Who is it good for... you, or them?
Providing electronic access for clients is a new trend. Consumers demand 24 hour access in many cases and providing electronic copies of invoices, statements, documents either via email or an on-line portal is a great way to help improve the service that businesses provide to their clients. It's also promoted as a way to be environmentally friendly and save a few trees by printing less paper.
This is all great, in theory, but companies are beginning to take it on as a way to save money by cutting printing, postage and mailing costs. It's been in the media, locally and many of you have likely heard the story. Certain companies are now making electronic bill delivery the default and charging clients extra if they want paper copies mailed to them.
When companies look at "clients", (particularly in B2C situations where there are large numbers of clients and low $$ transactions), as a homogenous mass, it's easy to make bad decisions. Deciding that electronic statements are best for all your clients, and making those who don't want to interact in that way is a classic case of "Bad Profits" - forcing people do accept something that they don't want, particularly when their choices or options are limited.
Typical examples of this would include locked- in telephone billing plans with no escape clause, forced TV package bundling, or administrative processes that make it difficult/complicated to see the true cost. These very rarely turn out to be profitable in the long run. The moment that consumers have a choice they run like the wind.
Here at Wedgwood, we now have an on-line portal and shortly we'll be able to offer our clients the option of viewing all their policy documents electronically. We are notorious for sending out reams of documents that nobody reads, but it's a necessary evil at times. Here are our thoughts on this and we'd encourage other businesses to think about this as well:
- Philosophically, is it right to charge your clients a fee so that you can tell them how much they have to pay you for the service you provided?
- Are all your clients the same? Is it fair to expect older or less technologically savvy clients to receive invoices/statement in a way they may not be comfortable with, or not actually able to use?
- If you think it is environmentally responsible to do business this way, have you considered that many of your clients are just printing out the paper you send them and filing it? You've transferred the cost from you to your client, and also probably used a lot more toner/ink in a less efficient consumer level printer. You haven't gained any environmental benefits at all. Maybe you should be paying your clients for saving you this money?
- People aren't stupid; don't say you are doing it to be environmentally friendly when the real motive is to reduce costs/improve efficiencies.
We think it's fantastic to offer these choices, but let's focus on the early adopters first while remembering that there is an entire demographic that may not be comfortable with new processes. Instead of beating them over the head with a fee, why not educate, promote and over-time let the natural progression to electronic commerce take place.
Really, what's the rush? Be fair. Be transparent. Keep clients happy. Isn't that the sure road to success in business?