By John Giles July 12, 2004 -- Is an educated printing buyer a better customer or a more dangerous one? Some printers believe that keeping a customer in the dark about the magical printing process will help them avoid problems. "I don't want to tell my customer anything," one printing salesperson told me. "It only confuses them." This same printer said that more of his customers were preparing their own files and rather than teach them how to prepare the files properly, his staff would just "fix" the unprintable files. Asked whether or not the customer was charged for this extra work, the salesperson said, "I think of fixing the file as just part of doing business. I think my overall price covers the extra time." If the customer were trained to create a digital file correctly, the printer would have fewer issues and more profits. Does it? The salesperson couldn't prove that the extra charges were getting on the invoice. He didn't know if his "overall" price covered the cost of fixing the file and maintained his profit margin. He "felt" his costs were covered. He "thought" his customers appreciated the service. He "believed" his customers didn't mind the additional costs because they were buried in the selling price. He "hoped" he was making a profit on the job. I "hope" this printer can stay in business. His company is constantly in chaos because every customer-created file becomes a rush. Delivery dates are promised before the file is checked to see if it will print. Production schedules are constantly rewritten because jobs aren't ready to go to press. On top of that, the prepress department is considered slackers by the rest of the company because it is a production bottleneck. It can't get the jobs out and it is losing money. If the prepress staff does complain about the low selling price, they are told that a higher price would keep the company from getting the order in the first place. Most of the time is lost because the staff is always negotiating among itself to see which job will be printed next. How does the internal chaos affect the customer? Orders are late and pricing is inconsistent. Customers who submit problem files continue to make the same errors with each new job. As more customers submit their own files, the problems will only grow and the customer will bear the brunt of the problems. Establishing digital standards and educating both the staff and the customers would eliminate many of the issues faced by this printer. Instead of keeping his customers in the dark about how he wants a file, he should be teaching them the proper way to assemble a file for his workflow. If the customer were trained to create a digital file correctly, the printer would have fewer issues and more profits. He might also have a happier staff. Do customers want printing education? I think they do, Print buyers are even starting to organize with a website at This online community brings together professional printing buyers to discuss issues they all face when dealing with commercial printers. The free site is open to both printing buyers and printing professionals to foster communications between the two groups. Printers who want to know what print buyers think about printers should visit the site. If you aren't educating your customer someone else will. surveys printing buyers about their concerns and questions. It offers tips from printing professionals on both the buying and selling sides of the fence that offer suggestions of how to handle situations such as overruns or what do to when a print job doesn't meet the buyer's expectations. It also surveys print buyers about their top concerns and what they can expect from a printer. If you aren't educating your customer someone else will. Some printing companies are offering seminars on various print buying topics. In the past few weeks I've heard about printers reaching out to customers with educational offerings. A California firm announced a seminar on direct mail and mailing services. A Minnesota printer is training its customers to prepare digital files properly in a seminar setting. A Florida printer is offering classes at his shop for customers in Microsoft Publisher. Print buyers want information and they are going to get more demanding. They are organizing. They want to better use a printer's services. They don't want to submit troubled orders. The printers who meet the educational needs of his customers will carve out the profitable printing business in the market. They'll establish the standards for the local printing industry and become the market leaders…all because of a little advice to the customer.