By John Giles A digital audit of top customers allows the printer to prepare for the files before they arrive with another one of those impossible due dates. November 15, 2004 -- It seems like a simple question: What software applications do your top customers use to create their files? Ask most print shop owners and they refer you to their prepress department. They don't know who is giving them what. Why is this important? In print shops I visit, more than 50 percent of the work being produced starts as a customer-created file. The customer is using a software application to create the document that will be reproduced and expects the printer to be able to handle it. The sales people just accept the file and toss it back to the prepress department with the instructions to make it work. Is it any wonder that the prepress department is the bottleneck in most print shops? A digital audit will let the sales person learn: Which computer and operating system is used to created a file. Which software applications the customer uses. The fonts are required by the customer. The graphic formats the customer usews. Which color model is used for the application? A print shop's sales staff should know how top customers create files before they are submitted. The top 25 customers submit the bulk of the work a print shop produces so it should be easy to audit the customer to see what they use and how they use it. A digital audit of top customers allows the printer to prepare for the files before they arrive with another one of those impossible due dates. Does the printer have the right software to support his top customers? Could fonts and graphics be a problem? Does the customer know how to create the file properly to avoid additional costs and production delays? Just throwing your digital standards up on your web site isn't going to solve customer file problems. The sales staff needs to question and probe to find out just how customer expects to provide documents. As they learn about the customer's needs they can provide the appropriate information that the customer needs to know. A digital audit will let the sales person learn: What computer is used to created a file? Most printers should support either platform, but knowing which platform the customer uses is important to the desktop publishing staff. Knowing the platform can help the prepress staff address font and graphics issues. What software application does the customer use? The salesperson must learn if the customer is using an application supported by the company. In some cases, the customer may be using the wrong software. If the application program is not among the supported software, the sales person can suggest the use of PDF or Postscript files to handle the submission. What fonts are required by the customer? The salesperson can head off problems by knowing exactly what fonts the customer requires. It may require getting a customer to use Type 1 Postscript fonts rather than Truetype fonts. It might mean purchasing matching fonts. It may require teaching a customer how to gather the right fonts to include with the job. If the font issues are discussed during the digital audit, the order should be processed without problems when it arrives for output. What graphic formats does the customer use? Having the customer save the graphics in the correct formats is critical to the quality of the output. The sales person can learn the formats the customer's graphics are typically saved and if they are compatible. The sales person can even show the customer how to gather the graphics to include with the order so the best quality can be achieved. What color model will be used by the application? The sales person needs to make sure that the customer is preparing the files properly and using either Pantone or CMYK color models. Using the wrong color model can result in color shifts that may not be acceptable to the customer. Successful printers are being proactive with their customers. They are training the customers to prepare files correctly rather than hoping that the customer will learn from their mistakes. Most customers don't learn how to prepare files properly by teaching themselves. They learn from a printer. The printer who trains his customers is less apt to lose them to competitors. The printer who trains his customers is less apt to lose them to competitors. Successful printers can answer questions about their top customer's files. They can tell you what applications are used and what they had to do to train the customer to submit a file correctly. They know the color models used and how the graphics will be submitted. For successful printers, this information is as common as the type of paper and number of copies. The type of printer who just wants to take the order and then let his prepress department handle the file is slowly disappearing. Customers want the printer to be a partner in the production process. The customer wants to create his own documents so he can get his file into the workflow faster with fewer delays and problems. Printers who aren't willing to train customers how to do this are falling by the wayside because good customers just don't want to do business with them. Can you tell me how your top customers are submitting their documents?