By Noel Ward, Executive Editor August 9, 2004 -- This August week has a couple of articles with somewhat related themes. They are ones that various industry writers and analysts have expounded on before and certainly will again. I point them out only because they are a combination of common sense and a reminder of how technology is there to serve us, even though it may not always seem that way. Ed Marino points out the importance of adopting technology. In a time when the number of print providers is shrinking, there is evidence that many of those that have survived through the recent lean years are ones that have adopted some level of digital printing technology. Some of it is true digital printing--systems that can produce variable data documents-- and some of it is DI printing. I add to this wide format printing, long a favorite of mine, that has grown to fill a wide range of needs. Some printers have integrated the internet and variable data printing, a significant extension beyond traditional printing. The companies that have adopted these technologies and chased the opportunities they saw are in many cases the ones best poised for the future--and more likely to survive. I recognize that more than a few early adopters have had painful experiences, but today many of those who have climbed the sometimes slippery slope are seeing success. They have found ways to use technology to better serve their customers and grow their businesses. This is an undercurrent in John Giles' column. He talks about the impact--real or imagined--of FedEx/Kinko's on the world of small commercial and quick printers. They may have access to abundant financial and technical resources but it may be they are not after the same customers as the quick and franchise printers in their zip code. And at a practical level, many smaller shops can offer the same kind of services if they are willing to make some relatively modest investments in technology while paying attention to their key customers. And speaking of customers, I read an article this week by Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post, entitled "Customer runaround demands a revolt." Kurtz cites a litany of customer abuses, primarily related to people calling companies with questions about products, services or their bills. Anyone who has called a company and entered into the mind-numbing void of a voice mail maze, or helped some guy in Sri Lanka practice his American English has first hand knowledge of just how bad customer service has gotten. I remember reading in one of Tom Peters' books how many companies routinely treat customers with "thinly disguised contempt." That was over a decade ago and it appears things have gotten worse. Kurtz cites a Purdue University researcher who told USA Today that 80 percent of American companies fail to do a decent job with customer service. Some of this, I sincerely believe, is deliberate and mandated from upper levels of management. For many huge companies, customers just don’t matter. It's a big planet, and there are always more to take the place of ones that leave. But for smaller businesses--print providers for example--customers are much more important. And if you are leveraging technology as Marino advises, and using it to take care of your customers per Giles' suggestions, you have a vested interest in making sure they are satisfied with every interaction they have with your business. You may be able to offer highly personalized service, know, understand and anticipate their needs, and be able to deliver what you provide so well that they won't even consider going somewhere else. You wind up with a bigger share of their wallet, and they go away happy and come back for more. And that's a good thing.