Terrestrial TV went digital in the late noughties, online music streaming became the norm in the mid-2010s, and working remotely became the white collar standard in 2020. From tapping the plastic to pay for your groceries to learning a new hobby via YouTube, the world has long been transitioning to a digital setting; but for some reason, a lot of business practices haven’t kept up.
For example, you can easily open a bank account online and pay your HMRC tax bill through a website, but a lot of information related to these things, such as bank statements and tax return notices, are still sent on paper. A few brave frontrunners have taken the plunge and gone paperless, but it’s far from the norm and is a hotly debated topic. It’s increasingly becoming the case that the younger members of the general public only want one thing coming through their doors – things they’ve bought online – whereas older generations are used to having physical letters, paying with cash, and dealing with people instead of bots.
As a business, you need to make sure every one of your customers feels valued and listened to, and it’s your responsibility to cater to their needs, whatever they might be. But, how do you do that when your client base is a mixed demographic? Well, going paperless is one option, but with some for it and others against it, it all begs the question: is going paperless worth it?
What does going ‘paperless’ mean?
Firstly, it’s important to understand what is meant by ‘going paperless’. Generally speaking, certain types of companies, particularly those in the B2C sphere, frequently contact their customers. Whether it’s to remind them of important changes to their account or to promote something new, communication is key. Going paperless doesn’t mean an end to this type of communication; it’s just using a different channel to do it.
Instead of sending out letters, communication is done digitally, typically through an online portal as opposed to via email. For example, instead of getting a bank statement through on paper, customers can log on and see their bank statement online.
Going paperless can also mean digitising certain processes for customers; such as paperless mortgage applications. With the right paperless approach, processes can be streamlined and completed remotely, using things such as eSignatures to fill in important documents. It eliminates the need for customers to visit you in-person or send documents to you in the post, making it easier for the customer and less burdensome for them.
Rommon Thompson, Head of Demand Generation here at Vizolution, explains more about going paperless:
“The Pandemic supercharged digital transformation across industries as businesses ‘pivoted’ to a new way of working. Those with well thought out processes and systems have been able to delight customers and improve experiences. Those that rushed going paperless and implementing digital alternatives, have created barriers and frustrations that will likely lead to customers voting with their feet.
“The next few years will likely see organisations continue to implement a paperless approach as they target ESG KPIs, and those that rushed it will try to fill execution gaps they have inadvertently created.”
Essentially, written communication goes from being a physical thing you can hold in your hands to a digital thing you can see on a screen. It’s the same message, just delivered differently.
Which industries can go paperless?
There are so many organisations within various industries that have gone paperless. In a nutshell, any company that regularly sends letters to customers or one that requires customers to send documents to them can go paperless. It’s a lot more common in the B2C sector, but it has been implemented in B2B industries, too.
For perspective, some of the most common industries that are increasingly making the switch to paperless include:
Banking is perhaps the most common industry where going paperless applies, and this is because banks have a lot of communication with their customers; more than most other businesses. Natwest made waves by making their mortgage applications paperless in 2017, somewhat ahead of their time when you consider that, six years later, there are still a number of major banks that still don’t offer this.
The scope for banks going paperless is wide, with the option to digitise statements, loan and mortgage applications, account changes and updates, and other communications relating to accounts. This is partly why the banking industry has been among the first to go paperless, especially with the rise of online banking and apps, and consequential increasing competition, as Rommon explains:
“Cost efficiencies and the desire for most high street banks to close branches has been the main catalyst for banks going paperless. Challenger banks have also had a large impact too; they are eating established banks’ lunches and driving a lot of banking innovation.
“They are forcing lagging banks to try and keep up, while others are looking for solutions to allow them to leapfrog and be the leader. Going paperless is only the start.”
Telecommunications is another industry where going paperless has become a big focus. Telecoms businesses typically provide a billed service, and this means statements are sent on either a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis. There is also communication around service upgrades, pricing changes, and planned maintenance that may affect the level of service that is being provided. All of this results in a fair amount of communication with the customer, and therefore stands the industry in good stead to adopt a paperless approach.
Going paperless in telecommunications means customers have their account and payment information at their fingertips; providing better continuity given a lot of telecoms businesses allow customers to access their accounts and pay bills online anyway.
Going paperless means changing operations as a whole, and this is especially important in telecoms where audit trails need to be present, as Rommon explains:
“Telecoms is already largely a paperless industry; there are very few organisations in this sector that aren’t paperless-first. What this means, though, is ensuring there is an audit trail that allows them to demonstrate compliance and avoid a large volume of complaints and returns.”
Where there’s a bill to pay, there’s a chance to go paperless. Insurance, be it for a car, house, business or travel, is one of the most important aspects of life, and by its very nature, there’s no telling when access to documentation may be needed. If someone gets into a car crash and needs to contact their insurance company, the last thing they’re going to want to do is trawl through their documents to find their policy and account information. Going paperless solves this issue.
Insurance companies don’t need to send 20-page documents summarising insurance policies to each of their customers, and customers don’t need to keep hold of bulky documents in case of an emergency. A paperless approach gives instant access, making stressful situations a little easier to manage, but it all depends on security, as Rommon explains:
“While Insurers have seen the benefit of moving to a paperless approach, they have had to contend with higher levels of fraud. For them, the right, secure system and process needs to be in place for paperless to work for both customers and providers.“
The majority of people pay their utility bills on a monthly basis. For utilities providers, this means sending out monthly bills and any other additional communication to potentially millions of customers every four weeks, and for customers, it means having multiple utility bills coming through the door every four weeks.
