No one likes reading the manual. Whether it be electronics, toys or furniture, the huge accompanying instruction booklets are usually largely left untouched. And even when instructions are followed, as with certain flatpack furniture products, things often still go awry.
What you need is some hands-on training, a knowledgeable person to talk you through all aspects of the thing you have brought so you can maximise its potential. With small consumer electronics, like a new digital radio, such service would not be practical because of the price you are paying for the goods. However, with print, where vast sums can change hands for a new machine or product, surely these tutorials come as standard?
Well no, actually. At least not usually.
When you start talking to printers about training provided by manufacturers and software vendors, you begin to form a picture of an incredibly fragmented landscape: the amount of training offered ‘free’ with a purchase does not just differ between manufacturers, it can differ for different products offered by the same manufacturer. And the type of training offered can range from a leaflet with the basics to an intensive 10-day course somewhere in Europe. As for paying for extra training, well that’s where you might get some agreement across the board: extra training is big business.
“Training varies vastly,” says Ali Ridha Jaffar, sales director at Print Express (part of the Syncoms Group). “In addition, both manufacturers and software providers see training as a significant portion of their revenue generation strategy and as a result the charges can be exorbitant.”
So are printers getting a raw deal? The manufacturers argue not.
Fujifilm says that training is necessarily fragmented and that, actually, most printers will get a level of “free” training that befits the level of investment made in the product.
Horses for courses
“Training is highly variable and depends not just on the level of investment a customer has made, but also on the nature of the products they have bought,” says Martin Prior, customer support and operations manager for Fujifilm Graphic Systems UK.
“The training requirements for a software workflow solution are very different to the requirements for a new hardware platform, for example. Every customer, and every purchase, is different – but as a general rule it would be fair to say that the level of investment a customer has made is roughly commensurate with the amount of training offered as part of that deal.”
Xerox, meanwhile, is very open about the fact that if customers want comprehensive training on the machine, then that is an extra service.
“Training is typically offered at an additional cost to the machine,” says Alan Clarke, Graphic Communications product marketing manager at Xerox UK. “Some customers choose not the take the training, in which case they are shown the basic features of the device at install by the engineer or analyst.”
While it may seem odd for a printer to pay hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds on a machine to then get no training for free, there are several factors that explain why there perhaps should not be expectations that training should be free.
For example, the training required for these machines is not cheap – it can entail extensive one-to-one support.
“A Xerox iGen5 Press may take up to 10 days for comprehensive operator training,” says Clarke.
That needs to be paid for in some way; manufacturers’ margins are not large enough to soak up all that cost.
So, what should happen? Should it be added it to the cost of the machine? Well, you could, but you are buying a third Xerox iGen5, say, you’re probably not going to need any training so you would be paying for something you don’t need. And you still have the option of just using the instruction manual – some may wish to do that rather than pay for training.
Another factor is that training can be viewed in several different ways: does trouble-shooting count as training? What about ongoing advice? Many manufacturers will offer the less formal interactive training as part of an “ongoing relationship” and separate to training.
“There are occasions when we consider including some further training as part of an ongoing relationship with a customer,” says Prior.
Duncan Smith, channel director at Canon, believes having a close ongoing relationship with customers is crucial. “Our relationship with a customer starts with the installation. It doesn’t end there. We work with customers on an on-going basis, helping them get the very best performance from their purchases. We are committed to maintaining a lasting relationship and training sits at the heart of that commitment.”
You may think that at the more automated end of the market, things would be different. The joy of a one-button operation should mean that training is not necessary. That’s not exactly true, says Sarah Crumpler, Duplo UK marketing manager.
“Our offering by dedicated trainers is flexible and designed to ensure that our customers get the best user experience and can further develop their own new business opportunities,” she says. “If it’s a more complex system, then additional training will reflect the requirements. But all our systems are designed for precision and full automation, as well as being extremely reliable. We pride ourselves on a ‘green button’ approach, so it’s easy technology to use.”
Adrian Tolley, Prime Group’s operations director, says he always opts for training whatever the product. He also says that printers have more power than they may realise – if you want the training, then put it into the mix when you are negotiating the price for the machine. “Training is always included in our contractual negotiations as it would be an expensive add-on afterwards if not,” he says.
