By Richard Thompson, Managing Director, Pitney Bowes Management Services

Businesses are responding quickly to customer’s demand for flexibility and choice in the way they send and receive communications. However, providing a choice is the easy bit, the challenge comes in ensuring that the back office systems and processes live up to the promise and deliver a great customer experience.

Companies that do not offer their customers channel choices, across mail, phone, web, email, SMS etc. find that they lose competitive position1. Similarly, in the public sector, there is a pressure to become more accessible and to shape services to suit the citizen.

A multi-channel strategy is therefore key to the majority of private and public sector organisations and they are quickly realising that managing the resulting flow of data and linking that information to a customer is a critical factor for success. You really have to look at this from a customer perspective to see how important this is. When we think of our businesses we think of the different parts; Sales, Operations, Customer Service, Finance etc. but when our clients think of us they just see a single organisation and get frustrated with the lack of information sharing and connection between departments.

Looking beyond the ‘touch-point’

Too often, discussion around multi-channel communications is focused on the medium through which a customer (or supplier) chooses to interact. But what happens behind the scenes determines the success both in terms of managing cost and customer satisfaction. Automation and good processes are key to both.

Decision Ready

If the process for gathering and inputting information from multiple channels into business systems is cumbersome and costly, organisations fail to gain the efficiency and return on investment they expect.

For these systems to work effectively they need to be presented with customer data in a common format that is validated and enhanced to make it “decision ready”. This is particularly challenging when information arrives in a format of the customers’ choice. This process can cause a cost and productivity bottleneck if not well handled and undermine the customer experience, so organisations have been quick to comprehend its importance. In Pitney Bowes recent experience, an increasing number of organisations are prioritising activity and investment in this area but see outsourcing as the best way forward.

Software as a Service

Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, where an outsourced, shared service centre provides the infrastructure and workflow tools for a given business process, have been growing in popularity. SaaS solutions can provide greater capability and capacity without the need for capital investment in infrastructure and are especially relevant for organisations wanting to support a multi-channel communications strategy.

The front-end multi-channel workflow processes will typically capture incoming information in the form of physical documents, email, webforms, or even SMS. The SaaS engine is then able to transform all these different multi-channel communications into a single format where it can apply business rules to ensure the data is correct and that the internal approvals processes have been, or will be, applied. The client’s core business process will receive decision ready input that it can action without further administrative cost. This enables organisations to join up the front office, the back office and ensure that all communications into their company from an individual are linked to that individual. And critically the SaaS approach that enables a rapid response to market changes because the tools and specialist skills are in place to support that change.

Managing the mix

This intelligent workflow automation is helping to reduce processing costs, an essential factor in a difficult business climate.

But it is also enabling businesses to build a single view of the customer. Previous interactions, across any touch-point, can be easily referenced and used to inform future communications and to drive superior customer service. Better communication and service intelligence leads to greater customer satisfaction, trust and loyalty. Outsourcing this challenge to experts is enabling businesses of all sizes to ensure that their back office processes keep pace with an ever changing and increasingly competitive and complex environment.