What do bills, voting, USPS, and COVID-19 all have in common? Taken collectively, they’re all forcing us to sit up and pay attention. COVID-19 has changed so many aspects of our lives, and it has also brought bill paying to the front and center. With thousands of Americans out of work, consumers have been forced to re-think their communication strategies. That’s right…like businesses, consumers are rethinking how they prefer to communicate, and the pandemic is wreaking havoc with customer communication channel preferences.
In a previous blog, Keypoint Intelligence discussed the effects that channel fog and channel fatigue are having on consumers. Bogus digital communications have drastically increased during COVID, so consumers are more concerned than ever about security and personal data privacy. Now that we’re seven months into the pandemic, even more forces have come into play—and these affect printed communications, as well. Keypoint Intelligence has just completed its 2020 “Annual State of Transactional Communications” study, and the preliminary data from this research is quite telling.
Consumer preferences are paramount when it comes to communication channels. Enterprises and brands are beginning to understand that, in today’s multi-channel world, they need to better understand who they should be trying to reach and how to communicate with them. Although most financial institutions have a solid understanding of consumer preferences, some continue to push consumers to “go paperless” in favor of digital e-delivery of bills and statements. Unfortunately, more consumers are seeking ways to cut costs as global unemployment rates continue to rise. When consumers were asked about any communication services that they discontinued to save money during COVID-19 and the subsequent recession, cable/Internet and cell phones were the most likely services to be turned off.
Although this news will certainly be alarming to financial institutions, it should serve as a wake-up call for brands, as well. Enterprises and brand owners might have thought that they had a captive audience with digital communications, but the ongoing pandemic has made things much more complicated. For one thing, consumers’ channel preferences are changing. Perhaps even more importantly, not all digital channels will reach all customers now that the recession has prompted many consumers to rethink their investments.
Although digital fatigue is very real, COVID-19 is also having an impact on printed communications. Certain aspects of life are viewed as constant certainties or fundamental rights. For example, bills are a certainty that none of us can escape, and many of us believe that voting is an inalienable right. Likewise, we take the post office and the delivery of mail largely for granted…but there is no question that the ongoing pandemic has had a major impact on the USPS. There are ongoing concerns about social distancing and employee safety, but this is an election year to boot. Today’s consumers are questioning everything that they receive in their mailboxes during COVID, including direct mail, bills and statements, voter ballots, and even health and safety notifications.
Keypoint Intelligence’s Transactional Communications research set out to better understand how the USPS fits in to consumers’ current channel preferences. As it turns out, 40% of consumer respondents are concerned about the safety of their physical mail. What’s more, almost the same share of consumers reported that COVID-19 has caused them to reconsider the number of communication channels that they use. Safety concerns aside, there has been a tremendous amount of news coverage regarding mail delivery times. Interestingly, this is causing many consumers to take matters into their own hands. Almost three-quarters of respondents to our Transactional Communications research were aware of the USPS Informed Delivery service. Of those that were aware of the service, nearly 70% were using it.
The overwhelming reasons for signing up for USPS Informed Delivery included concerns about postal service cutbacks and concerns with lost or misdelivered mail. As a communication delivery channel, consumers overwhelmingly trust the USPS with mail delivery and their ability to track it. This is also a positive for mail-in ballots as the Presidential election looms. For print service providers who are already playing in the ballot printing business or thinking about exploring it, there is one final bit of information that should be considered. Yes, the USPS is currently weathering the ongoing COVID situation as well as the political storm, but channel preferences are suggesting that changes may be coming. Given a perfect world where all channels are secure and equally validated, respondents were asked which channel they would most prefer to use to cast their votes. Roughly 25% stated that they would prefer to vote in person, but preferences for US mail and e-mail were almost a dead tie with 20% of respondents each citing a preference for these methods. This indicates that the communication channel preference curve between digital and print is likely flattening out.
COVID-19 has turned a great many things on their heads, and customer communication preferences are no exception. Brand owners and enterprises must immediately respond to these changing preferences, or they will risk losing a large chunk of their customer base. Although print communication channels have also been disrupted, digital communications are now shrouded with uncertainty due to channel fog/fatigue and growing concerns about security. Meanwhile, USPS Informed Delivery has enabled consumers to become more confident and comfortable with their direct mail. Ultimately, today’s brave new world will force print service providers to take a long, hard look at their core business plans and offerings. This hyper-connected, multi-channel world is accelerating faster than ever, and print service providers will need to evolve if they hope to survive. There is no question that the pandemic has pushed many industries toward artificial intelligence and omni-channel product offerings. The printing industry is no exception, and the players in this market who do not respond to these changes risk being left behind.
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