“The unlike is joined together, and from differences results the most beautiful harmony.”
In part 1 of this series, I offered some key reasons why customer communications management is important, and what goals would lead one to invest in CCM: consistency, manageability, progress, and criticality. In part 2, I brought these reasons into the context of the customer experience, and how a strategic CCM investment is a customer-centric investment.
In this part, I’d like to change the focus from the company/customer dialog, and focus on internal controls. What should a CCM solution do to bring manageability to the internal production process?
Communication Production & Delivery
Customer motivation is the end game of a CCM investment. But, the equipment used to deliver the content is just as important as the content itself. One does not happen without the other. In the background music world, I have controls over what 8tracks.com is streaming to my laptop’s speakers. These controls and delivery infrastructure work the same regardless of the content. In the same way, these sorts of infrastructure controls are essential to CCM as well as the communication content.
Eric Clapton (content) would not be helping me write this post if 8tracks.com didn’t offer me the controls to instruct their infrastructure to deliver it to my computer. CCM is like that.
Authoring & Collaboration
The first questions we hear from customers always include concern for the authoring environment. What is the process of designing a customer communication, and how is it controlled?
Looking closer at authoring, we can find multiple skill sets at work. The professional writer will know nothing about the enterprise data structure, and the IT staff will know nothing about visualization of customer-specific invoice content. Control over authoring means that the people with skills appropriate for a task are able to contribute to a project without stepping outside of their skills. Authoring environments will include multiple tools, with an integrated project repository, to enable collaboration across the organization.
Finally, control over authoring includes control over consistency. Items such as styles, logos, and layouts, which all represent a unified “Voice of Company”, have to be under control. These items, if they were to change, are global.
With multiple delivery channels, control over consistency is also a prime concern. One “control point” will effect changes in print, hosted and e-mailed renderings of a document. In other words, the template represents control over all channels, rather than just one. This gives consistency, and also enables downstream controls to render documents for any channel in any format, without the need to develop new templates. One template/multi-channel/multi-format is an essential feature to enable flexible management of downstream distribution.
Ecrion has been rendering documents for almost 20 years. However, rendering engines are not CCM solutions. Instead, some higher layer software has to control the production process – to bring together the right data with the right templates at the right time, and to distribute them in the right format on the right channel.
This orchestration process is commonly referred to as a “workflow” in business process, and that same term applies to document production. However, a document production workflow is typically subordinate to the business process. The business process “controls” document production, whether by automation (e.g. REST APIs) or triggers (e.g. time of day).
CCM workflows have three primary functions. They control data retrieval, they control document rendering, and they control document distribution. There is much flexibility within a workflow, as all three may depend on business intent (e.g. invoice), customer information, customer preference, and business process status. Workflows offer production control points, and one workflow may take multiple paths, depending on the controlling parameters associated with each document produced.
The document production workflow can also be used as a control trigger for business processes, especially in regard to the “interactive” use case. In this use case, the workflow controls data input and can push collected data into the business process, independent from the document it produces. Documents that are triggers for internal processes need data validation controls, and CCM tools offer this.
The workflow also represents the source of outbound metrics. Dashboards that show the health of the CCM solution draw from the performance of each of these workflows, and draw attention to workflows that are not operating correctly, or according to historic levels. Just as the embedded review process offers quality controls on content, the workflow archives offer quality control on the document production process.
Document Content Management
One of the essential characteristics of a CCM solution is personalization and targeting of each document. Unpacking this, we get to the realization that there need to be conditional parts of each document. Every data item we have regarding a specific customer can be a control point within the document, and within the workflow. Paragraphs or text within paragraphs can be dependent on such things as geography, order status, and account history. For example, a sales team may want to focus one campaign on California, and another on Florida.
These sorts of content control points are a necessary part of a CCM system.
Building up a set of related documents is not a trivial afternoon task. Rather, these are projects with requirements, contributors, test cycles, and ongoing updates and releases. Lifecycle controls include built-in version control tools, review and approve processes, and project promotion tools.
Each file involved in a project can undergo change, whether it is an auxiliary component like an image, or an actual authored template or data model. Files undergoing change need a revision control system, with tracking of the who/when/why of updates. CCM systems include these version control systems, and make them an essential part of the solution. Control is impossible with attachments to e-mail or simple shared global folders.
Built-in review tools give all stakeholders an opportunity to invest in the authoring process, without getting them bogged down in process. Task notification and management, with automatic progression on approval, is all part of the project’s lifecycle control. Review of sample documents, rather than components, is a critical feature of this control point. This is essentially a step that allows the stakeholders the opportunity to buy into the communications, without any need to know the underlying technology. This applies to large batch productions, or to correspondence. Controls are necessary.
A CCM solution has to provide distinct separation between develop, test, and production environments. CCM is too important to “go live” out of the gate. Entire projects (in contrast to individual files) need controls that allow them to progress as a whole, from initial development all the way into production. In addition, promotion needs to be a privileged operation, under control of a select few.
Distribution controls used to be limited to interaction with print room and mail room equipment. While this is still an essential aspect of a CCM system, it is certainly not the only distribution control.
Customer preferences can control distribution channel (e.g. e-mail, on-line, or print) and content (e.g. full vs. summary, language). Beyond that, even a distribution channel itself needs controls, as different channels have different needs. E-mail addresses may bounce, just as printers may need paper. Control over these distribution channels, as well as the communications they carry, are essential pieces of a CCM solution.
Hosting and Statistical Collection
In part 1, I mentioned that progress measurements are an essential component to CCM, because they offer incremental measurements of success. Practically speaking, printed documents have limited ability to give a voice to the customer, and consequently, limited ability to generate a progress metric. However, with electronic delivery, the limitation is gone. Click-tracking and related technologies open up opportunities to measure engagement, and to create a database that will feed back into customer analytics.
CCM infrastructure provides this feedback, so an organization can manage and, over time, improve customer communications.
This set of controls includes traditional controls you would find in any automated document production solution, but with additions. CCM opens up flexibility. Authoring is taken out of the hands of tool specialists, and given to teams of people drawn from the organization according to their existing skills. Data throughout the organization can be integrated into the production process, and can be enhanced through the document feedback process. Each document, whether produced in batch or on demand, whether delivered electronically or in print, is targeted and personal. And in all of this, there are metrics.
In the Next Part…
In this part, the focus has been on the mechanics of document production. This is an essential aspect of CCM solutions, but it is not the complete picture. In addition, there is an aspect of “governance”. Governance refers to policy, and how that policy is respected and enforced. A CCM system not only answers to the production manager, but also to those who create and are responsible for policy. This may be security policy, regulatory policy, brand policy, legal policy, or even engagement policy.
In the next, and final part, the topic will be governance, which is an essential part of the control system a CCM solution offers.