A Matter of Choice

Submitted by: Sam Upton 15/12/2017

As companies strive to move their customers towards digital communication, we examine whether this business decision is the right one for the consumer.

It’s no secret that businesses and organisations prefer to communicate with their customers digitally. Whether it’s financial institutions sending statements via an app or utility companies emailing your latest bill, companies are keen to make every document for every customer digital. 

For businesses with thousands of customers, you can understand why. With no paper, print or postage, the relatively low cost of emailing or texting is a major factor, but so is the ease of automation and the collection of data that can be used to target other products or packaged up and sold. Companies have even begun to charge people to receive their communications by paper. 

Charges for paper bills and statementsBut what’s efficient and productive for a company isn’t necessarily good for the customer. A global survey by Two Sides has found that this drive to digital isn’t always welcome, with a resounding 89% of customers believing that they should have the right to choose how they receive their communications, and 77% believing they shouldn’t be charged more for choosing paper. 

When it comes to important documents, there are a number of reasons why many people prefer them in print. Firstly, having paper bills and statements helps the customer keep on top of their finances – an important factor when money is tight. Two Sides found that 61% of people find it easier to track expenses and manage their finances when on paper, while a 2015 study by the Keep Me Posted campaign found that 82% of people are able to correctly identify how much money was in their account if they received the statement by post, versus 32% who received online statements. 

“People’s understanding of the information they receive has important implications for their ability to manage their money effectively,” said Judith Donovan CBE, chair of the Keep Me Posted campaign. “Receiving paper correspondence may help people manage their finances better. It can help them avoid going overdrawn inadvertently or spending beyond their means.”

Then there’s the issue of trust and security. With online fraud an increasing problem and hackers gaining access to millions of customers’ details, people are quickly losing trust in digital, particularly when it comes to financial and legal documents. Indeed, the Two Sides survey found that  71% of all respondents are increasingly concerned that their personal information held electronically is at risk of being hacked, stolen, lost or damaged, while 73% keep hard copies of important documents at home. 

One of the ways many companies encourage their customers to make the switch to digital is by claiming that going paperless is better for the environment, imploring their customers to ‘Go Green’ or ‘Save Trees’. Because of the sustainability of print, these claims are often misleading and Two Sides have been working hard to get some of the world’s biggest companies to remove them from their communications. To date, Two Sides have succeeded in getting 278 companies to remove claims that going paperless is better for the environment – a 61% success rate. 

Customers are becoming suspicious of this claims

Customers are also becoming suspicious of these claims, with the Two Sides survey finding that 62% of respondents believe the switch to digital is because the sender wants to save money, not because it’s ‘better for the environment’. Even when service providers only communicate with their customers electronically, going ‘paperless’ is often unachievable as 69% of all respondents regularly print out documents at home.

Ultimately, the aim of many utility, phone and finance companies to move their customers onto digital-only communications could result in a loss of business, with customers unhappy that the choice of how they are contacted is being taken away from them. The Two Sides study found that 44% of respondents would consider switching to an alternative financial organisation or service provider if they were forced to go digital – a sizable chunk of business that could be lost for the sake of offering paper communication. 

“Given the big issues that face people now, such as debt, identity fraud and access to services, the main issue here is citizen choice,” said Judith Donovan. “We think people should be allowed a free choice about how they receive their communications without being charged and having to go and search for the option to make that choice.” 

Contrary to popular belief, the issue of choice isn’t just confined to a certain age group. While you may expect a figure of 93% of UK consumers aged 55+ to agree that they should have the right to choose paper or digital, you may not expect younger generations to show as much enthusiasm for the issue. However, the figures remain high across the board, with 85% of 18-24 year olds, 83% of 25-34 year olds, and 86% of 35-44 year olds wanting the choice. 

From all the results of the Two Sides study, it’s clear that there’s a disconnect between the direction companies are taking with their communications and what their customers actually want. Whether it’s the fact that that people have a proven trust of print, the misleading environmental claims or simply the removal of choice, companies still have a lot of work to do when it comes to effective customer communication. 

To download the global report, as well as the Key Findings from the UK survey, go to www.twosides.info/Survey2017