share about how specific industries have been able to adopt these automated systems and we can kind of get a better picture of what this looks like in the wild?
Carolyn: Yeah, I think that I see a huge demand for contract management. And that’s not something that’s new, we have been trying to automate contracts for a really long time in many different areas, but I think that as businesses are growing, their back office processes and those things that are not sales, they’re not like their showroom or whatever that might be they’re not getting bigger, but business is getting bigger. So they are having to do more with less, which I think a lot of us have heard so much of. But so they’re sending out those contracts. Those contracts are needing to be made so they can do more business, but they don’t have more resources to do that in just about every industry, and there really is no specific industry. I’m seeing more of a demand for that.

And that’s just so that you can have somebody who can use their knowledge of the contract process, but also use the technology to assist them in that. So they might fill out a request where they’re making all of the choices. They’re saying, “This is a nondisclosure agreement, so it’s pretty cut and dried, but we need to put in this clause because it’s going to the state of New Jersey that has some kind of different language it needs.” And so they can make all those selections, and then we let the software do the work for them, and that means that they can just create these that much faster. So I think that it really can make those back office processes so smooth.

But we do have some industries that I see that are really hot areas for customer communication right now. Insurance we’ve talked about a few times. There is always a drive to make all of that communication so much more efficient because there are not less claims coming in. So they’re handling more and more business all the time and they really want to keep those customers. There’s lots of competition out there for those customers as they switch insurance companies. So keeping those customers happy, having your insurance representatives able to respond to them quickly, create those claim packages quickly really can help them out.

So we, we do see it all over though. There’s use cases in just about every industry for human resources. I mean we all have employees and I get communications from Highland Software all the time that tell me that something has changed for maybe our retirement package or something like that comes in the mail from me. So that all has to be generated too. So across the board, I think that there is not an organization out there that couldn’t improve this in some way.

Kate: I think that’s very true. So how can organizations start to implement CCM for their organizations? How do they get started with this process?
Carolyn: Well, that’s a really good question. I think that a lot of organizations feel like this is something that is going to be a really big investment and it seems a little intimidating. So I would say the first thing that any organization should do is take a look at what they’re currently doing and see where they can make improvements. And if they know that they need some kind of large CCM platform, they’re like, “We have pushed all of our other tools to the limit, so we really need to make this investment.” Then they can move forward with that, just knowing that they’ve already done all the automation they can do up until this point. And a CCM platform will contain all of the things we already talked about. It’s usually all in one place and it makes it so much easier to be able to do all of the different things.

But if an organization has smaller needs or more specific needs, just taking a look at those processes and saying, “Where can I automate some of this? Where can I begin to automate? Maybe there’s a single type of contract that gets produced more than any of the others. So we’ll just start with that one and it will save us time and then we can start examining our other processes.” So I would say just to start small and see where you can start making those little differences. And then once you get to a point where you have automated as much as you can, or if you have huge volume, then start looking at those CCM platforms and see what’s out there and what might fit your business needs. And they do range from just contract management all the way up through a CCM platform that will handle just about any type of communication and does it all in one place. So it really depends on the customer needs, but there’s a lot that’s out there.

Kate: Excellent. Well thank you so much for sharing all of this great information with us today, Carolyn. It was really great to have you on the show and to hear about all the different ways that organizations are using CCM and all the different ways that they can start to adapt this for the future.
Carolyn: Thanks so much.
Kate: Thank you everyone for joining us today. And if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to Paperless Productivity where we tackle some of the biggest paper-based pain points facing organizations today. We’ll see you next time.

Thanks again for joining us today for this episode of Paperless Productivity. This podcast is sponsored by ImageSoft, the paperless process people, which you can learn more about at ImagesSoftInc.com. That’s ImageSoft, I-N-C.com. Join us next time where you’ll learn how to harness the power of technology, supercharge efficiency, and accomplish your organization’s goals.

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