Evolving Your Company into a Service-Oriented Business
Printing is and always has been a service industry. It is especially easy to lose sight of this fact in 2008, however, because this is a “drupa year” - the one year in four when drupa, the world’s largest printing-equipment exhibition, convenes in Düsseldorf, Germany. This May and June, as always, drupa plied printers with an unparalleled selection of advanced tools to upgrade their manufacturing operations with technology.
By no means do we dispute the fact that printers need the right equipment and drivers. But we’re writing this article to point out the equal if not greater importance of managing the service end of the business. The reasoning behind this strategy is that printing is not just a manufactured product; rather, it is CUSTOM manufactured. And this reality requires you constantly to envision not your equipment but your customer and the service component of the business as the vital center of your operations. Moreover, we want to suggest that any company, regardless of size, should not only start viewing printing and its products as the outcome of service, but also revise its hiring criteria accordingly to emphasize the service aspect of the business.
Commodity manufacturing is price-driven. Historically there has always been a country somewhere in the world that has eroded North-American commodity manufacturing primarily because it has access to a less expensive labor force. Arguably, modern China and India are the most dramatic and broad-reaching such examples. In response, North America has essentially advanced its economy by developing its expertise in logistics to deliver goods manufactured elsewhere. Not surprisingly, job-creation statistics in both the US and Canada consistently show hiring growth in the service sectors, offset by considerable hiring shrinkage in the manufacturing sectors.
In light of these trends, we in the printing industry are especially fortunate. The outcome of our service is the delivery of the indispensable vehicles that disseminate information. We are still a large and essential industry. Moreover, although printing is frequently (if incorrectly) regarded as commodity manufacturing, and although technology developers market and sell their tools to service providers worldwide, the practical option to source printing offshore is viable in only a small proportion of cases.
Many reasons still exist for buyers of print and related services to buy locally - or at least in North America. These include:
- Time-sensitive turnaround of finished product. Many buyers place a high premium on North America’s mastery of just-in-time delivery.
- Enhanced relationships between customer and service provider, including personal face-to-face interactions. Customers increasingly appreciate the value of personalized service to their business success.
- An increasing focus on environmental sustainability. Purchasing locally offers greater assurance that the manufacturer utilizes “green” raw materials and follows principles of environmental stewardship and corporate social responsibility. Increasingly conscientious buyers also value vendors who protect employee health and safety and exhibit a general respect for human dignity - practices that are practically impossible to monitor with arms-length, offshore suppliers.
- The increasing trend toward shorter print runs translates into less significant cost savings when buying offshore. Thus the risk of doing so has become less worthwhile financially.
Polish Your Front End
Undoubtedly the work of any printer is a highly complex process. But regardless of its intricacies, it always starts with a customer: either a customer contacts the printer with a request, or else a sales representative contacts a customer to offer his or her company’s services. In either scenario the next step is to engage a significant network of personnel (besides manufacturing staff) to execute and support the customer’s project:
First among them are the front-end people who funnel the work to manufacturing. Their functions are critical because they make the manufacturing process cost-effective. These functions include:
- Project Planning
- Project Management
- Production Coordination
- Customer Service
A serviced-oriented perspective also requires you to hire customer-service staff with excellent communication and people skills. Don’t laugh if this proposition seems too obvious to mention. Bad customer-service staff can aggravate delays and unnecessary expenses through their apathy, recurring mistakes, or negligence. Conversely, good Customer Service Reps are a strategic investment you make in order to generate income. You need to hire candidates who exhibit competence, positive attitude, energy, initiative, and sense of responsibility; people who are respectful and pleasant to be around; people who can communicate well and inspire trust and co-operation from others.
A customer-focused front end also requires Salespeople who invest the necessary time and expertise to research and understand the nature of a customer’s business; people with the initiative, problem-solving acumen, and presentation skills to approach the customer’s key decision-makers proactively with strategic recommendations to enhance the customer’s business; effective communicators who can convince customers and prospects of the advantages they can derive from your company’s products and services. (PrintLink’s last Whattheythink.com article elaborates on the important activities of Salespeople.)
Hire managers to turn strategy into reality
All front-end and manufacturing positions need to be streamlined by managers and supervisors who are operating from a service-driven outlook; people who ensure that work is not merely being “thrown over the wall” to the next department, but who manage all your internal activities with the goal of delivering value to customers. They can organize your customer-contact systems and workflow in a manner that expedites and enhances rather than obstructs and frustrates your customers’ goals. Each step in your process needs to build your customers’ trust and make it easy for them to do business with you.
Even more importantly, evolving your company into a service-oriented business requires the right strategic outlook, followed by a plan, followed by a budget, followed by implementation, followed by review, followed by adjustments. To ensure all these steps are executed properly, you need to hire leaders who are well versed in business strategy as well as the printing industry specifically. In the past, hiring managers have found it difficult to recruit candidates with a combination of both kinds of experience. The good news is that at PrintLink we are seeing more and more managers who have achieved this critical combination of expertise; people who recognize that the printing business is evolving in a service-oriented direction and have built their professional qualifications accordingly.
On a superficial level, even a commodity printer can demonstrate great customer service. But for a genuine service organization the bigger and more important challenge is to analyze your target markets; understand what will benefit those markets; then equip, staff and train to fulfill those customers’ needs. You need to devise and implement an entire company-wide plan to augment what you already do for your customers and position yourself as a vital element in your customers’ own success.
To devise such a plan, you need to be creative: You’re a printer, right? And today’s print is data-driven, right? So what else can you offer to utilize that data? What else can you transfer onto a substrate? What ancillary services compliment those you already offer?
- E-Commerce development and management for your customers?
- Security options that are RFID, ink- or coatings-based?
- Variable print?
- Offset printing options such as metallics and lenticular?
- Equipping to provide a variety of run-length options?