At its core, customer communications management (CCM) is a simple technical issue: templates are created and the relevant data is applied resulting in a communication. In older on-premises CCM platforms, the graphical content, textual content, and business and presentation rules were all closely bundled into a proprietary format. Batch command files were created to deliver large data files to CCM engines which in turn ran mail merge routines to produce print files. The print files were sent to a print operations team and fulfilled on a nightly basis. All modern CCM platforms still provide this capability commonly referred to as “batch” or “high volume”. Modern CCM-based templates provide for placeholder or reference points which allow for content types to be stored and managed in independent systems. This subtle but very dramatic difference is what distinguishes older platforms and paradigms from newer ones. Without this loose coupling, the dynamic assembly of documents is not achievable at
the scale and frequency that multi-channel communications require.
I think we are all asking ourselves how do we communicate better with our customers, how do we exploit social channels, how can we get to market quicker, for less cost and a higher return. Many of us are faced with a myriad of legacy systems and processes that make even asking these questions challenging – let alone finding sensible answers. At AIRDOCS, we are beginning to see customers approach us with a more holistic, long term vision – it’s no longer about how do I get the next campaign out of the door, it’s about how do I put in place the right tools so I can talk to whoever I need to, in whatever way my customer wants me to.
Universal Truths? - We can be pretty sure there will be different channels in a few years time compared to those we have today. We can also be pretty sure we can’t guess today what they might be (who would have predicted a website where you can only type 140 characters, would be such a success or have so much power – we can now make or break our brand with 1KB and in less than the time it takes to boil an egg). Even twelve months ago we probably didn't envisage that Bots could be a viable communications channel yet Facebook just announced they'll spend millions to create communication Bots.
We can, however determine some factors which must remain, whatever changes in customer communications, (dangerous prophecy, but I’m pretty confident the following will stay constant for the next several years).
1. Whatever, and however, it has to start with data, we have to have some form of identifier for the customer and an address to send them something. I use address in the loosest sense here, a phone number, for example is an address on the mobile telephone network.
2. There must be a set of messages / campaigns / transactions – let’s call it content, we want to communicate.
3. There must also be some brand identity and tone of voice we want to apply, based on who we are communicating with and how.
4. We need a way of combining our data, content and layout to create a communication to send. This will also need to have rules to decide which content to include and how to format it.
5. The resulting communication then needs to be transmitted (or produced in the case of physical documents).
6. Finally, we want to know what the customer has done with the communication we have sweated, brainstormed, programmed and lovingly created for them... assuming it didn’t go straight in the virtual or physical bin (but it would be nice to know that too), in order to inform our next communication. Using these six factors as our guide we can define a functional architecture:
In this model, we keep each component of the system as specialized as possible – i.e. it does one job and does it well, with well defined mechanisms to connect it to other parts of the system. The output layer is probably the key one to understand. Composed content is delivered into a channel specific delivery tool that is responsible for getting that document to a customer (printing and putting in an envelope, deploying on a website etc.), but it does no more than that. Imagine adding a new channel to this model, all we need to do is create a layout, get our composition tool to generate output in the correct format, and bolt on a tool that knows how to talk to our channel. All the existing processes, content and reporting are still valid. We could even use a specialised composition tool for some process if we desired without majorly disrupting the overall design.
The reality - Whether you agree with the model and work to deploy it, there are a few very important truths about CCM. Firstly, there is nothing, literally nothing more important to your company than customers. You work so hard to secure their loyalty so why would you ever allow well meaning amateurs to manage the CCM function ? Secondly, simply spending big on CCM provides no guarantee of a return on your investment and one well intentioned but poorly implemented campaign can literally cost you millions. Thirdly, you can't allow technologists to be in control of your CCM. If there is one thing that will cause your customers to ditch your communications, it's poor clarity of language and language that fails to engage.
Own your IP - an often overlooked aspect of outsourcing elements of your CCM solution is ownership of Intellectual Property. Even a seemingly trivial aspect like using a Print House for design, print, mailing of documents can end up in a legal stoush over which of you owns the document designs when the contract terminates. ALWAYS ensure your outsourcing agreements clearly stipulate you own the IP.
In summary - CCM has evolved into an aspect of business operations that demands very specific expertise from design to delivery to tracking of each and every communication to your customers. In a world of competing demands on budget dollars, can there be anything more important than a brilliantly performing CCM solution ?
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