Paper or Electronic Communications: We Keep the Options Open

Paper or Electronic Communications: We Keep the Options Open

Digital transformation is not only affecting those of us in business, it is also affecting consumers, who increasingly communicate, shop, pay their bills and seek news and other information online. However, a 2019 survey sponsored by an organization called Two Sides and conducted by global polling firm Toluna, was of interest to me because it stated that paper remains consumers’ top choice for many transactional and legal documents like statements and invoices, insurance documents, and even retail receipts.

Although most businesses today promote e-billing practices (and many consumers may prefer it), this survey reports that 86 percent of the Americans and 82 percent of the Canadians polled want to be able to choose how they receive communications from their banks and other businesses. In addition, even if they’ve opted for electronic billing, nearly the same number of people want to be able to go back to paper at their request.

So why does paper remain an attractive choice? Let’s explore a few reasons. For some, electronic communication is just not an option. They may not own a computer or smartphone and may not want to make the investment of time and money learning how to use these devices. Age has something to do with it, too. In the US, a whopping 97 percent of people under the age of 50 regularly use computers and other online devices. However, for those aged 50 to 65, the number declines to 87 percent, and it falls further to 44 percent for those over age 65.

Additionally, printed statements are often one of the main, if not the only, point of contact between a company and its customers.  Companies that issue thousands of statements per week should view these documents as a source of value and new revenue rather than simply “the cost of doing business.”  Statements—unlike other forms of mail—are always opened, most often read, and commonly kept on file.  That makes them worth their weight in the marketing opportunity in terms of using them to cross-sell and up-sell existing customers new and additional services.

Another benefit of paper billing is tracking. The USPS offers highly developed tracking mechanisms that help ensure mail pieces don’t get lost in the delivery process. Organizations, and their customers too, can obtain daily updates on the progress of individual statements or invoices that enter and move through the postal system.  These advanced tracking capabilities often provide unrecognized value. For instance, companies can verify mail delivery and synchronize those deliveries with coordinated telemarketing or other promotional efforts.

Electronic documents can certainly serve to decrease postage costs, but in the jump to save companies may find that they lose inherent advantages found in being able to track paper. And while the use of electronic statements continues to grow, the savings available are still contingent upon customer adoption.

Not every company can be an expert in postal discounts, mail piece tracking and document composition.  Outsourcing to a company like ours is one way to access these expert skills while eliminating the need to maintain a large investment in staff, technology and process development.  We know that whether it is by printed paper or e-delivery, when it comes to “getting the bills out” every business should continue to look toward meeting what works for the individual customer. While electronic transactions of all kinds can be quicker and less expensive than printed transactions, and printed transactions can offer their own advantages, we think it’s wise to continue to let our customers decide their preference and offer both.