If you’re a designer working in marketing, advertising or design of point-of-sale materials, you would probably like a do-over on 2020. Retail, hospitality, events, arts and entertainment have all been hard-hit by the COVID-recession. By the end of April, USPS marketing mail volumes had dropped by 30 percent over 2019 volumes. However, there is some mail you can count on – bills, statements, privacy notices and other regulated customer communications.
EMBRACE THE BORING
Compliance documents are not the place where you will be able to try out awesome PhotoShop effects, demonstrate your chops with Illustrator or even write catchy marketing copy. That said, designing for this market has the benefit of profitability and dependability if you have the skills to win the business.
Improving these communications can also be very rewarding. Your work may be seen by millions of people, not just once but possibly monthly and over a long period of time. Communications like wealth statements, utility bills and insurance forms are redesigned every five years at best. Some companies may wait more than ten years between significant redesigns. However, when it’s time to tackle the project, it’s a big project and almost always a rush. Keep in mind that a rush project in this environment can mean three to six months requiring three to five designers and consultants on the project. That can be quite profitable.
Naturally the length of a project will vary by complexity. Designing a two-page energy bill in a single language will be much less involved than designing a multi-currency brokerage statement for production in multiple languages with twenty or more pages of content. What these redesign projects have in common is that there are tangible results that companies expect to get from their redesign efforts.
WHY COMPANIES REDESIGN REQUIRED DOCUMENTS
There was a time, not so long ago, when major companies didn’t understand the power and value of their customer communications. As the Internet has allowed companies to interact more easily with customers, it has also allowed customers to complain more freely about companies. This means that satisfaction measurement has grown along with more careful tracking of the true cost of communications.
The cost of communications includes many things you might expect such as production, printing and postage along with servers, programming and bandwidth to support web and mobile. But there are other layers of secondary costs that come from how the consumer interacts with communications, these include:
- Lost, or delayed business when forms are not filled out properly;
- Increased call-center costs when customers don’t understand their bill or statement, and;
- Lost business due to frustration with poor communications or perceived errors.
There are also a host of opportunity costs such as the ability to get consumers to move communications from print to online delivery or to invest additional funds or to opt-in for marketing communications. All of these costs can be positively impacted by effective design.
A few years ago, I worked with a major phone, internet, and cable supplier that was experiencing spikes in customer service call volumes every time bills were mailed. This had an annual cost of nearly 40 million dollars. We looked at research on top call drivers and segments of customers most likely to call. We did a phased redesign that reduced calls by nearly 30 percent with the first implementation and continued to drive down costs with each subsequent phase. Even after the costs of design, programming and internal change management, the customer saw more than 10 million in annual savings through redesign.
We can assume that they were asking about the dog but it reads like maybe grandma was getting feisty with trespassers. While some of the things on the forms made us laugh, it wasn’t at all funny for the company. Agent satisfaction went through the floor, the cost of processing forms went through the roof and significant business went out the door.
In the end, the newly redesigned forms were longer, used adequate white space, graphics to aid navigation and plain language for instructions. We were also able to eliminate an antiquated numbering system that saved more cost on printing than reducing pages would have.
Another project with impact in the millions of dollars involved property casualty insurance forms for a major brand employing thousands of insurance agents. A very high percentage of forms were being returned “Not In Good Order” or NIGO. These forms were bumped back to the agent and then back to the customer for another round of processing. This is costly, time-consuming and often results in lost business due to annoying the customer. The company had done an internal redesign of the forms two years prior with the goal of shortening the form and reducing costs. They focused on the paper instead of the process and chaos ensued. One of my favorite parts of the shortened form was a section about who lived in the house. It asked about pets and elderly residents. Because of the shortened form, the questions were jammed together with check boxes that read:
- Are there dogs?
- Are there elderly?
- Bitten anyone?
LONG SALES CYCLE
Customer communications redesign projects can be large projects but may also have a long sales cycle. If you are an independent designer or small agency, you may want to partner up with a printing organization that specializes in this type of print communications. Oddly enough, very few of them have dedicated design services focused on this area. If you have experience with both print and web design, you will be ahead of the game. Keep in mind that the print and web experience have to work in tandem. Even if you are going after online experience design opportunities, having an understanding of what is possible (or not) in print is still important.
While many companies may wish that they didn’t have to print, statements are not going away soon. A recent survey from DALBAR found that that 59% of investors still utilize statements to review account data. Of those surveyed, 88% reported that they view account details via computer or mobile device. For most that is in addition to the printed statement. This market will continue to be complicated and target rich for redesign for many years.
In a future post, I’ll talk more about the skills needed to compete and succeed in making boring customer communications an exciting new business opportunity. Believe me, it’s way more fun than it sounds.