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Getting Personal with Customers Using Interactive Documents

By Jerry Driscoll, Exstream Software Despite the large number of mergers and acquisitions within the industry over recent years, banking still remains highly competitive. Walk down any street in an average American city, and you're likely to pass three or four bank branches marketed to attract more customers and encourage them to do more business by opening more and different types of accounts. As always, however, the most effective way to do this is to build personal relations

By Jerry Driscoll, Exstream Software

Despite the large number of mergers and acquisitions within the industry over recent years, banking still remains highly competitive. Walk down any street in an average American city, and you're likely to pass three or four bank branches marketed to attract more customers and encourage them to do more business by opening more and different types of accounts. As always, however, the most effective way to do this is to build personal relationships with customers, to develop trust and inspire loyalty.Yet there are obstacles. The same technologies that have streamlined banking and reduced internal costs-such as drive-through teller windows, ATMs and automated telephone systems-now stand in the way of developing that all-important, face-to-face customer intimacy. As banks extend their services regionally or even nationally, this impersonality may become only more pronounced.

Another impediment to relevant and personal communications with customers is the fact that while banks keep detailed files of customer information, it is often stored in separate data silos. Statements are issued from one system and the marketing department uses another. Therefore, customers who already have the credit card often continue to receive brochures promoting credit card services. This wastes printing and postage dollars and, more importantly, fails to take full advantage of valuable customer data.

A typical step toward customer-centric communication has been to develop templates of correspondence to speed the document creation process. However, by definition, templates provide few editing capabilities. If a financial advisor or customer service representative (CSR) changes only one paragraph to fit a specific situation, for instance, one more template is usually added. Eventually, with hundreds of templates to choose from, finding the most appropriate becomes so cumbersome that it's quicker and easier to create another. Managing these templates becomes a logistical nightmare-not to mention the risk involved in this error-prone, manual endeavor.

Building a better solution

Technology now exists to tap into customer data from a variety of sometimes incompatible sources and combine them with marketing text and graphics files to produce relevant and personalized communications. Predetermined "rules" control which customer will receive which marketing message with his or her statement. Messages can now even be printed directly on the statement. In this way, every customer receives a message appropriate to his or her situation, and these documents can be delivered either through the mail or via email, according to customer preferences.

The latest innovation in personalized communications is the advent of interactive documents. These replace standard, fixed templates with documents that allow for "controlled editing"-tailoring correspondence or developing a unique proposal while keeping other information intact. Financial advisers and CSRs can now choose different headings or logos as well as pre-approved paragraphs or other language for the body text. When desirable, bank employees can type in their own free-form text in designated areas. And interactive documents will automatically insert appropriate disclosure and compliance language based on rules like Zip Code, type of account, or other predetermined criteria.

Other types of interactive documents accommodate clients who wish to take out a loan, open a line of equity credit, or apply for a mortgage. Until now, they've confronted the confusing, tedious and intimidating task of filling out pages of preprinted one-size-fits-all forms. For existing customers, the bank may have much of the required customer information on file already and interactive documents tap into this information to pre-fill data fields, while non-applicable fields simply disappear from the finished form. The process is much more efficient for the institution and for customers, and it reduces confusion and errors.

What To Look For

Financial institutions can now link all of their customers' information together to produce dynamic personalized communications that address clients' interests while meeting all regulations. When seeking an effective solution, financial institutions should look for the following:

  1. A comprehensive platform for producing all types of document applications to integrate all the communications the institution sends its clients.
  2. The ability to create interactive documents that allow for both streamlining and personalizing each document, including changing logos or other institutional branding, compliance language, and account information.
  3. The ability to accept information from multiple internal systems, data warehouses, ECM systems, and other data sources without requiring the institution to normalize the data.
  4. A collaborative environment that allows marketing and legal groups to control content to meet the institution's requirements.
  5. The ability to produce output that is personalized and relevant to each individual client.

With many banks and financial institutions to choose from, customers simply need to ask: Who do I trust? Who knows me and serves me best? Today's cutting-edge enterprise document automation technologies can help to establish long-term and profitable relationships with clients efficiently and without "breaking the bank."

Jerry Driscoll is group vice president of financial services for Exstream Software. Exstream Software helps organizations of all sizes connect with their customers through higher quality, fully personalized communications.

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