Why Customers will (or won’t) Go Paperless

Remember when the Yellow Pages were the most reliable source for business contact information, hours, and services? They dominated this space for decades. Every household and business used them. By the time the new editions were delivered, the old ones were pretty worn out. Though a few companies are still distributing Yellow Page directories, many of today’s printed copies probably never even make it out of the shrink-wrap. Customers have switched to the Internet and smartphones which provide all the data they need.

What happened to address books, Rolodexes, and those spring-loaded telephone directories where almost everyone stored important phone numbers? We don’t use them anymore because databases on our phones, our computers, or in the cloud are more convenient. Of course the downside to this behavior change is we can’t recall anyone’s number by memory, but that didn’t stop people from replacing paper with electronic contact lists.

If you are old enough, you might recall when printing customized maps and driving directions from applications like MapQuest was a huge improvement over those maps from the gas station that seemed impossible to refold correctly. Mapping applications are still around but few people ever print a map or directions anymore. Speaking navigation systems in cars or on phones make it easy to find your way while never taking your eyes from the road.

In all these examples, digital versions of paper solutions provided benefits that far exceeded the analog tools they replaced. It didn’t take consumers long to abandon paper once they discovered they could use something better, with minimum hassle or expense.

Do your paperless documents really make life easier for customers?

The point here is one reason more consumers don’t opt out of printed documents is they don’t see enough advantages in the digital versions to make changing worthwhile. Once the benefit is clear, people will quickly make the move. Until then, no amount of statement messages, bill stuffers, envelope overprints, or on-hold messages pleading them to save the environment by going paperless will make them change.

Most companies simply convert existing printed documents to PDF’s or HTML files. The inevitable outcome is disappointing paperless conversion rates. Eliminating the paper saves time and money for the document producers, but customers don’t view digital copies of printed documents as an advantage. Some may even consider converting from paper to digital as an inconvenience – forcing them to change their comfortable and reliable workflows for paying bills or storing documents.

Document producers may find their goals for paperless customer communications more easily achieved by finding ways to:

  • Use those communications as gateways to richer content delivered over digital channels.
  • Employ strategies such as smart forms or pre-populating documents with information already recorded in your databases.
  • Give customers easy access to searchable FAQ’s, chat agents, or telephone customer support to add value to digital documents.
  • Make digital documents more appealing and useful than their printed counterparts will convince more customers to make the switch.