This can easily become too much for providers and customers alike – making the switch to paperless an attractive prospect and one that an increasing number of utility providers are taking advantage of.
That being said, going paperless in a rush isn’t without its hurdles, especially in the utilities industry, as Rommon explains:
“Utilities is another industry that is already largely paperless and has a paperless-first approach. However, their issues tend to arise with servicing customer service and support.
“The lack of paper has led many consumers to have a higher number of service requests. This is one of the scenarios of digital transformation leading to execution gaps that need filling with a better system that not only supports customers, but improves contact centre agent experiences, too.”
What are the benefits of going paperless?
With so many core industries making the switch, it begs the question: just what are they getting out of it? The debate over whether everything should be digitised is one that has long raged, and there are certainly causes for concern. For example, some people aren’t well-versed in using technology and might struggle to access online accounts or remember login information. Others don’t have access to computers, smartphones or the internet, making it near impossible to go paperless.
However, disadvantages need to be weighed against the benefits, of which there are several. Some of the main benefits of going paperless include:
Reduced storage space
Correspondence, particularly that of a sensitive nature, needs to be kept for a minimum period of time, typically around six or seven years. With potentially millions of customers and monthly correspondence for each, storage is one of the biggest challenges. Documents need to be securely and smartly stored, requiring huge storage facilities and security personnel to do so.
Furthermore, customers need to keep copies of their statements, too. Again, with monthly correspondence, a bulky pile can quickly accumulate and it can be hard to store effectively within the home.
Going paperless means companies can drastically reduce the amount of storage space they need, and customers can say goodbye to that drawer of paperwork nightmares. From a business perspective, less storage space means reduced costs, and this money can be reinvested elsewhere in the business to improve customer satisfaction on a broader scale.
One of the main issues people have with going paperless is that they don’t trust it. Security is a big concern and is of utmost importance, especially since identity theft is on the rise (with personal information from bank statements and utility bills making it easier to commit fraud). Cybersecurity is the best it has ever been, with many customers already trusting organisations to have robust security measures in place in terms of online accounts and saved payment information.
It can be argued that it’s easier – and cheaper – to invest in strong cybersecurity to protect your customers than it is to keep countless years worth of documents safe in a physical storage facility.
Improved user experience
Customer satisfaction is at the forefront of most businesses’ priorities at this point in time, and automating systems and processes where possible is a sure-fire way to create a smoother operation.
Since the pandemic, a lot of people got used to doing things themselves and many want to retain that level of autonomy. Not just this, but if customers are already using apps and online accounts, it makes sense for them to be able to receive and send correspondence in the same way via online document exchange.
By giving customers the option to go paperless, they can manage everything related to your business from one central point, allowing a fluid omnichannel experience which will improve efficiency and ease of use, and user experience and satisfaction by default.
It will come as no surprise that printing, packaging, sending and delivering written documents is time consuming – and that’s before external factors such as postal strikes or mail simply getting lost are considered. If the document is time sensitive, this can easily become a problem. Going paperless is almost immediate; there’s no need to wait for multiple cogs in the wheel to move in coherence. You can reduce the time it takes to communicate with customers by days, and it’s easier for them to get back to you, too.
Users can read digital documents immediately, and provided you have the appropriate eSignature software, they can sign and send things back without having to take a trip to the post office. Going paperless is, no doubt, a far faster approach and allows processes to be sped up as a consequence – such as faster mortgage decisions.
Smaller carbon footprint
There is a massive focus on businesses doing everything they can to be more sustainable, and reducing paper consumption is a major way they can become more green.
With less paper being used and fewer carbon emissions being emitted to deliver the paper – which will inevitably end up in the bin at some point anyway – going paperless is a viable and easily-actionable way to bring your carbon footprint down.
How long does it take to go paperless?
How long it takes to go paperless depends on your business, how many customers you have, the extent to which you want to go paperless, and the existing infrastructure you already have.
Cybersecurity needs to be carefully considered, and you need to take steps to adapt the processes of your teams to accommodate going paperless. In all, sorting out the logistics behind going paperless takes longer than its implementation – but this is something that we can talk you through.
How much does it cost to go paperless?
Going paperless can certainly reduce your overheads and bring your overall expenditure down over time, but it’s not free to install. If you’re considering going paperless, speak to us today to find out more about how much it may cost depending on your business and your end goals.
Is the future paperless?
The question on everyone’s lips is whether or not the future is paperless. As it stands, society is moving towards paperless and digital processes in more ways than one, but it’s not a blanket inevitability at this stage. As mentioned earlier, there are still many customers who don’t know how to use technology or are unable to access it, meaning paperless isn’t a full and direct replacement at this stage.
Instead, a hybrid model is more appropriate. Give customers the option to go paperless and make sure you’re serving everyone in the way that is best for them.
Paperless business solutions at Vizolution
At Vizolution, we have a number of solutions and integrations that can help you automate processes and improve customer experiences as a result, including moving to a paperless model. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help your business take the next step, please contact us today.