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Commentary & Analysis

Proactive Customer Service

What is the difference between reactive and proactive customer service? The former waits until the customer has a problem and then makes contact. The latter strives to keep those problems from happening in the first place. Rather than wait for customers to complain, why don’t print software vendors proactively publish helpful best practices to their existing customers on a regular basis?

By Jennifer Matt
Published: February 28, 2018

I start every work day reading Seth Godin’s blog because it always makes me think. His blog post on January 29, 2018, has kept me thinking about how this applies to the print industry and specifically software companies servicing this industry.

The other kind of customer service by Seth Godin
Reactive customer service waits until something is broken. We leave it up to the annoyed customer to go to the trouble of finding us, contacting us, and then, in real time, advocating for themselves until we finally manage to make things good enough (we rarely make them better than the customer hoped).
Perhaps we ought to spend more time being proactive.
How many people on your team are actively advocating for the customer in advance? Guiding the process so that most disappointments won't even happen, which means we won't have to fix them...
Is there any more effective way to engage with customers than to create products that don't break their hearts?

When I’m consulting with printers about how to get more ROI out of their print software investments, the number one complaint I hear is that they haven’t been trained on the software solution. I’ve ranted about this in the past (adults sitting passively waiting around to be trained on software they use in their business every day). Rather than wait for customers to complain, why don’t print software vendors proactively publish helpful best practices to their existing customers on a regular basis? When a customer service call comes into a software vendor; maybe the third time the same question is asked you should simply publish the question and answer to a knowledge base so it’s available to everyone?

Proactive customer service is all about preventing problems from happening in the first place. We are always talking about response times to issues as a customer service level indicator. How about creating a culture where we prevent issues from recurring? A proactive feedback loop—the issue arises and then the company proactively publishes the question and the solution to prevent the issue from happening in other customers.

This would be a tectonic shift in the software world. Most software companies are hoping you’ll never reach out to them after the initial purchase and just keep paying maintenance/subscription. The more you reach out the more you cost them. If they never hear from you—they make more money. The risk here is that if they proactively reach out to teach you something you might want to learn more! Hence the silence.

What if both sides of the equation decided to invest more in learning? The people at the printer must invest the time to learn themselves. The people at the print software vendor must invest in continuing education for their current customer base. If a customer continues to learn they are getting more deeply invested in the software (less likely to throw it out), will use the software more efficiently, and will be more likely to recommend the software to other printers. A happy current customer contributes to the ease in which the next sale is made. This is a hard sale to make in a software company; it’s always easier to hire more sales people than invest in making the existing customers happy so sales don’t have to work so hard for each sale.

Proactive customer support is a differentiator. When you’re shopping for a new piece of print technology, add this to your list of questions. What does the vendor offer as far as continuing education on their software? Before you purchase print software; decide who in your company will be tasked to become the “subject matter expert” and make sure they are a discovery learner. A discovery learner can learn things on their own—they do not wait around to be spoonfed.

Proactive customer service can also be applied to your print business. When mistakes happen in your customer service—do you take steps from preventing it from happening again? This is vital to your operating efficiency of your business. We all get to make new mistakes; making the same mistakes over and over is insanity.

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.

 

Discussion

By Randall Blinn on Feb 28, 2018

You have my full support Jennifer. I have been implementing and supporting ERP/MIS solutions in the Graphic Arts industry for 45+ years and most users (adult as you indicate) don't know when to ask for additional training. I have many clients using an ERP/MIS solution implemented 15-20 years ago and none of the staff was in-house when the package was implemented - they've had to learn it second & third hand.

Some of the vendors use their annual "conference" to provide additional training, but some of the major vendors are using the "conference" for sales instead of training.

Some vendors have a peer group/Users' Group where people can ask questions and share workflow ideas. These groups are normally searchable (i.e. PSI's Users' Group hosted on Yahoo), but many people (myself included) find it easier to just ask the question again.

Many of the vendors have done a nice job with videos that explain specifics about a module, so I would encourage end-users to search for these videos and use them as a way to train/retrain staff.

One thing I would love to have access to is the technical db that the ERP/MIS vendor uses to provide support - if I could search this on-line, it would be helpful to me and reduce their work. Many times the information shared on the PSI Users' Group was originally obtained by someone via a support request.

And lastly, I suggested to my employer in the 1970's that I could sell more services & software as a technical representative calling on existing clients that most of the salespeople trying to sell to new clients. The end user is THIRSTY for this training, but they need to be encouraged to seek it and the vendor needs to make it readily available at a reasonable price.

Obviously, you've hit one of my hot buttons - thanks for bringing this to the attention of this group!!!

 

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