For episode 4 of A Sense of Identity, I sat down with Dave Reynolds from Paragon Customer Communications to discuss the importance of a multi-channel approach to compliant customer communications.
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Dave Reynolds is CEO of the Customer Communications and Lead Supply business lines for the UK, Ireland and Luxembourg region of Paragon. He tells us about his business line’s evolution from a print production house into an organisation that delivers compliant communications to thousands of customers each week using an insight-driven blend of channels.
Paul: Firstly, thanks for agreeing to do the podcast with us Dave, this is a, one of a series we do on a thing called Sense of Identity.
Now identity obviously is a core part of what we do. In this context it's more people getting to know one, this extraordinary business because I've been here a couple of times, it's just blown me away so I was really delighted you were willing to chat but Dave Reynolds CEO of Paragon Customer Communications.
Welcome to our podcast.
Dave: Thanks very much.
Paul: For me, when we - when we met up before and started chatting about Paragon and what you guys do, the first thing that I guess I was really keen for people that watch this podcast to understand was just the breadth of it.
I mean this is an absolute titan of a business in terms of the magnitude of your output, the scope of the people, in terms of the brands and the sectors you deal with and I don't want to steal any thunder about this stuff cause I think it's going to blow people's minds when they understand what you're trying to logistically cope with, but would you mind just giving us a little bit of background, one, about the business and two, about how you arrived here to end up having to run this ship?
Dave: Okay, so if we start with how I'm here on I guess probably. So, the Dagenham site in particular- it was a coming together of 17 different businesses.
One of which was my business, which had merged with another couple of businesses. And so we've had a few names along the way.
So, you know, this was bought by Corporate America, sold by Corporate America and then bought by Paragon so this was the coming together of that. So, you know, it's been a long, long journey.
I've been here, if you count having my own business for thirty years and we've moved into this site probably, what was that, probably about 15 years ago or so we, we came in here, and the journey to what we imagined then is still going on.
Paul: And this is one of, you corrected me earlier because, I think we talked about 15 sites. I think you refer to this as a flagship site but it's actually was it 64?
Dave: Well yeah, so we, we got 9,000 people, 64 sites, across four, if you like, four regions which is UK, Lux and Ireland, Western Europe, Czech, Netherlands and Belgium. So, we sell- so 15 countries selling into 25 countries I guess, so a €1.4 billion business.
Paul: Unbelievable yeah. And then again, just to sort of give some people who are watching lights flash out there in terms of, you very kindly gave me a bit of a tour round and I absolutely appreciate it because you deal with government contracts and very sensitive personalised data, you know, a very very strict regime about one, getting into the building, getting into the car park, identity, all that makes sense that the throughput in terms of the paper output, packs and those things, can you give listeners a little bit of the...
Dave: Yeah. So, so across our business we send 6 billion physical communications so pretty, it's a lot, it's a lot of paper.
But, we actually say more digital communications that we send paper so thirty billion digital communications. So technology is very much at the core of what we do too.
This is what makes that makes this factory tick.
Paul: Yeah. And I think that's the bit that I think's really interesting.
So, you know, obviously we're pretty, you know, prevalent in the financial services market. You guys are in that market and lots of others.
But the bit that I think probably will surprise people is just that blended approach to communications. We started chatting before about the fact that people need choice and that's what they get by dealing with...
Dave: Exactly that, you know well I think we've always offered choice and that's been very much accelerated by the pandemic and that drive to change and fuel put on that fire by the economic crisis that we're all going through and companies are looking at ways to save money.
My view is that we, is that there's lots of opportunity for digitisation done properly.
Understand the journey understand who you're talking to talk to the people in the channel that they want to be communicated with and give them options.
If you try and and turn off paper completely for somebody and their adverse to that, you know, you're going to find it very difficult to keep that person engaged and loyal to your brand.
You know we, most of our work is for regulated companies.
Paul: Yeah. Yeah.
Dave: Clearly we're in the retail space at the same time.
But you know where there's data there's regulation but in particular financial services, insurance, asset and wealth, retail banking all of those customers deal with, well our customers deal with the constant threat of cyber and so that, you know that, sometimes the best place to turn somebody off of paper is when when they've got a piece of paper.
Paul: You said, that was a phrase you used a minute ago and I thought that for me that resonates at a consumer level.
Dave: It's a trust thing isn't it? You know we all relate you know if you get a text is it really from the people, you know I get it all the time, got a text is that- is that my bank or is that a scammer.
You're never quite sure but that reassurance of paper, albeit that we're even seeing that become a thing now is that that reassurance of paper and following a QR code for example on a piece of paper into a portal or an archive or whatever it may be that then you are able to say, okay, you know, you've recognised that person in, you've filled an online form in.
You've got an email, an encrypted email that tells you general you've done what you wanted to do and, and you understand, as long as that journey, that digital online journey is as good as the paper one then you know, you're accepting of it and will interact with it.
