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Top considerations for ECM and content services in a customer-first digital world

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The global pandemic accelerated the long-running digital transformation process for organizations and consumers.  Planned digitization projects are now on the schedule to be completed in months, rather than years. Consumers and business buyers quickly pivoted from in-person meeting and purchases to completing all transactions online. Prepared organizations took advantage of the digital acceleration and thrived, and consumers took notice. PwC found that 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great, holistic customer experience and the more expensive the item, the more they are willing to pay. The opposite is also true. One in three customers will leave a brand they love after just one bad experience, while 93% would completely abandon a company after two or three negative interactions.

Consumers increasingly want more from organizations with which they conduct business. They want to be treated and serviced like they are known, part of a brand’s extended family. Deloitte Omnia AI reported that customers are 80% more likely to make a purchase from a company that personalizes their experience by knowing their name, product preferences, payment method of choice and preferred communication channel.

Out of necessity, businesses are adapting and becoming more digitally savvy, but many still have three distinct strategies to produce customer communications: one for print, another for electronic delivery (eDelivery) and a third for social media. These strategies are often driven independently from the others, creating inconsistent consumer experiences and silos of content, propagating an inconsistent and undistinguished experience for customers.


Employees primarily use enterprise content management (ECM) solutions and content services platforms (CSP) to manage inbound documents and workflows that capture, store, route and present digital content. Customer communications management (CCM) solutions focus on the outbound side of creating digital content and managing the output and delivery (print/mail and eDelivery) of bills, statements, correspondence and other document-based customer communications.  Although these solutions focus on different areas of a business, they intersect at the management and improvement of the customer experience. They need to work together, sharing customer data, content and communications with employees who connect with customers to deliver a consistent and personalized customer experience.  

Too many silos

In the 1980s, companies developed a consolidated system for storing, accessing, managing, distributing and viewing static content. This included print stream reports, images and transactional customer communications. Integrated document archiving and retrieval systems (IDARS) included mission-critical customer support, electronic presentment of customer bills, statements and invoices and distribution of report data, such as transaction logs, financial reports and long-term document and content archives. These back office systems are the backbone of many enterprises, and are quite predominant in financial services, public sector, manufacturing and retail – organizations that communicate with millions of customers.

As content types changed, so did the technology and method to create, store and archive them.  Companies moved away from mainframe systems and adopted distributed applications. New software vendors took advantage and offered enterprise document management, web content management, digital asset management and project collaboration solutions. These applications were purpose-built to manage the development, storage and output of documents, web pages and digital assets. Given that these vendors’ applications focused on managing various forms and types of content, they became known as ECM vendors. This created a two-fold problem. First, each application was designed for specific business units, departments and employees: legal and compliance, website, graphics, marketing, sales, etc.  Data from CompTIA shows when business units work independently on technology projects the outcome leads to integration challenges. Second, newer ECM vendors did not design their repositories to ingest or capture high-volume print streams of reports and customer communications at scale. Nor were they designed to output variable data-driven customer communications to high-speed production printers.

Employees were also extremely frustrated by the unfilled promise to give them access to their content anytime, anywhere, on any device. New approaches to managing content, such as enterprise file synch and share solutions, appeared and took advantage of new cloud computing platforms.  Employees found this approach much easier than using restrictive corporate ECM systems or business-specific applications to access and share information. 

Given the history, it is not surprising that all forms and types of enterprise content and customer communications exist in mostly non-integrated functional silos that support specific employees, business processes and applications.  According to CompTIA research 82% of companies say they have a high or moderate degree of data silos.  MuleSoft reported the average organization has 900 applications and only 28% are currently integrated. Dimension Data, in its “Customer Experience Benchmark Report 2020,” found that 54% of organizations manage customer experience operations in silos. Only 33% of customer experience professionals say they can actively communicate and collaborate across teams to drive and improve customer experiences. These data silos and integration challenges are deteriorating and disconnecting customer experiences across channels. 

Questions to ask

Organizations that rely on ECM, CSP and CCM solutions need to ask themselves a set of questions to decide if their current implementation will deliver the functionality and extensibility needed to improve customer experiences. For example:

  1. Integration: Is there a library of REST API services and microservices to integrate with core systems, customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, web portals, print service providers and cloud applications like Twilio, DocuSign, Smarsh and Sprinklr?
  2. Configurability: Is the solution flexible and adaptable to meet changing business and customer needs? Does it have a graphical user interface, is it menu-driven and does it use no-code workflows? Are business users able to use the solution and manage templates without extensive training and dependency on IT?
  3. Technology: Is the architecture current and does it support web services? Is it offered as SaaS or cloud-based deployments? Does it allow for easy data exchange and embedded analytics that show real-time insights?
  4. Personalization: How are customer communications personalized and customized? Which communication channels (print/mail, email, web, mobile, social, call center, etc.) are supported? How is personalization done in real-time for web and mobile customers and in batches for bulk email and high-speed printing?
  5. Print/output management: Does it convert existing print documents into digital formats in real time and on demand? Does the solution easily support responsive HTML5 mobile capabilities and accessibility for the blind and partially sighted? How is data privacy managed?

These questions are the beginning of a needs assessment. They raise important issues in the evaluation of existing systems to adapt and contribute to the new age of a customer-first, transformative digital world.

What to look for

If organizations are looking for a new solution or technologies to strengthen and expand an existing system, then what does a modern integrated ECM, CSP and CCM solution look like or what does it need to do to improve customer experiences? First and foremost, it needs to ingest, store and archive written customer communications. There are three types:

  1. Transactional customer communication with variable data, such as bills, statements and explanations of benefits. Typically, transactional customer communications are processed in batches. With print stream transformation utilities, they are made available to customers in real time and on demand.
  2. On-demand processing of personalized customer communications for when a customer wants a previous month’s statement or wants a sales quote. This includes reprints as well as electronic delivery to a self-service portal or email address.
  3. And third, interactive customer communications that include social media posts and forms for customers to input data. For example, new loan applications and apartment leases.
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