Customer messaging is evolving rapidly in many organizations. Efficiency at the production level is a top priority and so is improving the effectiveness of individual messages. The growth and impact of digital distribution is unmistakable, innovative companies are focusing less on improving a single component of the messaging process in isolation.


Instead, they are looking at the entire life cycle of the message which encompasses the five key components of message creation, production, distribution, receipt and updating and are examining how best to integrate and link them together in a cohesive closed-loop sequence.


And for many organizations, a critical first step is to break down the "silo" mentality that has traditionally isolated print/mail finishing, and to a lesser extent the IT function, from other internal business functions and lines of businesses in the enterprise.


To achieve that goal, managers in innovative companies are now using the closed-loop model of the customer messaging process as a way to spur information sharing and the forging of linkages between the print/mail finishing center, the IT department and the other functions and departments involved with customer messaging, most notably the marketing department, the call center and the unit that handles returned mail.


In fact, it is not uncommon for representatives of these various departments, when they finally meet as part of an enterprise integration effort, to exchange business cards. Although these managers are all involved in some aspect of customer messaging, they simply never had an opportunity to interact before. We call this phenomenon "stitching together a coalition" and it is a key to the success of enterprise integration.


Justifying ROI

Marketing managers are especially receptive to the innovative and team-oriented enterprise integration concept because of their need to justify the return on investment (ROI) on the huge sums spent to acquire and retain customers. And this need is especially acute now, while the economy is still searching for a firm footing.


For example, one business we are working with is a leading financial institution that operates a large and very successful credit card processing unit. This bank spends more than $900 million a year on marketing-related expenses, which includes distributing about 1.2 billion mailpieces annually. That's equivalent to sending about 15 mailpieces to every household in the US each year.


The bank is already familiar with print stream engineering software, which it uses to help automate a huge portion of its customer correspondence. But now the bank's managers are looking into the benefits of linking the customers' response behavior which details how customers respond and can encompass an array of factors such as the use of non-conforming envelopes, whether payment was enclosed, the orientation of the check and the use of either staples or paper clips to the next outgoing statement.

The goal is to influence and channel behavior to create a more uniform flow of responses, which will help boost productivity and the effectiveness of the remittance processing center.


Additionally, the bank is considering the implementation of a closed-loop track-and-trace solution, which will enhance the ability of the remittance center to forecast receipt of responses and schedule processing resources.


If the bank improves the way it handles responses by just five percent and we think they can do much better than that it would represent a tremendous improvement in performance.


Call Center Productivity

Another target or "isolated silo" that is ripe for improvement in many organizations is the call center. One firm in particular, a national retail organization, illustrates the dimensions of the call center opportunity.


This firm distributes 14 million customer statements each month. But it also receives 85 inquiries by telephone for every 1,000 customer statements it mails. And since the call center employees don't have access to a complete record of the statement including when it was prepared, mailed and delivered and what enclosures were inserted it is very difficult for the call center personnel to respond to questions about the bill.


One solution is to provide the call center representatives with access to the actual image of the statement, along with the key details concerning enclosures, processing and delivery by the U.S. Postal Service and account data from previous statements.


This will dramatically simplify and speed the handling of each incoming call, which will improve the productivity of the call center, enhance the experience of the customer making the call and help facilitate a shift to highly targeted cross-selling, which can actually boost revenues for the firm.


Reducing Returned Mail

A third key area of enterprise improvement centers on the perennial problem of returned mail. The focus here is both cost reduction and increased revenues.


In many instances, an enterprise integration solution can reduce the amount of returned mail by as much as 50% in just three to six months. This is a huge hard-dollar savings in postage, materials and labor for virtually any organization, and the savings flow directly to the bottom line.


Businesses are also exploring how they can use information related to recent customer moves to actually bolster sales by creating unique marketing offers targeted specifically to consumers who have recently moved.


As an example, a prominent horticultural firm discovered that customers who have moved recently respond to offers involving new plantings at a rate that is roughly twice that of customers who have not moved which only makes sense. After all, customers who have moved probably need to landscape their new homes. So the firm now makes a special effort to stay in contact with customers and has increased both revenues and profits as a result. Other businesses can benefit by employing similar strategies.


Mail as a Driver

Lastly, businesses are using the enterprise integration concept to explore how to use the mailpiece to elicit a specific response from customers. For example, some organizations want the mailpiece to drive consumers to a Web site so they can update account information or order merchandise on their own.


Other businesses prefer that the mailpiece drive consumers to contact an inbound call center so that critical information can be verified or cross-selling efforts can be handled "live."


Still others want the mailpiece to drive customers to a retail location, to spur more buying and to link data about the customer with the purchase, which can aid efforts to custom-tailor future offers.


Of course, there must be agreement among those involved regarding the organization's goals and priorities. Otherwise, there will be no guarantee that the new enterprise integration strategy will enable the firm to use its messaging and internal resources more effectively.


Plus the "nuts and bolts" of enterprise integration the stitching together of coalitions, the reviewing of internal business processes, the searching for hidden needs and opportunities and the sophisticated ROI analysis required to help justify expenditures is not a quick and simple process and often requires assistance or guidance from outside the organization.


But the benefits of enterprise integration are well worth the effort. Organizations that use customer messaging as a way to streamline and improve their internal businesses processes are achieving their most pressing business goals. When they increase revenue and profit, improve customer satisfaction and acquire and retain more customers, they are securing and enhancing their long-term future as well.


Bernie Gracy is vice president, Enterprise Integration Solutions, for Pitney Bowes. For additional information on enterprise integration solutions, visit