Enhancing the Customer Connection—Part 4

MyWildIrishProse

Administrator
Advancing Productivity and Service Delivery

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Back in the day when I was buying and managing a lot of print I’d get daily calls from my two favored print shops, sometimes even the in-plant, updating me on the status of my jobs. The calls to me took each shop only a few minutes but multiplied by a couple dozen customers each day it had to be a time sink for the business owners, managers and the CSRs who rode herd on my account. That was before automation made doing business easier. Nowadays automation is the key to greater productivity, faster turnarounds, doing more with less, and better serving customers. Today those print providers would be sending me an email with links to my projects, and one would probably be shooting me a note from his fishing camp in northern Maine. Automation matters, and it changes the game for printers and their customers.

A new study (LINK HERE) done by NAPCO Research on behalf of Canon USA shows the power and the value automation can bring to your business and your customers. Moreover, automation helps ensure print remains part of customers’ communications mixes and that your business can blend it with a customers’ other media choices.

Canon has been looking closely at these matters and although I have not been involved in any of the research the company has been kind enough to provide access to the data which highlights how automation can streamline print shop operations. Many print customers are coming to expect higher levels of automation from print providers. The study underscores that how much your shop is automated may be a factor whether it is selected for a customer’s project. In short, communications buyers expect print providers to use tools that help jobs be processed faster while keeping them informed about every job they have in process.

Key Takeaways

As part of a larger study, the latest research connected with 193 commercial print providers, 80 in-plant managers and 211 communications buyers. These respondents spanned the print supply chain to examine how automation influences how print providers work and what it means to communications buyers. Some of the key takeaways include: (LINK TO REPORT)

· Automation can be as simple handling basic prepress functions or as complex as a cloud-based platform that automates the entire workflow. This lets you pick what is best for your business because there is no one way to develop an automated workflow.

· Automation can alleviate many bottlenecks in print production because it removes or reduces the touchpoints of people handling a job. Eliminating or reducing manual processes is a key way of streamlining workflows.

· Automaton supports buyers’ expectations for quick turnarounds and high levels of productivity and service. A turnaround of a week used to be fine, but now it is more like a day or two, with same day delivery gaining ground. Fast turnarounds cannot be done consistently without automation. In addition, customers expect printers to get jobs out no matter what and to be kept in the loop should things go sideways.

· Even modest levels of automation can provide advantages in speed and productivity.

· Automation accelerates onboarding and estimating while enhancing customer communication.

· Automated pre-flighting reduces errors and increases productivity and can be done based on business rules for your shop. For example, “fixing” customer files so they will print correctly is a perennial time sink that may be reduced though automation.

· Automation can yield profitable results while improving customer experiences and meeting demands for quality, turnaround, color consistency, and real-time job status visibility and connectivity.

· Automating print workflows helps ensure that all stages of the production process are performing efficiently and delivering benefits for both print providers and customers. But it is not “one and done.” Ongoing evaluation and updating of the entire workflow process is essential… because technology marches on.

Let’s take a look at some of these. There’s more detail in the free report (LINK HERE)


Pick your level and your bottlenecks

Automation can be as simple handling basic prepress functions or as complex as a cloud-based platform that automates the entire workflow. Some big print operations have automated virtually every function, while many smaller shops often automate around weaknesses or bottlenecks in their workflows. They are realists because they know every shop has one or two pain-points where things don’t always work smoothly. Automating those points can alleviate some of the pain.

Such flexibility lets you pick what automated features are best for your business. For example, automation can alleviate bottlenecks in print production by removing or reducing the touchpoints of people handling jobs, especially those that take up time that could be spent doing more valuable work. For instance, I recently talked with a print shop manager whose designers pushed back on automation because they thought it would take away work from them. Instead, they were able to take on more design work because minor yet time-consuming work—creating business cards in this case—became more automated. Now the designers are able to take on more creative and complex jobs than they were before.

Long story short, there is no one-size-fits-all form of automation—you pick the tools you need, and assuming the automated workflow you select can do many things (most can), you can add capabilities as you need them. Some automation tools are modular while others come fully configured. But this is in no way a limitation: you can use whichever features you need so that you get the automated system that’s right for your operation.

Dry-cleaning

Automaton supports buyers’ expectations for quick turnarounds. A week used to be fine. Today it is more like dry cleaning: ready in a day or two, with same-day service close behind. The upshot is this: fast turnarounds cannot be done reliably or consistently without automation.

I continue to be surprised when my local printer tells me I can have my job at the end of the day or the next morning or sometimes end of the next day. Although I’ve been going there for years, I know he is busy and never assume I will get a fast turn, yet it happens all the time. It’s partly because the shop has added a lot of automation to help jobs move through the system faster. By eliminating most touchpoints the owner has made sure all jobs are processed quickly, whether I drop one off in person or submit it electronically. Going a step further, I work with other shops that have back-up systems that will automatically route jobs to another facility should localized disasters like storms, floods or power outages cause delays. The customer always comes first, and automation is a smarter way to make this happen.

Faster. Must go Faster.

Among the study’s findings were that communications buyers thought print providers could improve on three important areas: meeting production deadlines, prompt provision of price quotes and ongoing info about job status—all of which can be readily available in an automated workflow.

Put yourself in a customer’s head. From the moment a customer decides to send a job to you s/he expect your shop to get that job into production as quickly as possible. This means your onboarding and estimating/quoting process as we discussed last month, (LINK to Onboarding Study) should be seamless, fast and clear so the customer has no doubts about their print job from submission through delivery. Automation accelerates onboarding and estimating and provides an entrée to the rest of your workflow and helps set customer expectations.

Make your own rules

Going a step further into your workflow, automated pre-flighting reduces errors and increases productivity and can be done based on business rules for your shop. For example, “fixing” customer files so they will print correctly is a perennial time sink that may be reduced though automation. As you have doubtless observed, ongoing efforts by print providers to educate the designers sending in jobs have generally not improved the quality of job files and most still arrive with a variety of errors. Having an automated way to identify these quickly and communicate any faults back to a customer (or repairing them promptly) speeds your workflow. For example, when images arrive at 72 dpi instead of 300 dpi the only choice is to go back to the designer for larger images. But if the fix is relatively simple, like a mix of color spaces being used, then the job can often be corrected automatically without delaying production.

The world in full color

Even as color has become expected in virtually every document, there are elements of color that have become more critical. Not that long ago, “business color” or “pleasing color” was all that was required. And sometimes these are still perfectly acceptable. At the same time, brand colors in names and logos are expected to be exact. We all know that color can vary widely depending on a host of factors, but most customers expect a certain shade or red or blue or green to be the hue they expect when it comes off a press.

Customers are also printing their marketing materials on different medias and printing devices and expect colors to match. Communications buyers know that G7® is a way of ensuring that happens and preferring print providers with G7 certifications.

Having G7 be part of a print workflow helps ensure documents meet customers’ color expectations and when the color control standards are part of your workflow it helps reduce the amount of color press make-ready and on-press color adjustments.

Automation matters

Automation can yield profitable results while improving customer experiences and meeting demands for quality, turnaround, real-time job status, and color consistency. This does not necessarily mean you have to automate everything but remember even modest levels of automation can increase speed and productivity. And, you can add more later as comfort level—and the needs of your customers—change.

Automating print workflows helps ensure that each stage of the print production process is performing efficiently and delivering benefits for both print providers and customers. Yet as good as it is, it is not “one and done.” Ongoing evaluation and updating of the entire workflow process is essential—because technology marches on.

Download the Automation Report Here
 
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Enhancing the Print Customer Connection (Part 4)

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