A key to customer retention is developing a comprehensive understanding of each customer's interactions with the organization. What have the customers bought, and how often? Have they called customer service? What offers have been presented to them? Which pages have they visited on the company website? What payment method do they use?

Answering questions such as these to get a complete view of each customer's relationship with a company can be a tall order. In most companies there is no central repository to store details from sales, marketing, customer service, billing, and other customer touch points. Surprising to most executives, the place that comes closest to a corporate-wide snapshot is probably the mail center.

Communication tracking systems used by corporate document centers can be a source of valuable customer relationship information. Automated Document Factory (ADF) systems can tell an organization how and when each outbound communication to a customer was distributed. It can reveal customer communication channel preferences and monitor the status of messages.

Though they use the information only for facilitating the creation and distribution of messages the document center knows quite a bit about customer preferences and behavior applicable to other parts of the company. They know which customers pay their bills by check. They know when customers have moved. They know if there are multiple customers at the same address. The ADF data can even allow the document center to detect when customers stop using an email address previously proven effective as a communication channel.

How Mailing Data Helps Customer Relationships
Customers, particularly those who communicate electronically, may not inform a company directly when they move to a new address. They can still access their bills or statements online and they will continue to receive alerts via text. Customers may believe physical address updates are unnecessary. The only department likely to know the customer has moved is the mail center. Processing mail files through the National Change of Address database (NCOA) provides that information. NOTE: I advise our clients to keep processing files through NCOA even if their customers have gone paperless. There are plenty of times when having current postal addresses on file are beneficial.

There could be lots of relationship and business opportunities associated with a customer move. A company might want to let customers know about stores or facilities located near the new address. There may be special events of a local nature to be promoted. Proactively answering common questions from movers can cut down on calls to customer service. Moving to a new house or apartment may ignite a need for additional purchases or new services. It could be an ideal time to offer a discount on window coverings, lawn mowers, or home security services. Insurance carriers may need to adjust premiums based on the location of the customer's new home. Tax rates may need adjusting. The possibilities are endless.

Customer Communications Info + Other Sources = New Insight
When combined with information acquired from other parts of the organization, data about customer communications can provide much-needed insight into customer behavior. Suppose a company redesigns their bills or statements. Understanding when documents are delivered is important when evaluating subsequent website traffic or the types of calls to customer service. This is how an organization can gauge the impact of the document modifications. Without data from the document center, segmenting the analysis by bill delivery channel or studying the intervals between document receipt and customer action would be impossible.

Marketing departments can find information gathered by the corporate ADF and other document operations data sources most useful. Companies judge the effectiveness of email marketing campaigns, for example, on response rates and conversions. The mail center can track emailed notices or other documents that have historically been delivered but not opened. This could indicate the customer has abandoned an email account. Eliminating these types of email addresses from the campaign can result in a more accurate measurement of campaign effectiveness.

Companies can put customer communication data collected and analyzed by document centers to use improving operations in many ways across the enterprise. The financial impact to organizations finding new ways to leverage information they already have will easily outpace the original benefits used to justify the purchase and implementation of ADF systems in the mail center.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, a firm that helps companies lower costs, develop future strategies, and improve quality in their document operations. Connect with Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com. Or visit www.printmailconsultants.com and sign up for Practical Stuff, a free newsletter for document print and mail professionals.