2008: The Start-up Era
Many people cite the introduction of digital full-color printers and inserting equipment in 2008 as the starting point for the CCM industry’s digital transformation. In earlier years, the color fidelity of the full-color digital printers left much to be desired and brought with it concerns about brand integrity.
Document composition software, however, with the ability to output files for the various analog and digital delivery channels, entered the scene and began making significant industry changes.
These software innovations improved color fidelity markedly and are now widely accepted as more than suitable for enterprise customer communication programs.
This rapid technological acceleration led many companies with internal production operations to outsource the work to external service providers, whose expertise lay in keeping pace. Among the companies leading the charge were Canon, HP, Kern, Quadient, and HP Exstream, to name just a few. CCM service providers able to make large investments into digital services, like Neps, continued to survive and flourish, while those that could not quickly fell to the wayside.
Concurrent with the transformation of print & mail production was the rise of electronic delivery channels. Though they had been available much earlier than 2008, they started to gain significant ground. Email became an affordable option that didn’t require an opt-in, while SMS text required an opt-in due to possible fees to the consumer. Documents archived online were also able to be presented from the time of their original composition.
In practice, these multiple channels worked in tandem to deliver documents. For example, an email or text could embed a link to take the consumer to their documents online, rather than sending it as an attachment or composed within the email body.
For more in-depth information on these channels, please see our article on CCM Cost.
From Multi-Channel to Omni-Channel
Fifteen years ago, delivery channels remained mostly “siloed”: each operated with their own composition engines, work groups, deployment mechanisms, and reporting apparatuses. The CCM industry had multiple channels to coordinate into a single communication and output workflow, a demanding approach often called multi-channel delivery.
Over time, technology changed that. Companies at the cutting edge developed software to process data and compose pages that was channel agnostic—this “omni channel” solution could produce and deploy any channel from a common workflow.
The advent of digital print production equipment, which allowed analog channels to integrate with their electronic counterparts, also drove the CCM industry to omni-channel delivery. It created a common digital environment where it was finally possible to share information between all channels, including print.
The transformation to omni-channel brought many benefits. It provided consumers with multiple, reliable delivery options, as well as the opportunity to get a communication in more than one format. It brought enormous efficiencies to CCM service providers, who no longer had to support separate channel teams.
USPS Keeping Pace
Given its well-publicized financial troubles funding long-term pensions, people often underestimate the extent of the United State Postal Service’s digital transformation efforts. Despite financial headwinds, the USPS has not shied away from developing digital solutions that CCM service providers can use to improve the lives of consumers.
- Using the intelligent mail barcode (IMb), which assigns a unique identifier to each mail piece, the USPS can track any piece of mail, anytime, anywhere. Digital cameras record when a mail piece passes through a destination point, sending the information to its Mail Tracking & Reporting (MTR) system. From there, a service provider can retrieve the information and report it to a client. Many companies now use both outbound and inbound tracking to better manage their cash flow.
- Through their unique IMb system, each piece of mail identified as undeliverable can be tracked down and shredded in a timely manner. The service was developed at the request of very large U.S. mailers who wanted to ensure their sensitive documents weren’t misappropriated during their journey back to the sender. The destruction itself has no fee, saving the client the time and expense of managing return-mail services, and comes as a benefit of the First-Class postage fee.
- Informed Delivery services allow consumers to see in advance what mail is arriving at their residence. While there is no research available yet on the topic, it is believed the advanced notification contributes to more timely payments. This can be a real benefit for companies as they monitor their cash flow, especially for those that mail monthly consumer invoices.
Over the past twenty years, two events have contributed to ever-increasing government oversight of transactional communication.
The 2008–09 Crisis
Originating in the mortgage and financial services industries, the widespread economic crisis of ’08 led to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose mission was centered on enforcing preventative regulatory measures. Policies mandating clearer explanations of contracts and terms, consumer accessibility to information, and more transparent product offers sought to protect the economy from future crises.
Since its inception, there have been several attempts to eliminate or at least diminish the CFPB’s authority, though none to date have succeeded. Because of their likely permanent place within the CCM ecosystem, service providers like Neps continue to develop solutions to better manage CFPB mandates, particularly around change management.
Recent Data Breaches
As the good guys get better digital solutions, so will the bad guys need to up their hacking skills. The rise of digital solutions has been accompanied by the consequent rise of security threats, particularly within industries most reliant on CCM services, like banks, consumer loan companies, and healthcare companies. This ongoing need to guard client data, both in digital and printed form, has been a somewhat Sisyphean labor. In fact, from a regulatory perspective, this situation has led the government to hold companies liable for security lapses caused by their CCM service providers. No longer can a company sidestep accountability when one of its service providers has a data security incident.
Neps has been an industry leader coordinating its security programs with clients, including data transfers, SOC2 certification, security reviews, and annual employee background checks. Companies need to up the ante with their service providers: seamless, highly coordinated data security programs are no longer a "should have," but instead a "must have."
Blended Marketing Communication
In the past, marketing enterprises and transactional communications remained separate; transactional production didn’t have the print quality or the page composition sophistication to handle the demands of targeted marketing communication. However, since the advent of high-speed digital printers and page composition software nearly two decades ago, there has been interest in blending marketing and transactional communications.
Why such an interest? Adding marketing communication to transactional communication can engender several notable benefits:
- You have a built-in body of captive consumers you communicate with regularly, a list of potential targets with similar interests, social profiles, and demographics.
- The USPS recently increased the maximum weight for a First-Class envelope to 3.5 ounces. Why not take advantage of essentially free space? Why not add the occasional marketing communication to keep costs down?
- Pre-printing marketing material is no longer required. The current state of high-speed inkjet printing can deliver marketing quality imaging and material in line with the transactional material.
Highly sensitive and/or legal transactions, such as medical EOBs or mortgage foreclosure notifications, are not the types of documents you’d want to additionally enclose with marketing efforts. More common transactional communications, however, like monthly invoices and statements, can be a more appropriate setting for marketing inserts.
Focus on the ADA
The nation’s largest generational cohort group, Baby Boomers, is entering later life stages; as such, there has been an increased demand for more inclusive solutions.
Additionally, the past five years has seen a significant increase in race- and disability-based awareness and legislation, particularly brought on by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some of these services include:
- Translation options to non-English languages
- Culturally relevant content
- Clearer communication using simpler language, color, and graphics
- Digital ADA-approved document formats such as braille and large format text
Not only does Neps provide these services, but we also integrate them to ensure our clients get the most leverage and return for their investment.
As we’ve discussed, CCM programs have had to react to ever-growing demands from consumers and their communication preferences, government agencies and their regulations, and internal company interests and their transactional communications. The only way to deal with these demands is through a set of integrated applications that can plan, coordinate, monitor, deliver, and report on CCM programs. But like everything in business today, change is coming. With trends and transitions moving forward at a rapid clip, it’s important to have a company that is vigilant to industry rumblings and fundamentally structured for flexibility.
Neps will continue to track, understand, and incorporate these trends. We expect this article to be one we’ll need to update frequently, but that’s the nature of the business and the source of our passion. We’ll happily keep you informed as changes emerge.