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Commentary & Analysis

Self-Service vs. Full-Service

Customer preference is trending towards self-service, yet most printers continue to offer only one way to do business with them – a full-service order entry process that involves multiple back and forth communications between customer and printer via e-mail/FTP.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: August 11, 2014

Customer preference is trending towards self-service, yet most printers continue to offer only one way to do business with them – a full-service order entry process that involves multiple back and forth communications between customer and printer via e-mail/FTP.

There is at least some portion of almost every printer’s business that is well-suited to a self-service transaction. Banks made this transition decades ago, training us to use the ATM machine for simple transactions that gave us more control over when/where we conduct our business with the bank and simultaneously decreasing the bank’s labor costs in a major way.

Too much labor (both on the customer and the printer’s side) are being wasted on transactions that should be conducted using technology, not people. This is one of the primary objectives of investing in a web-to-print solution and more importantly a VISION for empowering your customers and optimizing the use of your labor on the orders that require full-service collaboration.

Your sales people have to “get this” otherwise they will continue to resist the idea of web-to-print because they see it as a threat instead of the best way for them to scale their sales results. A sales person is limited in the number of transactions they can facilitate – technology has a virtual unlimited scale and it can process more than one order at a time!

Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.



By Cory Sawatzki on Aug 11, 2014

Amen Jennifer. Let software do the lifting for you.

Don't leave preflighting, job entry, or tracking to chance. Outside of consumables, labor is the largest cost of doing business in the print space. How many hours a day/week/month do you spend just trying to figure out where the files are, and if you can print them. I spent years setting up workflow systems to automate just this step.


By Jennifer Matt on Aug 11, 2014

Cory -

I think as an industry we have focused a lot on how to automate and remove steps in the process once the customer commits to the job. Where I think we have failed to focus is all the labor that is consumed (both by the customer and the printer) from initial inquiry to commitment. Why do we obsess over shop floor data collection for our bindery folks yet we let our sales people and CSRs (much higher labor costs) do endless amount of tasks that are neither captured nor considered as part of any automation efforts?

The MOST dangerous part of ignoring this part of the workflow? You are inadvertently consuming time of the customer by being inefficient in the quoting, estimating, and collecting final job specs. Print is too hard to buy while the online world is trying to make buying as easy as sending a text!



By Cory Sawatzki on Aug 11, 2014

Well said Jen. You are right. Lack of a repeatable, reliable, and accurate job entry and quoting solution can be your downfall as fast as anything.


By Paul Gardner on Aug 11, 2014

Your take on Self-Service as a way to give customers more Control put a big smile on my face!

Thank You!


By Jennifer Matt on Aug 11, 2014

Paul -

Glad to hear we're delivering smiles because some of our audience think we're depressing ;-) We like to tell the truth even if its painful (e.g. Print MIS transitions are really hard) and buying a web-to-print system doesn't guarantee success.

Customers are busy. Asynchronous transactions (aka they can do it when its convenient for them - or it doesn't require you both to be on the phone at the same time) is the growing preference.



By John Heinzmann on Aug 11, 2014

Don't forget that clients can also self-serve by updating content in a CMS that supports W2P environments. The more engaged a client is the better for everyone.


By Jennifer Matt on Aug 11, 2014

John -

I agree about customer engagement AND I think you should diversify your engagement across multiple channels (in-person, online, via social media, etc.)




By Charles Gehman on Aug 12, 2014

Yes, so true Jennifer! Banks, airlines, and increasingly formerly exclusive brick and mortar retailers, even Grocers, have embraced this. We are far behind.

I overheard this said not long ago... "I'm just calling to tell you We've received your faxed order." My thought: "Really? It's 2014! No!"


By Jennifer Matt on Aug 12, 2014


What do you think the root causes of us holding on to this antiquated way of engaging with our customers? Look around, every industry is being disrupted by thinking about how to deliver products and services in a manner that drastically improves the customer experience:

Uber mobile interface vs. Grumpy taxi dispatcher

Airbnb interface vs. boring hotel sites

Shopping malls vs. Amazon Prime

Netflix convenience vs. Blockbuster late fees

Design your business card yourself at home when it's convenient for you on VistaPrint vs. call, fax, visit, e-mail a local printer

Customer convenience wins again and again.

We are too selfish - always thinking about our workflows, what's good for our business. We have to start thinking about the customer, what can we do to drastically decrease the burden of doing business with us. Loyal customers are customers who don't have to work very hard to be your customer. How hard are you making your customers work?



By Charles Gehman on Aug 12, 2014

Well, one major cause (and I hate to say this because I know and love quite a few of them) is print sales people. And their management who believe that they hold the key to the relationship and that making changes of any sort puts the account at risk.

This thought process must change, and as you and I and so many others do know, self-service, customer convenience does win.

