Enhancing the Customer Connection—Part 3


Well-known member
Navigating the new Customer Landscape

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Do you fully understand your customers’ needs and have ways of managing their expectations? The reason I ask is because printing has become just one part of many customers’ media choices. A new study (LINK HERE) by NAPCO Research on behalf of Canon USA shows that being a resource for your customers helps ensure that print can remain part of their communications needs and that your business can handle it correctly, efficiently, and blend it with customer’s other media choices.

Although I was not involved in the study Canon granted me early access to the research which highlights a genuine need to match or exceed customer expectations. This is because communications buyers—they are a lot more than print buyers these days—face huge pressures to manage and justify their communications choices. They expect print providers to possess the knowledge and expertise that will help them make the right decisions so they can justifying their choices to a superior.

Connecting with 193 commercial print providers, 80 in-plant managers and 211 communications buyers across the print supply chain, the study examined job submission and production trends. It showed communication buyers to be highly selective in choosing print providers and specifying work. A deciding factor is job submission because onboarding (LINK HERE) is typically where a customer’s experience with a print provider begins. The data show that offering numerous capabilities further helps position a print provider as a trusted resource. These can include managing cross-media communications, data security, online job submission, handling shorter run lengths, fast turnaround times, and more. Some key takeaways from the latest report (LINK HERE) include:

  • Communication buyers want print providers that are easy to work with, that focus on improving customer experiences, and offer services that can improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and engagement of communications. Understanding buyer needs is essential for capturing new and keeping existing customers. If customers think your company cannot do this they will look elsewhere.

  • While price is often an important factor it’s not the most important. This is good because it no longer puts print providers in a race to the bottom.

  • G7® color certification is very important to communication buyers, because use of multiple media types has increased the need for color consistency. G7 helps provide a visual color consistency across different printing solutions and their print vendors and has become a customer expectation.
  • Communication buyers believe print providers can do a better job at improving quality, meeting deadlines, and providing price quotes in a timely manner—two of the three can be accomplished through job order submission and workflow automation. The latter points of automation job submission and workflow can be differentiators that turn into expectations.
  • Data security is of growing importance to communication buyers and an important consideration when selecting a print provider. No company wants to be hacked by internet pirates. Make sure your security stays up to date and that you can prove that it meets or exceeds customer expectations
  • Communication buyers expect fast turnaround on print jobs. About half (49%) of reported needing work turned around in five days or less. Expectations again. Automation can help streamline your operation while making it more efficient.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic reduced customer print use overall, business-critical print applications such as financial/legal documents, general office materials, business forms, and bill/statements) held strong. Moreover, while the Covid-19 pandemic impacted most print providers in some way, over half of commercial printers and in-plants said the pandemic strengthened customer relationships because their businesses added products and services to meet emerging customer needs. For instance, new or different applications included social distancing graphics, menu table cards with QR codes, personal protective equipment, disposable menus, and printing for testing and vaccine sites—all services that helped meet new customer needs. This shows how anticipating, learning about and responding to customer needs are important parts of success in trying times.

Education, expectations and collaboration

Communications buyers have become increasingly discerning. For buyers, much of this is first-hand, often on-the-job experience, given that more than 6 in 10 communications buyers participating in the study have six or more years’ experience with print and electronic communications. This knowledge drives expectations of what print providers should be delivering and how they should interact with customers. For instance, communications buyers expect remote job submission by multiple methods to be the norm, with the most value placed on the ease of uploading files via FTP, using online storage such as Dropbox, or simply emailing a file. The takeaway here is this: Communications buyers expect flexibility, control, and simplicity. The clear message for print providers is that not making it easy for customers to do business with you opens the door to a competitor that does. These points also correlate to findings from the 2020 NAPCO Research/Canon USA Print in the Eye of the Buyer study (LINK HERE) which found communication buyers often use up three print providers depending on the requirements of a job, including type of printing, security, internal rules and more.

