Business inspection: Printworks North
By Jon Severs Thursday, 20 September 2012
Getting to know your clients and implementing a service-based approach to business can help retain existing customers and win new ones
Printworks North was set up in 1996 by managing director Paul Johnson. It started as a two-colour outfit in Wetherby before expanding into four-colour work. It now has a whole range of kit, including a Mimaki wide-format machine and a four-colour Ryobi press, and offers design services as well. The company employs 11 staff and serves clients in numerous sectors such as pharmaceutical companies, with businesses ranging from large blue chips to local retailers.
"When I joined the company in 2008, there was no real service mentality to our customers, we were instead just reacting to orders as they were coming in," says marketing and sales director Ben Johnson, Paul Johnson’s son, who joined the company after completing a marketing degree. "I would not say the company was sat on its laurels, but there were opportunities to maximise the customer base we had by improving our customer services so we were looking after them better and communicating with them far more."
He explains that there was a real lack of account management for any but a few select clients and that he wanted the ethos to switch to being one where every customer, no matter how small the order or how long they had dealt with the company, was treated in exactly the same way.
"I wanted to see us have a relationship with our clients, as if we helped them achieve their goals and for them to grow, then they would want to work more with us as we would not be just another printer running off the work and sending it out in a faceless way," he adds.
As Johnson was fresh out of university when he joined, with little real-world experience in the pressroom or anywhere else in the print business, trying to bring fresh ideas and approaches to the company and to convince the staff that he knew what he was doing was obviously going to be a tough ask.
"I had a lot of respect for the people that were working here – it was not as if I was going to come in as the boss’s son and throw my weight around, that would never have worked," he explains. "So I spent around a year and a half soaking up as much as I could, learning everything I could about every element of the business, and I am still learning things every day now – and I will still be saying that in 15 years time."
He reveals that the only way his customer service plan was going to work was to gain the respect of the staff and so he was first in on a morning, the last person to leave, and when he was given advice he listened and acted upon it.
Eventually, he felt he was in a position to begin the process of changing the way the company worked.
"The first thing I looked at was how a job was processed," he says. "Our whole system was so disjointed and cumbersome with duplicated information, so it was very slow, both in quoting the job and producing it. So, we bought an Accura MIS."
Johnson says that with this system he was able to give people quotes while they were still on the phone describing the job. "It was so much more reactive and a much better customer experience," he explains.
The MIS also meant staff had an overall view of the customer, with the full history available at the touch of a button. This meant quotes could be chased, staff could be more proactive and also the company could be more clued-up about its clients’ needs.
Johnson also took on a more physical role in terms of customer service – delivering jobs personally so that he could meet clients and enable them to put a face to Printworks.
"The business had lost its identity," he reveals. "There was no-one that physically embodied the business and I think that is dangerous. People like the personal connection and if they feel they can relate to someone personally they are more likely to place work."
Sometimes these meetings would simply be a quick ‘hello’, but for every new customer Johnson would go and meet the company, learn about their business and aims and try and get an idea of future direction.
"If we can help a company be more successful, then we will get more work from them," he says.
He explains that gradually customers came to know him and a rapport was built so that when they did need a printer it was often a case of ‘we can just give Ben a call’.
He stresses, however, that he never had a problem with the staff’s manner; it was just that more direction and more information was needed to help them be more pro-active.
Very quickly, Johnson found that Printworks was benefiting from his new approach in the form of more work from existing customers and more recommendations from its client base to other businesses. And as more work began to flow into the presses, this helped the customer service to improve even more.
"As more business came in, the staff could see that it was working and so that really encouraged them to get behind what I was trying to achieve," he explains. "You could really sense the mood change and that we were a different company."
The impact on the company finances was just as great. In 2009, the turnover was around £400,000. In 2010, that went up to £600,000 and then in 2011 it went up to £1.2m
"That is with a very good profit margin, as well," adds Johnson. "And this year we are set to increase that figure again. The vast majority of that improvement is down to customer service."
That’s not to say there were no hurdles.
"There were people that did not agree with me and some that simply did not like the idea of change," he reveals. "They did not want to adopt the working ethos we were moving towards and so we did have a couple of staff move on as a result."
"It’s clear that customer service is essential to the modern printing business," says Johnson. "I think it is the most important aspect of what we do."
Hence, the work is by no means done for Printworks. Johnson says that maintaining the standards is essential.
"We have to ensure that we continue to value every customer equally, be they a big multinational corporation or a local resident – they should be treated in exactly the same way," he says. "We also need to
ensure that this influx of clients does not mean we neglect our existing client base."
As for whether the shift has been a success, the figures speak for themselves, but he adds that staff morale and enthusiasm has also been positively affected.
"We already had a really good, hard working staff and all we have done is channel that into a new way of working and you can really see the positive benefits in staff retention and also recruitment of new staff as we are now a dynamic company to work for," he says. "Plus there’s a real sense of ownership of the business now – everyone feels part of the success as customer service is part of everyone’s job. Everyone knows that we could not have got to where we are today without any one of them."
For any change to occur successfully, a delicate balance has to be born in mind right from the off between the many elements that drive and facilitate change. People are naturally resistant to change, so to bring about a successful transformation you have to ensure that the process and result is more appealing to the staff than staying as they are. That means people have to realise the less-than-favourable circumstances they are currently in; it means that the end goal has to be clearly defined as being better than the current norm; and it means that the first step has to be as easy as possible to garner confidence.
Philip Thompson, head of BPIF
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