Why is Print Surviving?

older woman customer reading a printed statement

Late last year NatWest announced a plan to default all accounts to digital statements only. Customers of the UK bank received an email stating “From January, we’re going to stop sending you payments statements.” Customers still had the option to reset their preference to paper statements, although since it was a digital setting, they needed to go online to do that.

A classic catch-22, and a good example of a bank missing the boat on customer communications. Not surprisingly, in media reports NatWest faced considerable backlash from its customers. As journalist Victoria Bischoff put it: “…there is a fine line between encouraging customers to bank online and trying to force them —and NatWest has crossed it.”

This isn’t an issue restricted to NatWest, either. Other UK banks like Lloyds and HSBC are defaulting their new customers to digital statements. The problem is, of course, that just as in the US, there is still a significant percentage of banking customers who want to continue to rely on paper.

In the case of NatWest, many of its customers are elderly Britons who don’t – and will never – have access to the Internet. For several reasons, for these customers, paper statements are still the best option. In the event of illness or death, it’s easier for their families to keep informed of their account status and to spot fraudulent transactions on their account. It’s easier to save hard copies for tax time or in case of problems with account transactions, instead of downloading and renaming a pdf every month.  A statement in the mail can serve as a timely reminder, one that is more likely to be seen than if it lands in a crowded email mailbox.

Of course, there are significant benefits to financial organizations when a customer opts to go paperless, starting with savings on printing and postage costs. NatWest claimed that in the past year it printed over 450 million sheets of paper and a 100 million envelopes. Companies can frame the switch to paperless as part of a green initiative, although theoretically they may have just shifted the environmental burden of printing statements to their customers.

There is no denying that the move to digital is gaining momentum. An American Bankers Association survey from last November, the same time as NatWest’s announcement, gave high marks to digital banking. But it’s not enough for banks to force customers onto digital communications. Focusing on “digital” instead of “customer experience” can backfire. Poorly executed digital communication strategies (as in the case of NatWest) can discourage customers from moving to digital altogether.

Instead, banks and other organizations need to make the case that e-delivery is a superior experience offering customers real value. They can do this by making some simple changes to their communications, for example, by retaining statements online for a longer period or by checking in with customers to make sure that digital delivery still works for them.

And it may mean passing some of those savings on to customers, offering more personalized services, or simply ensuring that the digital experience is simple and disruption-free. With more advanced CCM technology available today, companies are missing an opportunity to drive higher adoption, increase customer loyalty and improve revenue.

Of course, some small percentage of patrons may never make the transition to digital. But throwing them under the proverbial bus is no way to promote long term customer relationships. What’s more important is to continue to improve customer service, whether the customer signed up yesterday or forty years ago.

DataOceans offers customer communications management solutions that help companies across multiple industries improve existing customer communications, including billing and invoicing for print, portal, tablet and phone deliveries.  These newly transformed customer communications can be implemented in 90 days without significant involvement of client IT resources and offer interactive experiences, personalization, and highly-targeted ads with a focus on increasing revenue and decreasing costs. Contact us for a free demo.