Being able to address more expectations is an essential part of success because today’s communication buyers are tasked with many responsibilities beyond managing print. Comfortable with email, social media, video, print, and mobile there is opportunity for print providers to build deeper relationships by simplifying customers’ experiences and better managing multiple communications processes.

Furthermore, expectations are a two-way street. The new study also showed that print providers and customers are working to help ensure jobs are ready to print. Over two-thirds of communications buyers said they participate in collaborative project review sessions held by print providers to discuss ways of improving customer interactions. This shows that savvy buyers and print providers alike are seeing ways to improve how key communications are produced.

Such collaboration aside, communication buyers say print providers can do a better job at producing quality work, meeting deadlines, sending price quotes in a timely manner, and improving color consistency and matching. Such demands put pressure on print providers to focus on customer preferences and find ways to match expectations.

For example, print quality and color matching are top concerns for many buyers. Print providers increase automation and implement standards such as G7 help satisfy customer requirements for color consistency and improve results. Added to these efforts, process optimization and workflow automation address buyers’ production and communication deadline expectations.

Got Security?

Data security has become a broad term that encompasses virtually all types of information, both printed and electronic. Commercial and in-plants printers responding to the study said customers voiced concerns about job file and data security and indicated their organizations were taking steps to combat cyberattacks and database breaches. It used to be that facing down such threats was business as usual for transactional service bureaus that handled financial and medical data. Now though, the threat of breaches is so commonplace that communications buyers —who, as noted, use multiple communications mediums— not only ask about it but expect print providers to have ways of keeping data secure. While this study shows that only about a third of print providers presently possess such security certifications as HIPPA, GDPR, and SOC this may change in the future, as print providers expand beyond print to providing a broader mix of communications choices. In fact, customers may insist on having appropriate security protocols in place, as is already common for print providers handling billing and healthcare information.

Automation matters!

It used to be that a week or more was a perfectly acceptable turnaround time for a print job. That was then. Now five days or less and even same day service has come to be expected. The only practical way to deliver such fast turns is with automation, because the more a job is physically handled the longer it takes to process and produce. This expectation arises because print has to compete with the speed of the internet. The direct mail piece coming off your press has to arrive in recipients’ hands within a day or so of the email blast going out. And it probably needs to be personalized too. This is not going to be a smooth ride without an automated workflow.

Workflow automation is at the heart of productivity and profitability for print providers and their customers. Automating production workflows can help make faster turnarounds an everyday reality while helping improve productivity, reduce costs, enhance color consistency, enable more profitable revenue streams, and optimize equipment and communication investments. Some of this came up three years ago in the 2019 NAPCO Research/Canon U.S.A. Digital Printing 5.0 (LINK HERE) Commercial printers in that study who reported double-digit sales growth were those who had implemented higher levels of automation compared to those with flat or declining sales. Automation matters!

Automation begins at job submission whether done remotely or in person. The first big advantage comes in pre-flighting, which can help improve the quality of files being submitted. This enhances activities many print providers already do, such as providing preflight checklists, supplying printed guides, and hosting educational sessions to help communication buyers to produce print-ready files that don’t require rework. Automation informs customers of common errors, such as images of insufficient resolution, missing fonts, color space errors, missing images, and the like. This is faster and easier than having a print provider’s CSR call a customer, thereby speeding up the workflow and helping move a job through production.

Be the Resource

Communications buyers navigating today’s customer environment are pressured to justify communication spending while choosing multiple communication options. This requires print providers to adapt existing processes and services that meet buyers’ changing needs while enhancing customer relationships. For print providers, it all begins with automating the print workflow from job submission through delivery while addressing core customer challenges and helping strengthen relationships and improving profitability.

Buyers want strong relationships and to learn from and collaborate with print providers. They are looking beyond the lowest price to data security, color consistency and to a resource they can rely on for their growing communications needs. And you can be that resource



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