Companies producing transactional documents on paper want to reduce the cost of doing so. That's nearly a universal goal. Cost reduction is part of virtually every project my company does for our clients. When we go onsite to assess document operations we usually find several opportunities to lower costs. There are lots of ways to do that when you know where to look. But we don't always recommend aggressively pursuing paper suppression, even though some clients can be rather insistent.

It's OK to encourage customers to go paperless, or even entice them. But strong arm tactics such as penalizing customers because they fail to voluntarily opt out of paper or universally switching customers into digital presentment can backfire. The damage to customer relationships might not be worth the cost savings companies can gain by reducing print volumes in this manner.

Digital Isn't for Everyone
Customers have lots of reasons for preferring their familiar paper documents. They may not have computers. They might lack speedy and reliable broadband internet access. Perhaps their only internet device is a mobile phone, making transactional documents difficult to read on a small screen. Or paying for a high priced data plan to download digital documents might be a strain on budgets. Customers may also be concerned with the security and privacy of the internet as a delivery channel.

When it comes to the subject of reducing customer communication costs, companies seem to be quick to negate the value of paper transactional documents as a customer touch point. These communications are often the only contact an organization has with its customers on a continuous basis. They are monthly opportunities to upsell, cross-sell, educate, and develop good will. Replacing paper documents with digital versions could affect the impact of those communications with some customers.

Do fewer customers look at digital documents?
Studies have revealed that paper bills are opened by over 90% of consumers who receive them. Customers spend 2-5 minutes looking at the content, and a good number of people save the documents in a file drawer.

It is hard to imagine the same level of engagement via electronic documents. Before they can read digital bills and statements customers are frequently required to click a link in a notification email and log in to a customer portal. This seems like a lot more work than opening a paper envelope. Customers who make the effort to actually view their digital bills may not spend as much time with them. Five minutes is a lengthy commitment for people to review a single online document in a distraction-filled internet. There is a real possibility that messaging placed within e-bills will not receive the same degree of attention as paper counterparts.

While the document operations staff strives to drive costs from transactional document production, marketing departments are developing strategies to improve personal communications with each customer. They want to build loyalty by matching each customer's profile with engaging and relevant content. Because of the personal nature of the documents, this useful content is likely to be featured in the bill itself. If presenting bills digitally results in fewer customers viewing these documents then the effectiveness of the personalized messaging will be reduced.

Convincing the Reluctant
Switching customers who have thus far rejected invitations to convert to paperless documents could have a reverse effect. Not only are fewer of these individuals exposed to personalized customer-retention content on e-bills, but they may be unhappy if they felt pressured to switch away from paper documents.

I favor an approach that seeks to increase the value of paper documents while at the same time reducing customer communication costs â¬" without attempting to drive customers away from paper communications entirely. Keeping a trusted and desired communication channel in place, but enhancing its value makes more sense to me than working so hard to eliminate the paper presentation that is preferred by so many consumers.

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide improve their production workflows and save money. For more tips visit and sign up for Practical Stuff â¬" the free newsletter for document operations. Your comments are welcome. Send them to Follow Mike on Twitter @PMCmike