Customer service in print has been placed under the spotlight over the past few weeks, with recently released research suggesting that service in the industry is below par.
A study of 1,000 consumers by audio branding services provider PH Media Group showed that only 18% of British consumers are satisfied with the way that printers handle their phone calls, making print the worst performing industry.
“Poor call handling is a constant bugbear for the British consumer but, despite this, it appears printers have still not risen to the challenge of achieving best practice,” says PH Media Group sales and marketing director Mark Williamson.
Separately, the Institute of Customer Service’s latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index, which was published last month, showed that the only sector to improve its performance since 2012 was banks and building societies. Service providers, including delivery companies TNT, Hermes, Yodel, DHL, City Link and Royal Mail, saw the biggest decline in customer satisfaction over the same period.
So while deteriorating customer service levels are clearly not a problem exclusive to print, these studies suggest it is still an issue of concern for the industry.
Some printers believe that giving great customer service is vital to retaining key clients, while others say that delivering higher standards of service than their competitors can help them to stand out.
David Want, joint owner of Horsham-based commercial printer JR Print, says: “Today, equipment is much of a muchness as everybody has got the same sort of stuff, so it’s customer service that makes the difference. It’s absolutely key to our business.”
Lands’ End European print production manager Joanne Hurst agrees: “There is usually little to distinguish one printer from another on the technical side, but if they are committed to providing the best, most responsive customer service, it really does give them the edge.”
Some printers have hired specialists to specifically oversee their customer service. Webmart has recently taken on Damian Sorgiovanni as customer services director – a newly created role within the business.
He says: “We’ve got some rapid growth forecast and I’ll bring in some different perspectives as to how to deal with those bigger contracts, what sort of information they are interested in from us on a regular basis and how best to present that.”
Irongate Managed Commun-ications marketing manager Howard Forton echoes Webmart’s approach. He says it is important to cater to the varying needs of different customers, no matter what their size.
“We don’t offer a tiered level of service, we have account managers assigned to specific customers and accounts. It’s their responsibility to satisfy customers’ needs within the context of the business objectives of being profitable,” says Forton.
Customers receiving poor service or ineptitude are likely to quickly take their business elsewhere.
“I’d hate to think of the number of times I’ve taken a cold call from some hopeful printer who hasn’t bothered to do his homework and who clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” says Lands’ End’s Hurst.
Progressive Customer Publishing production director Angela Derbyshire adds: “People with service issues don’t keep our business for very long. The cardinal sin is lying about a problem, because we will always find out.
“I also get frustrated when I have to do their job for them, so sourcing a paper type, just through Google usually, or chasing up an ‘unpaid’ invoice only to find it was paid weeks ago.”
While closing sales in a timely fashion is important for printers to survive and thrive, it is important that customer service is not put on the back burner.
“Quality can usually be pretty reliable, so the service is the selling point,” says Derbyshire.
“I want to be kept informed every step of the way. If there is a problem I want to know about it before my client notices. Forewarned is forearmed,” she says.
Many small commercial printers rely on building and maintaining good local relationships to prosper and positive feedback can be a powerful way to win business.
Similarly though, negative testimonials can be particularly damaging for a small business operating in a local area, where word of mouth can spread quickly.
But is customer service in print as bad it’s made out to be? Lands’ End’s Hurst believes the sector has improved, but adds that some responsibility must fall on the shoulders of the customer to communicate clearly the level of quality and service they expect from the printer.
“I think all too often printers are castigated for providing poor service when the customer has failed to communicate what is expected,” says Hurst.
“And, after all, none of us are perfect. We work in an accident-prone industry and there has to be some room for manoeuvre when things go wrong.”
Irongate’s Forton concurs: “Perhaps some print buyers don’t know what they want, and when they do, they may not communicate it very well, leading to a perception of poor service.
“This effect becomes magnified if print production staff with poor customer service skills are made to interface directly with customers.”
The key to ensuring the best customer service is always delivered, then, may be to ensure that staff with the strongest people skills are those working in the most customer-facing roles.
For a sole trader required to be a Jack-of-all-trades, or a small commercial printer with only a few production staff, this may be harder to accommodate.
But, in an industry where technology, pricing structures and quality can be similar from one business to the next, taking the time and effort to keep customers happy could make all the difference between success or failure in the long term.
Good service keeps clients, but it doesn’t win them
Matthew Parker, founding director, Profitable Print Relationships
According to research from Directors’ Centre, 80% of companies think that they give above average customer service. However, only 11% of customers actually think that they receive above average customer service. Based on my experience of sales approaches from over 1,400 printing companies, 98% of printing companies try and sell on superior customer service. Rather less actually deliver on that promise.
Today’s buyer expects great customer service as a matter of course. Printers need to have people who will answer queries through the communication channel that the customer chooses, who can supply up to date information on all jobs at all times, and who will be proactive. Adding a personal touch that shows you love your customers also works. (I just received a bag of sweets with an invoice. That’s the sort of thing that makes your service memorable.)
That the estimator is a bit busy is no longer an excuse when a prospective new client is chasing up a quote that was sent over a day ago. All customer-facing staff should have a back-up contact who should know what is going on with every client.
This level of service shouldn’t be a point of difference. It’s what the industry should deliver. Many companies deliver a great customer experience. But there is certainly room for improvement.
Good customer service can also be automated. Many buyers don’t want to have to speak to someone to get an update on their job. They would be quite happy with an up-to-date web portal.
However, don’t expect fantastic customer service to bring in work. Remember, this is what buyers expect. It’s not a sales approach that will make you stand out from every other printer that claims they give great customer service. You need a much better message to attract new clients. But if you don’t end up delivering great customer service you may well end up losing customers swiftly.
How does your custo mer service provision measure up?
Dave Broadway, managing director, CFH Docmail
“Customer service is critical to us and we try to be the very best when people come to us for help. I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad review of our team, they tend to be very good and that’s what we tend to instill in people. It’s the point of contact that the customer always remembers – if they have to call you it’s because they have some kind of issue or problem that they need sorting and it’s at that point that you prove yourself.”
Howard Forton, marketing manager, Irongate Managed Communications
“I’ve been specifying and buying print all my career and I’ve never had any major disappointments with service, and if I’ve had the odd one I’ve just moved supplier. At Irongate we maintain a high level of service by looking to continually improve our processes and the way we recruit and train people. Winning customers is a very skilled process in its own right, but once we’ve got them we go to great lengths to keep them and grow them. The challenge is to satisfy their demands but also manage their expectations.”
Damian Sorgiovanni, customer services director, Webmart
“Customer service is central to what we do at Webmart. We have people who provide our clients with expertise, innovation and support and that’s what our customers really buy from us. They’re not buying a catalogue, direct mail or a piece of POS so much as they’re buying into Webmart’s people and the excellent service. What does it cost you to offer good customer service? If you have a bad customer experience you’ll tell a lot more people than if you had a good experience.”