Are Your Customer's Happy?


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Print in the Eye of the Buyer (Episode 4)

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large


If you’re like any other print provider you spend some time each day wondering if you and your team are keeping customers happy. You wonder about the one who stormed in at 10:22 this morning, spent 20 minutes whining about the color on his last job, thrust a thumb drive holding his next one into the hands of your CSR and stalked out, demanding that the new job better be ready when you open tomorrow. “Or else” was a hidden threat as the door closed behind him.

What’s a print shop owner to do?

We all know that it’s impossible to keep everyone happy, and even keeping most of them coming back for more can come with its challenges. Delivering truly great customer experiences begins with understanding and exceeding each customer’s requirements and expectations.

Being a veteran of running customer satisfaction studies I’m always interested in seeing how customer needs and expectations change. And, having spent more time than I care to admit in print shops of all sizes, I like seeing how the customer experience (or CX as the MBA-types call it) applies to print shops. So ever curious, I took a dive into Canon’s latest research project that examines the key motivations, preferences, and requirements of today’s print buyers and influencers. Canon U.S.A. works with NAPCO Research on these studies, which in this case surveyed some 240 print buyers and influencers in early 2020, forming the foundation for a white paper series sponsored by Canon U.S.A.

“Enhancing the Print Customer Experience” along with the preceding reports for this year are HERE and available for free. As with the others, I didn’t have anything to do with the project, but to my geeky brain it’s still interesting to see how customer thinking changes. Some aspects of satisfaction really don’t change all that much, while others keep pace with shifts in technology. The key thing for print providers is that while on-time, reliable service remains an ever-critical factor, several other points are nearly as crucial.

Trained eyeballs

When I see survey data I always wonder about the respondents. In this study some 65% of respondents have been buying or influencing print purchasing for more than six years, so they probably have a good sense of that they are doing, and importantly, how print technology has been and is changing. Some 86% say they specify the print processes and/or brands of printing devices to produce their jobs. Meanwhile, two-thirds select the process used to print their jobs and almost half specify the brand of equipment used to print their work. Think about this: It means print buyers may specify a certain toner or inkjet press—and could go elsewhere if a shop does not have the device they prefer. And they may know what they are asking about. Many print buyers have what I call “trained eyeballs” and know what output of a given press looks like, what that machine can do and what to look for. I always ask what machine is being used, and corporate print buyers are no different.

Such sophistication can drive expectations. Over two-thirds of respondents say many print buyers are thoughtful when selecting providers, specifying print work, and importantly, are willing to replace providers if expectations are not met. What might drive such dissatisfaction? The data show that it is work that is damaged, flawed, or marred in some way. Another issue cited is inconsistent print or color quality across a print run or communication campaign. These sources and more are areas a print provider can control with proper process controls and color management practices. What the study doesn’t note is how much print buyers talk with each other. Failure to satisfy one buyer can go well beyond that customer going elsewhere. This sure has told me where to and where not to go.

To Outsource or Not?

The study indicates that about seven in ten respondents work for organizations that have in-house print shops. This is at times convenient, but as we saw in our last report, in-plants may not always live up to print buyers’ expectations. That study cited quality as a reason for print buyers going to outside sources for their printing needs. With respect to in-plants, respondents to this study noted that the combination of quality and service are key drivers of outsourcing. The flip side of this finding is that companies taking work from an in-plant must provide superior levels of quality and service if they are to retain work from customers who have previously relied on in-plant shops for printing. This is demonstrated by quality, with reliability, price, and creativity also being cited as buyers’ key selection factors for print providers.

The Essential Expectation

Quality and price are always drivers but ease of job submission is actually the most crucial interaction with a customer. This encompasses job submission, monitoring job status, controlling branding, and managing spending. Together, these reduce anxiety and improve buyers’ experience with a provider. About eight in ten respondents say they prefer working with a print provider that offers an online ordering tool (aka: digital job submission) because they believe it improves control over their brand, spending on print services, and supports the transition to web-to-print systems.

Print Still Matters

Today’s print buyers may be loyal to print but also realize that it is only one of several media choices. They know print is enhanced by other media and are combining print with other channels. In seeking to maximize the value of each they emphasize the strength, credibility, and value print can deliver to organizations. Driving this home, while print buyers generally expect their use of print in cross-media campaigns to increase or hold steady, more than half expect to increase their use of print in multichannel campaigns that focus on customer action and engagement.

Spreading the Passion

The legacy of their multiple years in printing has fostered a passion for print among print buyers, making them eager to expand their knowledge of print technology and share it with others. As a printer, you can be a superb resource for them. Educating print buyers about pre-press, color management, production and more can enhance relationships while helping increase production efficiency and productivity. For example, improvements in file preparation and helping them better understand G7, GRACol and other color specifications can speed up your own work processes so you can produce work faster, more accurately and more effectively. That helps you deliver higher quality work that is more likely to satisfy your customers. You can help spread the passion in several ways:

  • Create a “how-to” guide on file preparation and share it with customers and prospects via your website. Also make it a branded handout with a phone number and email address someone at the customer’s office can use when needing help or clarification.
  • Host educational webinars to share trends, demonstrate thought leadership, and soft-sell services.
  • Create and share educational content online also expands online visibility and creditably, which can help increase the likelihood of capturing the attention of print buyers you may not be doing business with
  • Look for ways of collaborating with paper and/or equipment suppliers (key sources of knowledge and information) to increase customer outreach and education.
The Path to Better

For buyers, positive experiences go beyond shops taking print job orders and providing benefits that can improve results or make buyers’ jobs easier. Print providers have many options to enhance customer experiences, from implementing programs that help ensure quality, reliability, and creativity to educating customers to improving ordering and job management.

Creating the most positive customer experiences is essential to keeping print buyers coming back for more, today and tomorrow.



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