He makes a good point – manufacturers want business so whatever the model offered when it comes to training charges, as the customer printers have some power to negotiate a good deal.
And yet, for plenty of print companies it will be a tough enough task raising the funds for new machinery, without an unwelcome extra bill to be taught how to use it - however small those charges might be. Ridha Jaffar says this may mean some printers choose not to opt for training or choose slimmed down packages – with disastrous consequences.
“With tight margins, many organisations require multi-skilled staff; so a lot of cross-training occurs between employees,” he says. “But because some companies will limit the amount of training they invest in, without a doubt this impacts on productivity. If the initial training wasn’t as comprehensive, you end up with an entire workforce that is not as well trained as they should be, resulting in a decline in productivity as a whole.
“In turn, there’s more waste (in energy and raw materials) that does have an impact on the environment. Not to mention the consequences of breakdowns.”
Clarke agrees that when customers opt for less training, it can have an impact on what they get out of the machine.
“This may mean that they do not take full advantage of all the features that the device has to offer. It can also affect the performance of the machine in terms of image quality and reliability as well as the efficiency of the operator,” he says.
Shunning training is a false economy, then. But you can have similar issues even if you do opt for training, if that training is not adequately supported by the print company itself, says Matthew Peacock from Active PPP.
“Most of the training provided by large equipment manufactures is good quality and worthwhile, but I often find that print operators cannot fully implement the training they have been given,” he says.
“I think this is because the operators – quite properly – attend the manufacturer’s training (on site and/or at the manufacture’s training facility) but the print company’s managers don’t understand how to support their operators’ training.
So, for instance manufacturers may train operators how to do quick makereadies, high-quality work, etc, on their equipment but then the actual equipment performance is hindered by poorly organised material supply, incorrect information on work orders, poor planning and so on.”
How and where training happens is an interesting issue. Typically, as Peacock says, training happens on the manufacturer’s premises. But Ridha Jaffar says other methods need to be embraced.
“Manufacturers have been slow in adapting to the use of what is now common learning technology,” he says. “I see no reason why there can’t be provision for tools such as an online video library, which demonstrates how various machines can be operated, coupled with various trouble shooting techniques”
Embracing new ways of training is on the radar of many manufacturers.
“I do already see changes developing in how we offer our training – the online training solution is a case in point, we hope to see that rolled out widely in the future. Another change we are seeing is that software workflow solutions are increasingly user-friendly – reducing the need for the level of training required at all stages,” says Prior
Clarke also sees changes ahead: “We expect that more training will be conducted remotely, especially as more and more customers become dependent on workflow solutions that can be demonstrated remotely using cloud-based technologies. For the printers, a significant amount of the training will still need to be face-to-face by the machine, however more and more on-line resources will become available.”
With advances to virtual reality software things could get even more remote. Feasibly, some form of standardised training package across the industry might soon be possible: you buy your machine, you download the videos to your VR headset and away you go. It would be low cost, once you invest in the VR technology, and as good as being in the room with the instructor if the tutorial was programmed well enough (think Siri on steroids).
Until then, though, a seemingly necessary fragmented system will remain, and printers need to be savvy to get the most they can out of what is offered for the right price.
Customer view: Prime Group
Prime Group, the marketing production company in Nottingham, has recently invested in systems and hardware from digital manufacturer HP, including the HP 10000 being delivered above, and print finishing manufacturer Duplo. Training was part of the package.
Adrian Tolley, the company’s operations Director, says that his preference for training would always be off-site, “because it avoids potential distractions when working in live environments”.
Subsequent on-site follow-ups and sharing ‘best practice’ are also crucial, he says.
With this in mind, Tolley chairs the Duplo Owners’ Club, which meets regularly.
“We discuss experiences,” says Tolley. “I can’t expect an operator to learn everything during the training and the answer isn’t going to be found in a manual. Duplo use our feedback to shape their training offering and put operators together so that they may share tips and tricks, which is far more valuable than showing someone how to press buttons.”