Customer Experience: The Only Way to Differentiate Your Business


The customer communications space has shifted to digital. Unfortunately, not everyone has caught up. I’ve seen this dramatic change over the course of my own career. When I started my career at Océ, a digital print manufacturer acquired by Canon, customer communications was primarily about printing bills and statements. But in the 12 years I worked at Océ, the industry transformed as customers demanded change.

Today, I am an analyst at Keypoint Intelligence, where I cover the customer communications market and lead primary research on market trends, including tech and enterprise strategy. I am also responsible for market forecasting of print and digital communication delivery and as well as sizing revenues from software solutions in this area.

Customer communications are infinitely more complex now than when I started my career two decades ago. Enterprises and service providers alike come to me for advice on how to address the challenges posed by rapidly evolving digital technology and customer expectations. In this story, I will trace the key trends influencing the market and offer some suggestions on what to look for in a technology solution, depending on your type of business.

Changing Customer Expectations Have Big Consequences

Managing the shift to digital goes beyond merely supporting an increasing number of digital communication channels. The way we create, produce, and deliver customer communications is changing. It used to be that, for example, a consumer bank could push out 5 million statements at the end of the month, and that was their primary communication with existing customers. No longer. Now, customer communications have shifted from scheduled batch-produced automations to real-time conversations.

The delivery of that communication piece has changed as well. Instead of a push model where the bank sends the customer the statement, we have moved to a pull model in which the customer wants to view their statement on demand. 

That move to a pull model has additional consequences because of a shift in customer expectations. The leading culprit? Our smartphones. The smartphone has become our personal gateway to the digital world and everyone expects businesses to communicate with them through this gateway.  

The increased use of digital channels also influences customer expectations around rate of communication and ease of use. Waiting two to three days for an answer is no longer acceptable. Response time has to be immediate.

Perhaps, most importantly, today's barriers of communicating with a company has to be very low as switching costs are also very low. Customers expect communications to be seamless conversations taking place across multiple channels. If a customer calls you with a question, and then asks you to respond via email, the information in that email should be consistent with your earlier discussion on the phone. The conversation is still ONE conversation, even though it is happening through different channels in different points in time. 

Your Service Is Now a Commodity. How Do You Differentiate Yourself?

To talk about challenges and trends in the customer communications market, I will divide the key players into two categories: 1) enterprises, governments, and other public services, and 2) service providers.

Service providers in this space are historically print outsourcing companies serving enterprises, governments, and public services with print and shipping services. Today, these service providers are confronted with decreasing print demand as their customers move to digital. Additionally, their core services have been commoditized, putting further pressure on the business. 

By the first category I mean organizations that produce high volumes of customer communications, such as  banks, insurances, telecommunication companies, utilities, governments, etc. These companies send a great deal of customer communications because it’s required for them to comply with regulations but also it’s an integral part of their business.

With increasing customer expectations and low switching costs for customers, enterprises need to stand out and differentiate themselves by providing delightful customer experiences. Research shows a direct correlation between customer experiences and customer return-on-invest (ROI) by higher customer loyalty and advocacy. Two-thirds of North American consumers we surveyed in 2018 (N=2,000) said they would switch from a provider if they have had a bad experience.

For example, in a consumer’s mind, bank accounts, credit cards, or cable subscriptions are mostly interchangeable. The difference in quality between their offers is not as significant as it once was. It is easy for the customer to substitute one internet package for another, or to switch banks. Providing an excellent customer experience will outweigh reasons to consider switching from a given service vendor. 

Customer experience is the only way to differentiate your service offering.

At Keypoint Intelligence, we’re researching how enterprises perceive their greatest challenges in improving customer experience. Interestingly, there are some differences between how enterprises in North America and Western Europe respond to this question.

In North America, the biggest perceived challenges all come under the heading of empowering the consumer in the way it can communicate with its provider. It’s an outwards-in approach, putting the customer and its preferences in the centre. Whereas in Western Europe, enterprises are looking to develop the right communication strategies. That’s an inwards-out approach, in which enterprises are focusing on their own capabilities. I think there’s no right answer here. 

Despite the different approaches, I think all of these organizations are on the same wavelength: They finally understand the value of customer experience and that this is the differentiating factor towards sustainable success. And none of them feel like they’ve got it quite right, yet. 

How Tech Holds Some Companies Back

In a moment, I’ll share with you how technology can solve these customer experience issues, but first I think we should address how, for many organizations, it’s their technology that holds them back. With banks or insurance companies who are decades, or even centuries, old, the core of their technology is usually dated, hard-to-maintain legacy systems.