Paul: Yeah its, so funny enough actually a mutual acquaintance that actually was responsible for this relationship way way back, Andy, I remember ringing him up and saying to him, you know, it feels like there should be a blend here and one of the first words he first said was (apart from the expletives) was, you're never going to get rid of all paper.
And he's right to this day. He's right. You know, that choice, that blend and the fact that you've got a one-stop shop for that.
That was the thing that I think was resonating for us in terms of why it was so important to try and work with you guys.
Dave: You know absolutely it's about, it's about the solution and what, what companies tend to find who want to, want to move is that you know, you have to have that choice.
You have to have that preference and you have to remember that you've got legacy customers that won't wanna- one, won't completely come away from paper, and sometimes they want a mix of those channels for different things so it's you know. Well you have to remember the legacy.
You have to remember the sort of, the rules around treating customers fairly and you know, all of that new legislation that's coming about, but choice is part of that legislation.
Paul: Yeah. Yeah, and Consumer Duty I think carries all of that, it talks about all that stuff absolutely.
So in the context of that digital journey obviously I'm passionate about security and comms and the cyber of side of things and we see, we've seen some shifts in people's receptiveness to that medium, I've talking about my mum even, who's in her eighties but it would be good actually if in your words to explain why you mentioned actually the sheer volume of output your doing on the email side of things, digital already, and I know you've got portal functions, all those things.
What, what for you was the piece that was important around that encryption side in terms of working with us and the Mailock product?
Dave: You know, I think that it answers an ask for one of our customers. It's a great product.
You know, we partner with lots of technology companies that are in that magic quadrant, if you like.
And I think that it compliments our service absolutely.
You know, we don't there's always a question about technology isn't there you can make it yourself or go buy it.
There's no point in trying to build something that's better than you can that is not as good as something you could buy off the shelf or, or partner with a technology company and Beyond Encryption answers that for us.
It's integrated into our platform. Why?
We've got a great platform, it compliments our platform, gives the customer what they want.
Paul: And the other thing that was interesting, I think it was a stat and forgive me if this is wrong by the way, I think it was actually Lucy where I picked it up when we were talking about all the ESG stuff which we'll talk about but I think you touch every household in the UK on average 1.4 times. Was that a week or a month?
Dave: A week, yeah a week yeah.
Paul: It's extraordinary isn't it, so people that are getting stuff from their suppliers.
That's, that's the piece I think is really important that they don't understand and we all get used to this sort of, in terms of supply chain, you know, the goods you receive that might come in your Tesco shop, your Waitrose, there are other supermarkets just to say, but the point is that the channel, the chain of events has to take place for that to get to you through your door.
Well that's what, that's what you're doing at the most titanic scale aren't you?
Dave: Exactly that.
You know we, our mainstay as I say is regulated business in that financial services world but that stretches obviously out to insurance and the retail sector.
But, you know, absolutely sustainability is- absolutely sustainability will be our licence to trade.
If we don't do something about our ESG then, you know, we'd expect to be very heavily taxed and not be able to work for our customers that aspire to get those emissions down so that we've we've committed to being Net Zero by 2050.
Sounds like a long time away but it's a real commitment, some people are- you know not an empty promise.
We've developed a carbon calculator that plug into our tech that tells you exactly what you're creating and what we're creating and we have got great plans to, so there's solar going on the roof of here shortly but wind, hydrogen, battery cells all of that good stuff that's gonna drive down our emissions and the carbon calculator where we'll help our customers offset their carbon.
Paul: And I think that's the piece that's quite hard sometimes for people to perceive because fundamentally I get it you know when you're printing something, print, pack, and post and that is going to continue to proliferate.
It's an absolute part of that blended approach.
But if you're going to print, then you want to try and do it in the most respectful way you can.
And that is something that I know Lucy's been writing a lot about and blogging and all that stuff.
Dave: Yeah, we really have embraced that, that, you know, what is as I say our licence to trade it's what keeps us honest with this and Lucy and her guys are doing a fantastic job on making sure that we deliver on our plan.
Paul: Yeah, it's amazing.
Just trying to give people an idea of the types of processes that are going on in there, when we were looking at the machines and as I say, the CapEx and just the sheer scale of the machines you got out there, there was everything through from very high resolution, high fidelity print down to single sheets, sorting machines.
I mean, I also noticed you also carry quite a lot of people as well that are doing the exceptions stuff and the audit trail, I mean cameras and it was just unbelievable to me, the scope of what you've got to cover to do all of those parts of the workflow.
I mean, is that set to change for you, you think?
Dave: Well, I think you know, clearly we're seeing a decline in transactional comms, obviously, particularly around what I would call true transactional comms in as much as that, you know, your utility bill or telephone bill or whatever, whatever that might be.
And, but I think that, you know, clearly over, over a number of years, months, we probably will consolidate it in different ways.
