Commentary & Analysis
Do You Have a Customer Service Strategy?
By Joe Musgrave of Presstek August 7,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: August 7, 2006
By Joe Musgrave of Presstek August 7, 2006 -- Most printers pride themselves on delivering exceptional customer service. They understand that their future success lies not in providing the lowest price for printed materials--although price is always a consideration--but in meeting customer expectations relative to service levels. This includes not only the quality and timeliness of the output, but the value-added services that are wrapped around the delivery of printed materials. But I often wonder to what extent their ability to do so is merely serendipity or is actually the result of an established formal customer service strategy that can deliver consistent, repetitive business results for them and their customers. As our world grows increasingly complex, it is not enough anymore to boldly state, "I deliver the best customer service." As our world grows increasingly complex, it is not enough anymore to boldly state, "I deliver the best customer service." One must understand what the best customer service really is--in the eyes of the only constituent that matters, the customer. In the good old days, quality and timeliness used to be reasonable market differentiators for many printers, but today, they are the price of entry to the game and do little to elevate your business above the commodity zone. So how do you develop this magical thing called a "customer service strategy"? There are three important elements in building an effective customer service strategy: Understanding customer requirements, establishing a value-added product/service portfolio, and then selling and marketing that portfolio in a way that specifically addresses the needs and requirements of your customers and prospects. A customer service strategy cannot be based on some idea that you have about what customers want. Understanding Customer Requirements . A customer service strategy cannot be developed in a vacuum. It cannot be based on some idea that you have about what customers want. The foundation for an effective customer service strategy is always built upon an on-going dialog with customers. But who do you talk to and what do you want to learn? * Purchasing/Procurement. Historically, we as printers have dealt primarily with purchasing professionals. More often than not, their primary objective is to secure the best price for services rendered. That is how they have historically demonstrated their value to the organization. Here are some ways you can increase your value to the purchasing professional, and at the same time, increase their value to their organization. o The purchasing professional dedicated solely to the purchase of print is becoming rare these days. Because they must manage the procurement of a wide variety of products, services and materials, they may not be as educated about the ins and outs of printing as their predecessors. For larger customers or opportunities, invite them for an extended tour of your plant to show them how the process works and educate them on how proper pre-job planning can actually reduce the cost of printing. o For purchasing professionals who may not have in-depth knowledge about the printing process, you may wish to provide them with some educational materials. For example, Pete Basiliere wrote a very good handbook entitled Effective Print Buying: A Guide to Cost-Effective Buying of Quality Print, published by NAPL. o By keeping purchasing professionals abreast of industry trends and new developments in technology--especially those new developments you have chosen or are considering for implementation into your product and service portfolio--you can help them render a better service to their customer. For example, are they still purchasing 100,000 brochures because they can get them at a lower cost per unit? How many of those are actually used and how many are disposed of as they become obsolete? If they purchased those brochures at $3.50 per unit, but half of them are thrown away, they have, in effect, paid $7.00 each for them. By suggesting shorter, more frequent runs, and even multiple targeted versions, you can help them ensure that their materials carry as much impact as possible, that all of the materials are used, and that their company has the opportunity to update information with each reprinting. o And finally, by establishing yourself as a trusted partner and domain expert with purchasing professionals in your accounts, they are more likely to be willing to introduce you to their constituents within the organization so that you can help educate them on trends and technologies as well as consult with them as projects are being developed. * A critical concern in these times of increased fiscal oversight is the return on investment a marketer can expect to achieve from his or her marketing spend. Marketing. Much of the printed material that is purchased today is purchased at the behest of the marketing department. Understanding their requirements is critical to establishing a customer service strategy. It will require many of the same educational efforts as described for the print/procurement professional, but with a less technical bent. And any discussions of technology should be undertaken only as it relates to solving specific business issues articulated by the marketing professional. A critical concern in these times of increased fiscal oversight is the return on investment a marketer can expect to achieve from his or her marketing spend. Marketers are also struggling to understand the optimum media mix--between printed and electronic media--to achieve maximum impact. As a business communications service provider, you are uniquely positioned to help marketers understand their options and execute effective campaigns. * Other Departments. There are other departments within your customer accounts who require printed materials. Find out who they are, and follow the same process in terms of understanding the business issues those printed products are designed to serve. Then offer them a solution that specifically addresses those business issues and makes their job easier. Establishing a Value-Added Product/Service Portfolio. Gaining an understanding of the business issues your customers are facing is much different than simply selling them printing. Once you understand what your customers are trying to accomplish from a business perspective, the real work begins. You must take that information back to your team and get creative about how you can help your customers achieve their objectives while at the same time growing your own revenues. You will already have some of the components in place, but you will need to add new capabilities and new skills to differentiate yourself from the competition and establish yourself as that trusted business partner for your customers. Are they constantly struggling with tighter and tighter deadlines? Do they want to produce shorter runs of more targeted versions of their marketing materials without sacrificing quality or overrunning budgets? Consider adding a direct imaging (DI) press to the mix to address these needs. Do they want to be able to utilize the same digital assets to create both printed and electronic campaigns? Add the appropriate skills to your staff or find a partner that can take on the electronic aspect, allowing you to focus on print. Once you understand what your customers are trying to accomplish from a business perspective, the real work begins. Selling and Marketing. Once you have constructed a product and service portfolio that is optimized to meet these higher level customer needs, you will need to let your customers know about it. Consider doing your own direct mail campaign. Make sure the efforts of your sales team are aligned with your new direction. And as an owner or manager, take the time to continue that all-important dialog with your customers. Just as our industry is evolving, so is theirs. And to maintain that competitive edge, your offerings must continue to evolve as well. As an owner or manager, take the time to continue that all-important dialog with your customers Next month, I'll be continuing this customer service strategy dialog by sharing some of the great stories I have come across as I visit with Presstek customers. These stories will demonstrate how forward-thinking print service providers across North America are leveraging their customer service strategies based on selling value -- both with today's technologies and their knowledge of their customer's requirements. And it's paying off for them by delivering business growth well in excess of industry averages. Stay tuned. Joe can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.