On top of that, they have been building layers of new technologies for supporting digital channels over recent years. So there’s one new solution for sending out email, another for a different channel. This ad hoc approach has led to a scattered IT-landscape at these companies, hampering initiatives to communicate seamlessly and consistently across multiple channels in print and digital.

Don’t just throw technology at a technical problem. Understand your needs FIRST to find the right solution.

You can’t simply throw more technology at this problem. How can enterprises avoid past mistakes when choosing new tech? What they need is a consolidated solution with a holistic approach across those multiple channels.

What to Look for in a Tech Solution

As your organization looks for a technology solution to solve these customer experience challenges, it needs one that’s both easy to use and quite sophisticated. When we look at these large trends in communication—moving from batch to real-time, from print to digital, through multiple channels—it makes for a complex communication space. You need a solution that matches that complexity.

Customer experience software needs to handle complexity—while being easy to use.

If you are coming at this from an enterprise perspective, think about the ways your company might have failed in selecting tech in the past. You need to take an honest look at your requirements and then base your purchasing decision on that. In determining your needs, you must consider the types of communications your customers will need to receive. But you also need to consider who your end users will be. 

We’ve seen a shift in the industry, from IT handling customer communications, to now business units taking the lead. This comes back to complexity. Your solution needs to handle a wide variety of tasks, but needs to be simple enough for non-technical employees to use. 

Sometimes, people ask me a question like, “Why should I use a dedicated vendor for sending email when I can use Google Mail for free?” The answer is scalable deliverability. Just try sending one million emails per month with Google Mail. You will not be successful and encounter all sorts of issues that hinder your delivery of those emails to each recipient's inbox. Look for technology providers that allow you to scale up your customer communications as your business is growing while at the same time guarantees high deliverability of these communications.

You also want to think of your own development of customer communications as being an ongoing process. If you are working with legacy systems at the moment, you likely know the frustrations of tech that wasn’t future-proofed. This solution should serve you well 10 years from now. You want to look to the technology providers who are dedicated to the communication space, who are innovative, and have proven that they are agile and flexible enough to shift through changes in the market.

A Market-Leading Solution

One example of a frontrunner solution in this space is Quadient. Not only do they lead, but they truly shape the market as it shifts. You can see a holistic approach in the products they bring to market, like the Digital Advantage Suite, which streamlines customer communication by allowing editing across different platforms. Another innovative offering is Customer Journey Mapping—the product that helps you uncover the various touch points you have with your customers and that allows organizations to streamline processes across individual departments. Quadient’s holistic approach is essential for companies leaving their outdated disparate systems behind. 

I first encountered Quadient, GMC Software at the time, in my days at Océ. Their software solutions were crucial for us as it created the data streams to keep our printers running. This background on the print side of customer communications is a big advantage for Quadient today. And as the market changed, so did Quadient. The company is always learning and innovating. Early on, they acknowledged the industry shift to digital and have anticipated their clients’ new challenges. This tells me Quadient is deeply committed to the customer communication space.

Service Providers: Keep Your Eye on Enterprise Too

If you come to this as a service provider, still pay attention to what I’m saying to the enterprise users, because these are your clients. It’s the enterprise users who came to you to print those five million bank statements to send in the mail. 

As your client pivots to thinking about customer experience, you need to pivot with them. Where you used to market yourself as a print service provider, your message should now be as a customer experience service provider. What does that shift in messaging mean for you? You must look to add value for your clients as they focus on customer experience.

Understand, too, the shifts occurring within your client’s company. Within enterprise users, we see a change in who has control in buying technology. With the move of customer communications from IT to business units, this means now when you sell your services to an enterprise client, you are no longer selling technical specifications to an IT expert. You are now selling your solutions to a business user. The story you tell about your services has to match that user.

In today’s market, there’s no single recipe for success for service providers. I encourage service providers to start addressing enterprise customer communications needs holistically and then break that up in areas where they can add value. 

If you have an insurance company client, for example, every time a person signs up for insurance, that company has to produce, print, and send that policy to comply with various regulations. If you can automate and manage these communications associated with this on-boarding process and across different touch points, you will relieve a significant pain point for that client and help them improve their overall customer experience.

As we shift toward digital and customer experience, this is just one example where service providers can add value to their clients. Staying relevant in the future is all about looking for the value-add.

Throughout this article, I’ve addressed these shifts in the market as challenges. But your organization should view them as opportunities. This is true whether you are an enterprise or a service provider. This is your chance to split away from the competition by making a name for yourself in customer experience. 

The market is changing and, if you adapt, you may have it all to yourself.