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Commentary & Analysis

How Printing Industry CX Is Like Eating at Panera’s

Improving customer experience (CX) is becoming an increasingly important part of any company’s marketing plan. That goes as much for the printing industry as it does for everyone else. So are you a Panera? Or [the other guy]?

By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: August 6, 2018

You walk into a restaurant and it looks like a frat house. The tables haven’t been bussed. The floor is covered with napkins, straw wrappers, and food. You know the restaurant has good food and great prices, but you can’t get past the appearance of the lobby, so you walk back out the door. Or perhaps you are incredibly hungry and pressed for time, and since it’s later in the evening and most of the patrons have gone, you figure you’ll avert your eyes and get in and out quickly. You order, and as you wait, you see that none of the servers appear to be concerned about the condition of the lobby. You eat your food quickly and share your concerns with the manager, who complains that corporate eliminated the busser position, so they are on a learning curve. Please come back in two months and it should be better. He comps your meal for $10 less than it actually cost you.

This happened to us a few nights ago, and it got me thinking about customer experience (CX). We read about it in relation to our clients’ marketing campaigns, but what about our own businesses? CX matters in printing, too. When one of your clients makes contact with your company, whether in-person, on the phone, or online, what is their experience?

  • When they leave a message, how quickly is the call returned?
  • On their business and email taglines, do your salespeople list only their desk numbers (where they never sit)? Or do they include a cellphone number, too?
  • Are the posts on your company blog time stamped from 2016?
  • Is your company address and phone number easily accessible on your website? Or is the only way to contact you an anonymous website form?
  • Once you’ve delivered a job, do you follow up with a CX survey to see how you did and where you can improve?
  • Do you make it a habit to do something special (outside of the jobs themselves) for those really great clients on whose business your business is built?

I could keep going, but you get the idea. We read about CX, but do we implement it? There are myriad ways that customers and prospects engage with our companies, and it matters what those experiences are.

This was really driven home to me recently when I wrote a profile on Bob Tursack, CEO of Brilliant Graphics, for his induction into the Printing Industry Hall of Fame. In addition to interviewing Bob himself, I also interviewed long-time customers. My experience surprised me. Usually, I make calls and a few people will call back in a day or two...or three...or four. But I’ve never had interviewees call back almost immediately, then keep me on the phone for 45 minutes because they were so eager to sing someone’s praises. Yes, they raved about the quality of the product Brilliant produces, but they were more interested in praising the experience of working with Bob himself. His company consistently over-delivers. Bob responds “in minutes” when a crisis arises. Even when the client messes up, his team works around the clock to reprint the job, and delivers it faster than expected and looking even better than the original. One client was overwhelmed when Bob designed and delivered a poster featuring the covers of many of her company’s catalogs, matted and framed, to hang over her desk. No reason. Just because.

That’s delivering a great customer experience. While I’ve interviewed and worked with some of the greatest people in this industry, leaders I deeply admire, I’ve never heard customers rave about a printer the way they raved about Bob Tursack. That same experience extends to every aspect of the company. No matter which way you engage, you get the same consistently “above and beyond” experience. The industry may be shrinking, but Tursack’s company is expanding. Brilliant just added a whole fabrication area that includes foil stamping, complex die cutting, a Scodix, CNC machines, and even 3D printers.

This takes me back to my experience at the [unnamed] restaurant. As we were leaving, my husband commented on the contrast between this casual dining chain and Panera. When the recession hit and the other chains cut back on portion sizes, pricing, and consequently CX, Panera raised prices and maintained the same extremely high standards it always had. It weathered the recession just fine, and today its patrons are more loyal than ever. When Panera’s customers walk through the door, they know and trust the quality of the product and the customer experience they will receive.

Whether it’s a restaurant or a printing company, the importance of CX remains. According to Forrester, organizations with designated “CX leaders” achieved CAGR of 17% compared to 3% for companies without them. Which category are you in?

Are you a Panera? Or the other guy?

Heidi Tolliver-Walker Heidi is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL, and Web-to-print applications. Her Marketer’s Primer Series, availalbe through Digital Printing Reports, includes “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” 1:1 (Personalized) Printing: Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing.”



By Mike Philie on Aug 06, 2018

Heidi, great article. I like the Panera analogy. My observation is that the CX factor is often overlooked in printing companies as folks go through the "heat of the battle" to get the work out. As consumers we are much more in-tune to what a good customer experience feels like. Hopefully it’ll soon become a bigger part of each company’s strategy and used as one of their key differentiators.


By Joe Olivo on Aug 08, 2018

I agree that a printer can learn much from Panera in regards to delivering an enjoyable customer experience. I have often sat in Panera to see how the experience could translate to my printing company. As one who prefers to order online, I have watched in amazement when people (of all ages) are lined up at the counter 5 deep while the kiosks were empty. In this age of mobile apps and other "conveniences" for the customer I think this speaks that there is still a desire, if not preference, for human contact. Panera has indicated that digital orders account for 26% of sales and has partly driven a 6.2% sales increase. Interestingly, that leaves 74% of their clients still ordering under the traditional model. The takeaway for printers is that you can and should automate where possible,but there will always be a need for direct interaction.


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