Customer Communications at a Crossroads for Two Industry Events
Impressions from events shaping the future of customer communications and US mail delivery
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Two separate industry events with a role in customer communications were held in Charlotte, NC this week just a few blocks apart: the National Postal Forum (NPF) at the Charlotte Convention Center, and Document Strategy Forum (DSF) at a nearby hotel. You could easily assume a symbiotic relationship between these two events—one that produces communications (DSF) and the other that delivers them (NPF), but it may be the last time these two events are this close in terms of their role customer communications. This was highlighted by the fact that many attendees were not aware of the other event or their relevance to one another.
Both Events Serve the Customer Communications Market
For the past 15 years, DSF has been a leading source of education and insight for professionals engaged in content management and customer communications. This year’s two-day event attracted approximately 300 attendees and 40 vendors sponsors with sessions spanning 11 topics that ranged from user experience design to forms technology as well as artificial intelligence (AI) and hyper-automation.
Since 1968, the non-profit NPF has partnered with the US Postal Service (USPS) to deliver education and networking for the mailing and shipping industry. This year’s event attracted approximately 3,500 attendees of which a large proportion were USPS employees, along with industry professionals, business mailers and the many vendors and service providers that support the US postal eco-system. A highlight of the annual event the opening keynote by the US Postmaster General.
The theme for this year’s NPF was “Delivering For America” yet, with the USPS’s own data showing a decline in first class mail volume for bills and statements of approximately 6.6% annually since 2008, the USPS is shifting its focus from letters to package delivery. This transformation from processing mail #10 envelopes to delivering packages includes everything from new distribution hubs designed to process packages to redesigned delivery vehicles to transport and enhanced data systems to collect and report detailed information at every step in the process.
Underlying this transformation is a commitment to sustainability with programs like the USPS BlueEarth’s Carbon Accounting Service that allows customers to measure and manage their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) based on characteristics such as the product type, size, weight, processing, and transportation methods.
The transition to a logistics and delivery organization has been criticized by some since the delivery of mailed communications remains a very important channel for businesses. However, a simple look around the vendor exhibition shows the changing nature of UPSP eco-systems with data-centric companies such as GitHub, Splunk, and Google showcasing their products and services.
More Than Mailed Communications
One of the primary reasons the USPS is seeing a steady decline in first class mail volume is the changing nature of customers communications—particularly how monthly bills are delivered and paid.
Consumers are increasingly accessing and engaging electronically with their services providers, which has opened new opportunities to serve customers, but has also made it easier for those same customers to switch providers. This is why the term “customer experience (CX)” is often used when describing how customers receiving, access and interacting with communications. CX is also expanding to include the process of receiving in-bound communications, making payments, and even the experience of the employee who is interacting with the customer on the phone or in-person.
Historically, DSF has been about document-based communications but, more recently, has focused on the complex role of communications in the broader context of CX. The show knowledges that many of today’s customer touchpoints are electronic interactions that need to be managed and optimized. At this year’s DSF, digital transformation took center-stage with much of the content focused on best practices for data management and automation to measure and continuously improve CX at every touchpoint, including with printed and mailed communications.
With the move towards more digital engagements, AI was also a common theme among the vendors present at DSF. But unlike what you may read in the news, the conversations about AI at DSF were about streamlining data, hyper-automation, and the reduction of human-power processes. There was very little discussion about replacing human workers as the trust in AI technology remains elusive. For now, a person is still required to sign off on input or suggestions made by an AI-based system.
Heading into the Future
NFP and DSF are both excellent events, but for increasingly different reasons that are separate from the dependence on printed and mailed communications. While they may not be as closely connected in the future, both events will continue to serve the customer communications market. NPF focuses on the USPS's transformation towards parcel delivery due to the decline in first-class mail volumes, while DSF emphasizes optimizing customer communications within the broader context of CX and digital transformation, with AI playing a role in streamlining processes.
The National Postal Forum 2024 will be held June 2-5 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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