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Card diversification has created a communications deadlock for issuers

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As credit card usage has become the norm for most consumers, card providers are working hard to innovate a wide variety of programs that appeal to individual customers.

For example, a large bank is likely to offer several versions of a card, such as one with cash-back benefits, another that promises travel discounts, and still others branded for a department store or other local business. As the number of card programs increases, so does the need for personalized customer communications to make prospects aware of what’s available, and to keep card users engaged and informed of the benefits they’re accruing.

Many financial institutions have invested in customer communications management (CCM) systems that are designed to handle this kind of complex and highly personalized interaction with cardholders. In fact, as the type and number of card programs multiplies, these automated systems may be the only way to manage communications quickly and efficiently. However, CCM systems can require a significant investment at installation, as well as trained and dedicated staff to ensure that your organization gains optimal results from them.

Additionally, it’s not unusual within large firms for different departments, such as marketing and customer service, to have their own separate communications solutions. Several frameworks often reside within a single organization and are typically not integrated. The result is that sharing content and data becomes a lengthy, if not impossible project for the IT team, which may have limited knowledge and experience with CCM or may regard it as a secondary priority. Such a siloed situation reduces the effectiveness, alignment and speed of customer communications and any hope for consistency in the communications sent may be lost.

To resolve these issues of complexity and multiple data sources, many financial institutions are looking at two different, but viable, options: bringing on a managed service provider (MSP) specializing in CCM or using a hosted service.

Similar to commonly outsourced functions, like transactional printing and volume mail preparation, an MSP is a third-party service provider that will deploy, develop, maintain and operate your CCM system to optimize its usage to achieve desired results, including improved customer satisfaction and loyalty, improved cross-selling opportunities, and particularly for smaller firms, a more level playing field with the industry giants. Where organizations have existing CCM software, the MSP will assist in developing the full range of the solution’s capabilities, working with the different internal departments to integrate cardholder content and data, and maintaining the system in compliance with service level agreements. An MSP can help onboard new credit card customers, help fulfill governmental compliance and internal approval requirements, and handle any new upgrades or changes to the CCM platform.

When considering an MSP for your customer communications, it’s wise to look for one with experience in the payments industry, one that has insight into the types of communications that must be sent out to cardholders and is aware of related regulatory issues.

It is important to know, too, that “managed services” is different from “hosted services.” An MSP will work on the CCM system installed in your own environment and behind your firewall and other security arrangements. No customer information, such as credit data, payment history, and so on will need to be moved from the servers. Any communication templates and related data also remains within your own walls. By comparison, a hosted service operates on software usually located either in a digital cloud or within the software developer’s proprietary facilities. Hosted services can be managed by the host or operated remotely by your IT staff. In either case, the customer files and other data is securely moved and stored outside of your organization, though you will have access to it.

Perhaps the most important element to keep in mind as a financial institution expands its offerings is that customer experience can be equally as important as the promised awards and rewards built into the different programs. Responsive, personalized and timely communications demonstrate your attention to cardholders’ needs and concerns and foster a more active engagement with customers. It also goes a long way in differentiating your organization from competitors. Making the decision to invest in support for a well-managed CCM system offers advantages to your employees who can move on to what they do best as well at every stage of the customer relationship, from a smooth initial onboarding process to successful long-term retention.

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