No customer today actually wants to wait for a response from a human. People are impatient, and they want to transact on their own schedule. They put up with added cycle time because there are few alternatives.

Systems are another big cause. The primitive pricing systems that most companies use prevent negotiations online in the transaction. So our humans must be present to win the order. What allowed the airlines to go online in a big way was the extremely sophisticated systems that drive their pricing.

Yes, to your point about our own workflows, and this is also not good for us! It's unbelievably costly in terms of effort, and potential lost opportunity because while the customer waits for us to get back to them, they are also talking to a competitor.


By Cory Sawatzki on Aug 12, 2014

Charles, I believe that you have nailed it.


By Eric Vessels on Aug 13, 2014

I'm just here for the comments. Amazing stuff.


By Robert Godwin on Aug 13, 2014

RE: Chuck's comment on Print Sales Executives

The root cause of the sense of client ownership lies with the General Manager insisting on hiring salespeople with "book". The have conceded ownership from the start.

Part and parcel is that the GM can also assign all responsibility of the success of the "book of clients" at the feet of the salesperson. In my experience only about 20-25% of the book ever migrates permanently. A transient salesperson often brings transient clients.

A GM should search for a salesperson that is loyal, a much harder asset to obtain.


By Charles Gehman on Aug 13, 2014

I agree completely Robert, and thank you for adding excellent context and color.

Then there is a whole conversation we all need to have about how great sales people / account managers / executives can work with the transactional systems on the web. And about how personal touch activities can complement the automated.


By Jennifer Matt on Aug 13, 2014

I heard a story recently from a print sales representative about a specific customer request. A large institution was asking for a set price per/1,000 for all letterhead (from all different departments).

The sales person explained to me "in great detail" how this was impossible because he couldn't get past his per job profitability bias. The customer wanted to buy a print program, not a print job. This sales person turned the business down.

When your sales team is stuck in a job bias, you will continue to sell jobs. Programs create recurring revenue and require less sales activity per job. Overall profitability goes up with programs. AND programs are the ones that are best suited for web-to-print.

Does your sales team sell jobs or programs?



By Robert Godwin on Aug 13, 2014

RE: Chuck's comment "about how great sales people / account managers / executives can work with the transactional systems on the web. And about how personal touch activities can complement the automated."

And indeed this can be accomplished. There are highly interactive web tools available to spec a job, receive input and suggestions, proof, approve, track and deliver. The personal touch is providing good service with relevant approaches and solutions.

Good sales people do use these tools successfully. The tradition of calling on a client should not be undervalued as face-time has its merits. Relaxed lunches and dinners can reveal more than an office visit with phone and drop-in distractions. But as the sole means for conducting a sale, it is a bit archaic.

Sales calls have a significant carbon footprint (even if they drive a Prius), they are not time efficient which reduces productivity and effectively isolates the number of resources (pre-press operators, operations managers, etc.) that can be brought into the discussion.

The last point should not be undervalued. A great service offers access to the special knowledge and experience your operation can bring to project. How many times has an operations manager wondered why the project wasn't run past them prior to setting a deadline or an estimate? A web based meeting using GO TO MEETING, WEBEX or Google Hangout all offer video conferencing and screen share.


By Patrick Whelan on Aug 14, 2014

Nothing to add but just wanted to say that I love this comment.

"A transient salesperson often brings transient clients"

Thanks Robert for sharing that.


By Jennifer Matt on Aug 14, 2014

Patrick -

I was recently listening to a sales webinar and the speaker talked about "traveling sales people" - the ones that go from job to job because they never actually sell anything.

Because typical sales resources have very little structure imposed on them and generally operate without a process - they get away with it for sometimes years. So a sales person who never sells anything can stay employed as long as they move jobs every two years.

How could change this? I think sales has to be put on a system that tracks their activities (not to be big brother) but to be able to asses what works/doesn't work with real data instead of subjective data. Until we capture the activities we can't assess what actually creates the results we're looking for. The CRM software space is responding to this need with some very affordable and easy to use tools (Zoho, Sugar, Salesforce, etc.)



By Charles Gehman on Aug 16, 2014

Yes, CRM and process are incredibly important and lacking, I've seen it.

I would also mention Sales Compensation as a key enabler for sales people to last for two years (and in many places, for decades) without actually selling anything. Real sales people should not be able to make a living without actually closing deals, acquiring business.

This thread has been so awesome so far, I think we have the basis of a track at a conference! Thanks Jennifer!


By Rien Zetzema on Aug 22, 2014

This article and the comments really make me smile as they inspire me a lot.
End to End workflow suddenly gets a complete new dimension.
Thanks Jeniffer


By Jennifer Matt on Aug 29, 2014


Thank you for your comments. We can no longer afford to send every job through the same workflow. We have to segment our work so that we apply the are optimizing how we spend our most expensive resource (LABOR).



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