We all know how frustrating it is to receive poor customer service – perhaps you’ve experienced a utilities provider unable to access your latest account records or a retailer with no record of a previous complaint. For businesses everywhere, this kind of issue can be the difference between securing happy customers who keep coming back or driving customers into the hands of your competitors.

The one thing that underpins the relationship between a business, its customers, and their information are document processes: the core interactions that occur regularly and repeatedly throughout all businesses in critical areas such as HR, finance, procurement and accounts.

Today’s document process landscape

Recent research revealed many findings about the way European and UK businesses are managing their business critical document processes and identified areas of untapped potential to optimise and streamline for improved business agility, customer service and employee knowledge sharing.

Most concerning for business leaders is that 82 per cent of employees feel the way they work is out of date and say this prevents them from being as effective and efficient as they could be. We also discovered that one fifth of business leaders are struggling to share information effectively, and almost a quarter think information security is worse today than it was three years ago. Half of the respondents are exposed to risk from compliance and data leaks.

It’s clear that businesses are puzzled about how to keep their document processes up to date as they juggle the challenges brought by major global trends such as big data, managing multiple vendors and emerging markets. 91 per cent of businesses cite the increasing amounts of data they now face as having the most impact on their ability to manage critical processes within their businesses, taking focus and resource away from revenue generating activities.

Businesses are also managing an increasingly diverse workforce, with employees at different locations and of different generations. And while businesses say that new devices like smartphones and tablets are helping them manage their document processes, the majority say they’re unable to maximise such technologies because of aging back-office legacy systems. With technology and document processes dis-connected, it’s perhaps no wonder that almost a quarter say the efficiency of document processes is worse today than in 2009.

The future outlook for today’s business leaders

So what can be done to fit all pieces of the process priority puzzle together? As a first step, business leaders need to be more involved in the entire document management process, understanding how their business-critical processes are connecting with all areas of the business.

They may wish to introduce an external expert into the business to manage the review and optimisation activity on their behalf, to ensure business document processes are connecting seamlessly with employees and technology investments right across the business. They should also adopt a change management programme, so that employees are involved in the journey.

Finally, in addition to a comprehensive review of processes, technologies and the way employees work, it’s essential they maintain an ongoing process of governance and improvement. This allows any remaining bottlenecks to be identified and processes updated – before any potential security breach or unsatisfactory client experience occurs. What’s more, ongoing governance means better ways of working can be identified and replicated throughout the business.

Looking ahead to 2015 the message for business leaders across the UK and Europe is clear: only those businesses that are able to master the management of business-critical document processes will able to thrive in the increasingly global, fast-paced business environment of the future.