Dave: But I think you know paper's here to stay.
A job for this factory can be one, you know a contract from the city can be one sheet of paper that's.
And that needs to be generally that needs to be filled by a person because you can't set a machine up for one thing.
But you know that can run next to a million of something when we're doing you know, elections, biannual statements or interest rate changes.
Paul: And this is right down to I think Paragon were also involved during that COVID period distribution of packs on that front I mean.
Dave: 110 million COVID test kits.
We got set up in four weeks amazingly well we're still doing it we're still doing some now it's more to do with the measurement of the R rate than it is you know huge numbers being delivered out but you know we're quite fleet of foot when the ask is on.
Paul: Which, when you consider, when you look out at that, being fleet of foot and with that that is just incredible.
Dave: Yeah it's you know, it's, it's as we know, as we've grown, the technology has grown with it and that helps us manage the one thing or the million things with data and we can make sure we are keeping up our, you know the data tells us everything've going to plan if you know what I mean.
Paul: You're obviously really passionate about what you do, I get that in oodles really, I think like me my family are involved in my business as well.
So I'm really passionate about what I do I think you're family are as well aren't they in terms of working in the business because that's quite a big thing isn't it?
If you're, if you're working somewhere and you feel enough about it that you can actually have your own family involved with it.
I think that means something.
Personally it does to me I know.
Dave: I've got, well I've got a cousin and a daughter that work on this site my dad was involved in it albeit he's long retired now.
But yeah, you know, I think when we talk about people it's you know, yes, you bring your family, you have to believe it's the right thing to do.
But part of why I come to work is about the people this is, this is about really three simple rules for me really which are which is it's you know really if we look after our people they look after our customers.
If we look after those two things, do the job right on time then you know the number should drop out the bottom and that keeps everybody happy.
Yeah that makes absolute sense makes absolute sense.
So just given the title of the thing coming back, and I dropped you an email before I came over and said you know I'd quite like to ask a bit more about Dave Reynolds, you know?
Paul: And you said to me, well, I don't want to talk about my journey because it would be like an episode, we'll have to do a whole Netflix series or something I think you said but just, just briefly, what was your path through to this role? You mentioned about selling a business into here, but you know have you been involved in print all your life?
Dave: All my life. I left school on the Friday.
Went to work in paper on the Monday but then ended up going into print production so somebody that I was selling paper to offered me a job who actually still works here now, which so I went to work for that chap when I was 18 and then I left there when I was about 20 and I worked in a production director's role and I, true story.
I went to Australia for two weeks and when I came back, nobody was in the factory so we'd gone, we'd gone bust while I was on holiday but that was before the days of somebody ringing you up on a mobile phone.
So I ended up out on the road selling.
I got made redundant a further twice so back in the sort of eighties decline.
And then thought well, this can't happen I better start on my own, so and then I met Andy and so and it led from there really. And there was so that was so, there's lots of twists and turns on the way but that's broadly it.
Paul: Have you have you ever seen a period like just reflecting back on the history because being involved with comms distribution and yeah that's a for me that's almost the most essential part of a relationship.
You know, when people are dealing with wealth or pensions or you know, how they communicate how they engage all that stuff.
So it's a really critical part of it.
Have you seen it change a lot?
Dave: I think that we've done some consumer research and absolutely it's the appetite to receive digital comms has changed.
And I think that you know our customers have worked harder to understand who they're communicating to and that appetite for different types of comms and they're finding their way through it.
You know, there are lots of lots of reasons that digital comms can be a better journey you know and one is cost, absolutely.
And we get that so..
Paul: but not always. That's the point.
Dave: No no always it's a mixture, a mix, a mixture of both is the right answer.
But yeah, I think if the difficultly that people find with the change in how and what they're going to implement is particularly for big business, you know, federated companies, the budget can sit in lots of pockets in lots of places you kind of need to work out what the whole thing looks like but not try to boil the ocean - do one thing at a time.
Paul: Yeah actually get some movement going.
Dave: Get some movement what I call it is follow the wire.
Fix one thing it generally leads you to fix another thing and another thing and that's what we're good at - we consult and deliver it and deliver the right solution.
We're not just a consultant that says this is what you do thanks very much.
It's you know, that's where we end up seeing the most success and understanding what our customers' customers are saying to help them you know the problem statement for me is always the best place to start.
Paul: If they understand their own problems, that is.
Paul: So I always like to ask one sort of closing question which is sort of away from everything else, which is so if Dave Reynolds had the chance to go back and give the younger Dave Reynolds a bit of advice what would be - probably lots of them but what would be your...
Dave: So I'll, what would I say?
So the journey is quick is something you don't realise back then.
Hold tight, fight for change and work to live not the other way round.
Paul: Amazing. Dave, Thanks very much.
Dave: Thanks Paul, appreciate it.
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