CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE AND EXPECTATION
Imagine the ease of completing an application, contract, claim, or other business-related documents in a seamless, digital environment — completely free of the manual disruptions associated with static forms. No more paper, printing, scanning, filing, or forced redundancies.
Add to that the ability to be guided through the information gathering process with helpful, relevant content — all on any device you choose to use. This is the goal for businesses developing customer-facing web applications.
Historically, and still today for many businesses, information is gathered through a paper-based form with all its obstacles to efficiency and customer satisfaction. Many use a hybrid of paper and electronic methods — including PDFs and smart forms — but see the limitations and still fail to achieve the total digital transformation required to compete for customers.
It’s easy to agree that forms automation is necessary to keep pace with today’s fast-moving business world. Even so, businesses lose valuable time trying to prioritize which steps in the form process require digital transformation when in reality none should be omitted. A fragmented digital process yields a fragmented user experience.
While an end-to-end, digitally-enabled application speeds up the process, improves accuracy, and increases efficiency, more importantly, it provides the holistic experience customers and employees have come to expect. If engagement is less than ideal, customers will take notice and inevitably base future decisions for re-engagement on that interaction. Forward-thinking businesses have this in mind and are acting upon it now.
So, what does the future of forms automation look like when a positive customer experience is the driving factor? To achieve frictionless, personal communications and compete in today’s digital world, forms processes will need to include the following functionality:
Fillable PDF Forms for accuracy and user convenience
We’ve all been there. You’re interacting with a business for the umpteenth time and they still require you to fill out your contact information — and not just once but multiple times. Or the information you provided six months prior was manually keyed into their system incorrectly, causing you to receive a late notification. The examples are endless.
Bottom line is that requiring a customer to fill in information you already possess, or an employee to re-key data from a printed or scanned form is a frustrating and archaic experience.
The logical first step towards a more advanced form process is to provide fillable PDFs that allow the user to fill out information online. This is a common place to start since converting a static form to one with fillable fields is easily achieved with tools like Adobe Acrobat. However, while this online approach beats using paper, there are still manual steps involved in collecting and managing the information provided in the fields.
In order to use a fillable PDF to its true advantage, think of it as a receptacle for automating the prefill and extraction of data as well. This is where a business begins to move beyond a simple online form towards digital transformation.
In today’s business world, the ability to prefill forms with relevant data should be a given. It’s often a first impression that communicates customer recognition and ensures the business interaction will be conducted on a personal level. It makes certain critical information is accurate and consistent across systems, reducing errors that can jeopardize the customer relationship. And by avoiding multiple, repetitive information gathering, the process becomes more efficient and your customer’s time is respected.
A fillable PDF is the first step towards prefilling and extracting data for more automated processes.
Regarding legacy forms
It’s one thing to create a fillable PDF at the start, but quite another to transform an existing static form to interactive. This is the challenge for businesses heavily invested in the creation of their static forms, yet looking for ways to easily convert them to fillable, interactive PDFs. It’s an important consideration when adding enhanced automation to legacy paperwork and processes.
Data Extraction to automate processes
Gathering information from documents is a crucial business process — and for many organizations, it’s still a manual, tedious and error-prone task. One that doesn’t scale efficiently as the organization grows and demands increase. The only way to address this situation to meet today’s digital demands is by automating data extraction.
The benefits are numerous. Most obviously for businesses that receive volumes of forms, then require a great deal of employee time and effort to sort through the documents and enter the information into a spreadsheet. Automatically updating databases and systems saves a significant amount of time and eliminates human error, ensuring greater accuracy.
Data extraction and integration work hand-in-hand to create a truly automated system.
An even higher benefit is that captured data can drive downstream processes to help manage the entire customer experience. Like when a piece of information is missing, immediate notification can be sent to departments and individuals requesting a correction in order to proceed with the transaction. This feature alone can significantly reduce the number of rejected Not in Good Order (NIGO) forms that slow down the sales process and hurt a company’s competitive edge.
Additional downstream uses may also include sending data directly into documents, reports or other business applications. Or assembling assets to generate and deliver personalized PDFs. Any step in the process can be automated.
And industry-wide initiatives, like Straight Through Processing for financial services, can be supported by streamlining shared information across multiple points for seamless, accurate client transactions.
It’s not hard to imagine the many uses of extracted data — or how eliminating manual tasks and costly processing delays improves both operational excellence and customer engagement.
Integration for end-to-end efficiency
The ability to extract data (as discussed above) is inextricably tied to integrating with a company’s existing technology to easily move data in and out of the process. While there are many ways to implement an integration, most application developers prefer a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) to enable efficient interoperability between systems, applications, and services. This approach allows them to simplify the process and more quickly meet demand.
Web APIs are then used to allow independent applications to connect and share data and services among themselves — such as extracting data from a form. Today RESTful Web API has emerged as the predominant design model for its ease-of-use, particularly for designing networked applications. Automating with Web APIs eliminates the manual steps associated with looking up information or updating systems.
Typically, someone would ‘extract data’ for purposes of integration. But other types of integration, such as sending a completed form to a records management system or merging content for a combined kit, are relevant as well. The ability to define both a service and an API around a unique forms process would provide a significant business advantage.
With the appropriate technology, you could even take a specific process step, say for onboarding, and call it as a Web API to use in another application or workflow. In other words, take an existing form and its automation and easily extend it to other platforms, saving time and money.
