You’d think that in today’s customer-focused economy most companies would try to avoid deliberately ignoring customer concerns. Yet a new study from Iron Mountain* reveals that over half (57 per cent) of firms in the UK do exactly that with customer communications that arrive on paper. They say that they wait until the customer grows sufficiently frustrated to phone or email in to ask why nothing’s happened, and then they act.

Behind this approach lies the worrying fact that many firms simply don’t know how to handle paper once they have moved to automated customer service management. This is despite the fact that for 59 per cent of firms, most customer information still comes into the business on paper.
In fact our study found that over one in seven (12 per cent) prefer to deal with a customer service department by letter. Anxious customers writing letters that, more often than not, end up lost in an organisation that doesn’t have a process in place to deal with the correspondence.

Not surprisingly, a third of the UK surveyed told us that they are often confronted by angry customers whose request has been lost.

In our always-on, multi-channel world, people increasingly expect any company they deal with to instantly pull up a single, comprehensive view of their entire history with the firm. Yet our study found only a third (34 per cent) per cent of firms believe they have the processes in place to achieve this. The end result is that consumers find themselves having to repeat their enquiry, request or complaint to several different people. The study revealed this to be the top customer service gripe for 82 per cent of consumers.

Companies cannot survive in the new customer-centric landscape without a seamless customer relationship management system that can integrate and instantly update phone, email, social, mobile and other interactions. And paper should not be left out of this process.

Customers are voting with their feet. Our study found that chasing up written requests is a top customer service turn-off for 50 per cent of UK consumers. According to customer service group, Zengage, 82 per cent of us have stopped doing business with a company following a bad customer service experience. The effects are not just short term either, Dimensional Research has found that over a third (39 per cent) of people will avoid a vendor for two years or more after a bad customer service experience. And with the rise of social media, the impact of a single bad experience can have far-reaching ripple effects.

So what can an organisation do? Employee behaviours, cultures and business processes cannot be transformed overnight and budgets are not infinite. A gradual evolution is more likely to succeed than an imposed revolution.
Here at Iron Mountain we recommend that companies consider embracing a paper-light approach, rather than just doing away with paper in one fell swoop – leaving many customers and employees bewildered and lost.

In a paper-light world, new, inbound or important customer documents are automatically scanned and the relevant data extracted, validated and entered into the customer service process. Older or less essential documents are indexed and archived for easy retrieval if required. 
There are many UK firms out there trying hard to integrate paper, but finding themselves dependant on manual data entry (63 per cent of the firms surveyed in our study), a resource-intensive and error-prone approach. Just one in three currently digitises paper documents in order to extract the information. This means that a significant two-thirds of firms in the UK don’t, just as two-thirds don’t know how to retrieve customer information once it is stored in paper archives.  

Firms could argue that, as the use of paper declines and the challenge of managing new paper communications is diminishing so the problem could eventually resolve itself. However, a failure to respect and integrate paper-based customer service requests today will leave some customers poorly looked after – and they will probably take their business elsewhere.

Further, it means that all the valuable insight and intelligence contained within these communications would be lost forever. Can your business really afford to take that risk?

* Opinion Matters for Iron Mountain, February 2014.  Opinion Matters surveyed 1,257 Office workers who work in either, manufacturing and engineering, legal, financial, pharmaceutical or insurance from the UK, France, Germany, Netherlands and Spain. The research was carried out between: 10/01/2014 and 22/01/2014

Charlotte MarshallCharlotte Marshall:

Charlotte Marshall joined Iron Mountain in November 2013 as Managing Director for Iron Mountain UK, Ireland and Norway. Prior to this appointment she had a successful career at Rentokil Initial Facilities, where she was Managing Director of the Initial Facilities, Healthcare Group, a role in which she was responsible for leading a 3000-strong team to deliver integrated facilities management solutions to customers across Europe, including 35 NHS Trusts in the UK. Charlotte has also held senior operational and commercial roles with Sodexo, Patientline and Clinovia.

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