by Guy Broadhurst December 7, 2006 -- You don't buy very much these days without some type of after-sale support. Your car has a warranty and a group of dealers to choose from--some good, some not. Then after the first 50,000 miles have gone by you probably have a trusted technician you turn to for service. For your home you have people you call on for plumbing, painting, carpentry, electrical work, and maybe even someone to help with a home theater or computer network. And of course all your office and production printing equipment comes with (usually highly detailed) service agreements. But how do you know you're getting what you really need--what is best for your business? Setting Expectations There are a lot of players in the industry today and all promise "the best" service. But as we all know there can be a lot of variability in the actual delivery. When you select the printing equipment vendor you'll be partnering with it's important to convey all your requirements to them so they can develop a program that meets your needs. But beware! One of the buzzwords du jour is "managing expectations." This often means a vendor tells a customer what they can actually do, convinces the customer that it's good, then manages the expectations they have set up. A true partnership is a "one for all and all for one" effort in which each firm's helps the other succeed. That's maybe OK for non-critical operations, but when your business and reputation are on the line you need the support of an organization that's on the same page as you are and who will put in the late hours and cover all the details to make sure you live up to or exceed the expectations of your customer. The vendor should understand as much as you do about what your customers expect and know the details of the SLAs you have with them. Such a depth of understanding is an essential element of a comprehensive support system. It is part of building a relationship that can endure and help sustain your business into the future. It is also a critical element of partnership. Partnership I almost hesitate to use this term because it is so often over-used in business today. In general terms, partnership is simply two or more organizations involved or sharing in the same activity and that benefits (and risks) accrue to all involved. But in a true partnership, each party has a vested interest in the success of the other. It's more like, "one for all and all for one," where each firm's efforts help the other succeed. For example, providing equipment, software, and customized solutions helps our customers meet their SLAs, keep their customers happy, and grow their companies. In turn, they look to us when it's time to invest in additional technology or develop a customized solution. In addition, they tell us ways our technology can be improved which may result in new or better products. Partnership should be part of the "deal" no matter how big or small a customer may be. Obviously, a company with sophisticated, complex high volume printing operation has different support requirements than a company with lower print volumes and less customized applications, but the commitment to supporting the customer (the partner) and helping them succeed should be no different. It's easy for big technology vendors to throw a lot of resources at a major account, especially when a crisis arises. But real partnership--and true support--comes from reliably and consistently being ready to solve problems, create solutions and meet unusual requests at any time for any partner, no matter the size of their operation. One Call Walk into almost any print environment today and you see a smorgasbord of equipment and software. Print engines from multiple manufacturers, finishing and mailing equipment from still others, and software from numerous firms. More often than not, this equipment arrived at different times, and while it may all work together, the level of support is usually uneven at best. At different approach is to work with a single vendor (usually the print engine provider) that can orchestrate the acquisition and installation of the entire system. The immediate benefit is that you have someone to coordinate the process, but more importantly you have a single contact point for future service and support--one throat to choke, as some like to say. And when that print engine vendor knows the details of your SLAs and customers' expectations they are ideally positioned to work with the other firms to develop solutions and deliver the total support you need. Like finding a good mechanic for your car or tradesman for your home, support for your document production systems is not a trivial matter. The success of your business and your peace of mind depend on selecting equipment and software partners you can count on. You can't afford to be anything less than highly selective and seek out a company with a proven track record of service and commitment to its customers.