Digital transformation of the print world

Although paper isn’t going away anytime soon, service bureaus are beginning to offer digital services to grow and transform their businesses.

Wed Nov 29 13:16:00 EST 2017

The digital age isn’t as universal as one might think. A majority of commercial and government communications are still being printed and sent through the post. These communications are mostly transactional in nature such as onboarding materials, letters, statements, and bills.

Businesses that generate and distribute communications have primarily focused on supporting clients with these transactional mail requirements. Their focus on print is now changing, however, as they look to support the ever evolving digital requirements from their current clients.

The movement from physical to digital communications has come in two major leaps:

01. The first leap, 15-20 years ago, came when companies recognized that it was too costly to store transactional document hardcopies for long periods of time (up to 10 years per regulations). This drove businesses to create digital copies of the documents to mitigate the need for maintaining physical copies.

This move from physical to digital documents opened the door to allowing documents to be sent via email and enabling them to be available online. For many businesses today, there hasn’t been much progression since this leap.

In today’s climate, the definition of digital is misleading. Individual companies will define it differently. Some think just sending an email with a pdf, is a digital strategy. That may have been true after the first leap, but that is not the case now.

02. The second leap has been a much more expansive digital transformation. It includes numerous digital channels that go beyond email and provide access to customers, such as social media applications, interactive personalized video, interactive HTML5 documents and chat bots.

The introduction of digital self-service also has expanded the reach of businesses, allowing the customer to access their real-time data that includes a summary of their activity, tailored documentation and to update their personal details. This shift to digital self-service from transactional mail allows for a more enhanced, real-time data and a better customer experience.

For many, however, the business imperatives to make the second leap to digital has been slow in coming. 

There are still some hurdles with going all digital. Regulated industries still require hard copies of materials to be sent to customers. Industries that have limited competition such as utilities don’t see the need yet. Governments have been trying to avoid the perception that they do not cater to those who don’t want to engage digitally.

There is a silver lining, as the tide is now beginning to turn. Service Bureau clients are requesting digital options, though this is only a small fraction at the moment. It is expected that within the next 18 months this will grow exponentially. What’s driving the change is not only the need to deliver a more engaging customer experience, but also that some governments are starting to embrace digital and allow some regulated industries to provide digital instead of printed documentation.

In Australia, the change can especially be seen in the superannuation and insurance industries, and local governments with rate notices. Where once an opt-out option for printed materials was not allowed – it can now be supported.

Businesses are also beginning to understand that the drive to digital experiences is more than enhancing customer communication and improving the engagement experience. The real value is that digital enables a business to track what a customer is doing with the information that is delivered to them. The analytics of a digital engagement can tell you what a customer finds interesting and where a customer is in their journey. 

The data gathered from these digital experiences will drive how a business tailors their messages and services to their customers. Together with the improved customer engagement that digital provides, this intelligence will be the bedrock of commercial success in the future.

If the traditional service bureaus are to survive in this new age, they will need to adapt and provide digital services alongside their traditional services. As with print, many businesses will not have the capabilities in house to generate or support digital communications, so they will look to outsource to service bureaus that offer both digital and physical solutions for transactional content.  It makes sense that they would prefer to work with someone they are already familiar with and trust.

If service bureaus don’t adapt, or adapt too slowly, they may not only see their client base select other providers to deliver their digital communications, but they might also see that clients will want to move their printing needs to someone who can support both requirements.

Digital transformation is a daunting discipline, but mastering it is essential for organizations that want to remain competitive in a marketplace where customer experience is increasingly becoming the differentiator.

For more information: Read Digital Transformation: Using data-driven insights for exceptional customer engagement to learn the best practices validated by leading global brands and experts.

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