Building an efficient platform for inbound document handling

The way in which clients engage with your firm has changed rapidly.  The digital experience we all witness as retail consumers has changed our expectation. This combined with a growing need to transact outside of conventional office hours, and to manage relationships remotely rather than in person, has seen a steady increase in the proportion of client correspondence and supporting documents being sent digitally via portals and email. 

Dealing effectively with inbound correspondence from customers, whether it be via email, paper documents, online forms, or a variety of other sources, is the first stage in creating an efficient process that underpins how your firm is able to manage resources, time, and interaction with clients. 

From on-boarding clients through the entire client journey, the ability to ingest documents and data efficiently and accurately via multiple channels and respond to clients in a consistent and timely manner is vital to delivering a positive customer experience Having an effective process to manage inbound communications can reduce the volume of direct enquiries to fee earners and case handlers and relieve them of manual tasks and intervention, allowing them to focus on their core activities where their expertise is best placed. 

Understanding your client demographic and the need to manage exceptions.

Whilst many firms have extended their existing channels to include email and web portals as a method of receiving documentation and providing feedback, some firms have made a strategic decision to transact online, as far as possible.  Whilst there are cost and service benefits to funnelling your communications through one or two channels, the firm’s ability to take this opportunity depends on the client demographic.  What may work well for a primarily online conveyancing firm, may not suit the client needs of a wills and probate specialist, for example.  

Beyond the need to accept communications best suited to your target audience, there is also the very real issue of exception handling.  As the Managing Director of a leading conveyancing firm commented at recent roundtable, “When you implement procedures you have to accept that some people wont follow them – there will always be exceptions. What if people don’t use the portal, what if people want to use the post? 

Put simply, you can’t shoehorn your client base into a process – it doesn’t work. You have to take communication from thclient in whatever form the process requires or the client deems appropriate at that time, otherwise you impact current and future business. This is particularly true in transactional spaces such as conveyancing, PI, RTA, where there iplenty of competition.   

If you don’t create a unified inbound communication platform for your clients which accepts communications regardless of source, then you’re potentially putting yourselves at a serious disadvantage. 

As Chris Thomas, Managing Director at Embrace Digital, advises, You may want to encourage a particular communication channel because that’s of benefit to your organisation in terms of turnaround time, cost, and other factors, but the implementation of one technology should not mean that you need to restrict the number of channels, nor should it mean other channels needn’t be optimised too. You should be able to allow all communication channels to take place whilst still being able to determine a preference.   

“A firm may encourage people to choose electronic channels, for example, to reduce costs and because client feedback indicates that it is an easier and more transparent process, but you also need to manage the exceptions efficiently. If you streamline processing for 70% of cases but the other 30% end up taking a significant amount of time, you could still be in the position where the process is clunky, and the technology won’t have delivered the anticipated benefits.”  

Technology should enhance your ability to communicate and engage with clients, not constrain it. 

So, how can you achieve real efficiency gains across the breadth of communication channels?

It is rarely as simple as looking at one channel and focusing on how those volumes alone can be managed more effectively. When we look at how inbound communications enter the organisation, we take a holistic view of how you ingest information into the business, what form that information takes (structured, semi-structured, unstructured, paper, digital…), align it with your customer journeyinternal processes and next steps, and then apply the best technology and tools to optimise each stage of the process.  

The technology needs to work cohesively and typically it takes a variety of automation technologies, working in harmony across the various channels, to achieve the optimum result.  

It’s important to remember that any digital workflow transformation is neither a product in itself nor capability; it is the outcome of applying a range of automation technologies to execute and automate workflows along a high-value business process.  It enables organisations to unlock document intelligence, connect disparate systems, and orchestrate human and digital workers to fuel innovation, drive productivity, strengthen competitive agility and drive efficiencies across remote workforces. 

There are three key areas where a significant difference can be made to processing efficiency and customer responsiveness: 

Document Intelligence – Making sense of unstructured data.

As firms communicate with their clients and partners across multiple platforms and in an increasingly diverse way, they can face the challenge of processing large amounts of unstructured and semi-structured information from sources such as correspondence, email messages, reports, and web-based content such as reviews and social media posts. The ability to manage unstructured data and handle it in a consistent manner alongside other channels is of increasing importance, especially as we witness volumes growing rapidlyparticularly via email. As an example, Lyons Davidson has experienced a significant increase in the volume of case documents it receives via email, with email now accounting for 50% of inbound volumes. 

Transformation initiatives have taken capture applications from the back office to the front office, creating process efficiency and an audit trail from the start of the client journey. Unlike standalone Optical Character Recognition (OCR) solutions, the latest capture technologies use machine learning and natural language processing in conjunction with workflow to classify documents, extract information, and take suitable action based on the data; unstructured data that historically was locked in documents. 

Connected Systems – Integration and the need to bridge processing gaps.

The ability to access the data locked in documents alone is often not sufficient to reduce human input and provide the highest levels of efficiency for your operations. In many cases, it is necessary to access and update data in number of different applications. Asking users to look up and input data into multiple systems is slow and error prone and should be avoided. Automating manual look-ups and data transfers, and bridging the processing gaps between existing solutions, is critical to achieving maximum gains in efficiency and reducing costs. 

As Chris Thomas explains, Time spent on unnecessary manual tasks, even seemingly small ones, soon adds up. Just 30 minutes a day, when taken across 300 people, for example, has a huge FTE equivalent. Not only does this add significant cost but if you can take the most mundane parts of someone’s work away from them, that’s a benefit.  If you want to attract and retain talent you need to have technology embedded into the business so that the workforce can focus on their value add or you are in danger of losing those people to organisations who do have it.” 

Process orchestration

Ultimately, we want to focus valuable human resource on the activities where their expertise is required and automate repetitive and manual tasks; not only to reduce costs and drive efficiency, but to create an auditable, standardised, and customer-focused process that allows you to offer the highest standard of service with ease.  Moreover, automation makes it easier to scale your business operations due to changing volumes without the need to increase or reduce headcount.   

What you want is the 95% to go straight through the process and for people to only be looking at the 5%, particularly in the fixed fee market. 

By orchestrating individual touchpoint workflows, for example the gathering or sending of documents or the digital signing of new contracts, firms can deliver a better experience at each human touchpoint and link traditional and digital channels.  

Having this process and consistency built into your solution, also creates a compliant process that will be adhered to regardless of where your team are located – for example, with the recent move to home working, automated workflows and touchpoints would remain in place. Customer journeys―such as new customer onboarding, account opening, claims processing and citizen service provisioning―are simplified and enhanced. 

By accelerating high-value workflows, process automation helps increase customer satisfaction, improve operational agility, and create a competitive advantage. 

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