When it comes to forms automation, the right integration means less time concerned about its challenges and more time driving business with a frictionless, fully digital customer experience.
Adaptive Forms for an intuitive experience
Nobody enjoys filling out long, tedious forms that attempt to address every situational variable. Instead, business has made an evident shift towards the use of smart forms that customize themselves by presenting only questions relevant to each individual. The ability to create adaptive forms using conditional logic means information is automatically presented to the user, based on their previous response.
Customer acquisition and onboarding processes, in particular, have benefited from this approach for their mobile-responsive applications. Adaptive forms take individualized engagement to a more elevated level — by providing smarter business-client interaction and more targeted communications.
8 Ways Adaptive Forms Improve User Engagement
- Shorten Onboarding and Sales Cycle
Reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a form by presenting only questions pertaining to an individual user.
- Reduce Form Abandonment
Keep people from abandoning your forms by removing irrelevant fields and breaking the information into smaller, more digestible and less confusing content.
- Recognize Your Customers
Avoid asking your customers for redundant information. Instead, prefill fields with known data by integrating with back-end systems. The more you customize the experience, the more likely you’ll see results.
- Guide the User
Help employees and customers complete the form by presenting helpful information specific to them or a particular question.
- Vary Messaging for Different Audiences
Qualify your customer upfront with questions that determine their unique situation. If, for instance, they’re a parent they might see a completely different set of questions than a user who identifies as a college student with no children.
- Upsell Customers
Avoid missed sales opportunities by asking follow-up questions, as appropriate. For example, if someone selects a mid-tier plan option, ask if they’re aware of the benefits they’d get at the next level.
- Ask follow-up Questions
Learn more about why a customer answered a question in a particular way. The information you gather may enrich future conversations and provide additional opportunities.
- Generate a Structured Document
Collect data and include it in a structured PDF document to support compliance, file to back-end systems, or assemble as part of a kit for delivery to the customer.
HTML TO PDF for compliant documents
Conduct a Google search for “HTML to PDF” and you’ll quickly be presented with numerous solutions for this highly requested conversion — some simple, others for more complex situations. What’s clear is that when it comes to forms, businesses are looking for ways to collect information in an HTML web-based environment and transfer it to a PDF document construct.
Digital engagement today requires a seamless transition between web- and document-based formats.
The advantage of PDFs is that they embed images and fonts within the file itself, allowing it to always appear as intended, regardless of browser or operating system. Ensuring the document structure remains familiar to the user and unchanged for the regulatory agency is a requirement for many types of customer transactions. In addition, a PDF format provides a record of a business transaction which is important for dispute resolution and tracking — and can be easily transferred to paper if needed.
As businesses move toward digital engagement, PDFs provide a way to remain compliant with regulated documents. An HTML to PDF process would allow HR departments to collect employee information and use it to automatically complete required government documents. Then present those documents for review and signature. It’s easy to imagine how similar scenarios would be useful in other highly regulated industries such as financial services or insurance.
An HTML to PDF capability allows regulated industries to remain forms compliant.
And HTML documents?
While PDFs work well for compliant documents, they have a downside in that their format is unresponsive and therefore unable to automatically conform to a customer’s device. Yet, there are times when presenting information as a traditional looking document is necessary when engaging customers. This could include sales material such as a client quote, summary, or assessment.
Being able to represent a document in HTML not only makes the format familiar and easily read across devices, it also allows for built-in intelligence and personalization. The content that is presented can be response-driven, and information can be edited and validated in real time.
An HTML presentation provides a dynamic, user-friendly experience. And if needed, with the right technology, the HTML can be converted to a PDF document for emailing to the client and filing to a content management system.
Bottom line, if a business is driven towards digital transformation, the ability to toggle back and forth between adaptive, responsive formats and traditional-looking documents is a key ingredient to providing a positive customer experience.
Dynamic Content and Assembly for personalization
Content is meant to be shared — and never more so than in marketing or sales engagement situations with clients and prospects involving documents. Client discussions often require a discovery process of asking questions and collecting information in order to drive assembly of truly relevant content. The ability to dynamically assemble that content and combine documents on-demand provides for a ‘tightly coupled’ customer experience that removes manual processes and shortens sales cycles.
The dynamic assembly of content and documents — in tandem with client discovery — provides for highly relevant customer engagement.
Discovery to Delivery
Ideally, the web/mobile experience used for client discovery and recommendation should ultimately be reflected in the final proposal or document. With prefill, data extraction and data integration frontline employees have the ability to automatically choose and personalize content for immediate delivery to clients. Content may also be dynamically assembled on the fly, leveraging templates that tell the delivery system which content to pull in and how to assemble it on the page.
Furthermore, a customer relevant page can be incorporated into a larger document that may contain standardized or compliant content — and that document can be assembled with other documents and personalized correspondence into a unique package that is customized for a specific client. With the right technology, the combinations of personalized content and document assembly are endless.
Here’s Just One Example
A loan agreement for one state requires a certain waiver page to be included as a part of a group of pages in a loan agreement document. While another state requires a different waiver page. In addition, certain clauses and sections on different pages may vary based on criteria such as marital status or loan options chosen. In both cases, a set of related content and documents can be personalized and assembled specific to individuals in each location.