By Craig Prince, Sales and Marketing Director, Stralfors UK

So, you know that taking your customer communications online makes sense, will deliver financial savings and could significantly improve customer satisfaction; but how is the transition achieved with minimal pain, and how do you quantify the benefits and avoid the pitfalls?

Make no mistake, any organization considering transitioning customer communications from print to online is facing a complex challenge, regardless of their size and the demographics of their customer base. However, the benefits are clear and proven and failing to make the move may negatively affect your business if all your competitors are moving online. If you’ve started asking yourself how to make the leap from print to online and the answer is actually - ‘don’t leap’! Too many companies are rushing online without due care and planning, leading to failed projects and negative business impact. Here are some questions that may be more helpful.

What are you trying to do?

The first issue to address is to nail down your objectives, by which you can later measure your success. It may be that you’re trying to improve customer satisfaction and that your customer demographics are such that not offering eComms is becoming a sales barrier for you. Understanding of how your brand relates to your customer and prospect base is key. In particular, if your brand is targeted at a youth market you may feel urgent pressure to offer online customer comms if you haven’t made this provision. Or you may be looking to reduce costs, or alternatively improve cross-selling opportunities. Examine how each of these potential objectives can be addressed, and whether they are best achieved online.

Do your customers actually want it?

Even if your customers and prospects are all under 25 and live their lives online with ease, they may still prefer an ‘old fashioned’ printed bill. If you have customers who are over 60 or have a lower demographic profile then they may fall the other side of the digital divide and not have internet access at home, or at work. The fact is that a percentage of customers, regardless of whether they’re connected or not, will continue to have a preference for printed statements, bills and other critical communications. This may be because they find the easier to file and reference for instance. Moving online entirely may result in alienating customers so a blended approach which offers mutli-channel comms is most often most appropriate.

Some organisations, such as mobile providers, have achieved a great level of success by using their own technology, SMS, to inform customers of their latest bill and invite them to go online for further details. Customers who want to request a printed statement need to pay for the privilege so billing can become a profit centre in its own right.

Is your data good enough?

The biggest difficulties are in store for those organisations which don’t have good data and therefore don’t have a detailed or intimate understanding of their target audiences. Good data means having accurate data; email lists are notoriously difficult to clean and email addresses change frequently. Hotmail accounts are frequently abandoned once they attract too much spam and it’s not unknown for cynical customers to provide inaccurate addresses when forced to fill in online forms that demand email addresses to be provided.

Even if you’ve got a good email address, bear in mind that your message stands a good chance of being junked, quarantined or blocked by spam or corporate filters. Mail may be slow, but it is a far more reliable channel for critical communications. After all, if communications go wrong this can easily spell the end of a beautiful relationship, the worst possible result if you were trying to improve customer sat and cut budgets too.

Who is your A Team?

Before proceeding, you definitely need experts around you, both internally and externally. Success will be dependent on their understanding and use of the most appropriate software and application of technology. You’ll also need to find a reliable and credible supplier which has a proven track record, strong and relevant customer references and is financially stable in its own right.

At Stralfors, we’ve found 90% of those embarking on the ebilling road to be ill-equipped in terms of their people and technology platforms. Most companies start out by underestimating both the cost and the timescales necessary to deliver success.

So what are the timescales for success?

Those that embark on ebilling need to do so in the knowledge that it is a strategic decision that, if managed correctly, will deliver excellent benefits in cost and improved customer relationships. However, these cannot be delivered in the short term and expectations should be that projects will only start to show ROI in year two.

These five questions may seem simple, and they are, but working through them will ensure and expectations are realistic and that success is far easier to deliver.