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July 28, 2014

Multi-Channel Customer Communications: Can We Save 16 Million Trees a Year?

Some tried-and-true best practices for how to get your customers to opt in for electronic communications.

Many of the large insurance and financial services firms send as much as 100 million pieces of billing and statement mail each year. All are trying to reduce their print and mail expense budgets by going electronic, but with limited success. The highest rate for electronic adoption that Doculabs has seen is for bills, which now approach 50 percent. But the adoption rate for statements is considerably lower.

According to payitgreen.org, if every U.S. household stopped receiving paper bills and statements, 687,000 tons of paper would be saved every year. For the record, it takes more than 16 million trees to produce the paper needed to print that yearly volume of bills and statements (not accounting for current recycling volumes).

To encourage greater adoption of electronic documents and forms, let’s review a few best practices to help increase those adoption rates (and save quite a few trees).

  1. Offer incentives: Charging for paper statements (i.e. creating a disincentive) has met with considerable backlash, and can demonstrably damage your customer relationship. Incentives provide a much more customer-centric approach and can be simple and relatively inexpensive. Small gifts or entries in drawings for larger prizes have proven effective in driving adoption and in providing a return on investment.
  2. Appeal to the “greens”: Provide information on your web site and in whitespace on your documents that both informs and educates your customers regarding the benefits of electronic communications. Make it personal by providing data points that your customer can relate to.
  3. Ensure quick and easy document access: Your customers demand quick and easy access to both current and historical bills and statements through your web site. Invest in a robust content management infrastructure or repository to provide your customers ready access to documents with a defined but lengthy historical view. And consider communicating to your customers how much “readier” that access is likely to be than if they have to go pawing through their own paper files – particularly if those files are less than well organized.
  4. Build trust in your online and data security: Recent news events and data breaches have consumers increasingly concerned for the safety of their online credentials. Be clear and direct in communicating the steps you’re taking to ensure confidentiality of customer credentials and data.
  5. Digitize your forms: Whether used for data capture or regulatory disclosure, the technologies and processes are making it easier and easier to collect or provide information in a purely electronic state. Paper forms just can’t compare to the customer experience that can be provided through an electronic or omni-channel experience.
  6. Use e-signature whenever possible: Requirements for “wet” signatures will continue to decline. Validation and audit trails are provided by the major providers, and government and regulatory agencies are becoming more and more accepting of e-signatures.
  7. Connect with your mobile strategy: PDF forms just aren’t going to satisfy customers using mobile devices. Be sure to connect your electronic publishing approach with your mobile strategies for both internal users and for customer-facing applications.
  8. Measure and adjust: Don’t expect a big-bang conversion, but rather a steady growth in electronic adoption, with a corresponding decrease in print and mail production and spend. Determine the metrics to track over time, publish the results broadly, and then adjust your approach based on the successes and the challenges you encounter.

By following these best practices, you can increase the rate of electronic adoption by your new and existing customers and significantly reduce operating expenses. Maybe we’ll never get to the point of saving all 16 million trees, but certainly our continued efforts can move us in the direction of many millions of trees saved.

Now, if they could just quit putting all the trees they’ve saved between my golf ball and the green….

Tom Roberts
Tom Roberts
I’m a Principal Consultant for Doculabs with 25+ years experience, focused on delivering strategies that improve clients’ enterprise content management capabilities, with an emphasis on customer communications management strategies.