Archive for June, 2011

Is Customer Service a Lost Art?

As I write, I have been on hold with Adobe for 29 minutes…I had a very simple, simple question which I needed answered. In order to get that answer I had to provide my name, software serial number, email address, version of Acrobat X, version of the problem software (Firefox 5). I also had to previously wade through a menu that did everything it possibly could to discourage me from talking to a live human being. When I finally did reach a “warm body”, the usual occurred: first, the impression that I am in a boiler room in Calcutta; then interrogate me for 5 minutes to verify my identity; ask me to define the problem; rifle through papers so they can find a canned script to fire back at me; put me on hold to discuss the problem with their “service team” (code for they are clueless how to fix the problem). Then, after returning to my call, ask me a few of the same questions I already answered. Bottom line: there is no fix for the problem yet. (Firefox 5 does not allow you to create a pdf from within the browser, as it did before with Acrobat X….). He could have simply told me that in the first 60 seconds after I identified the problem, if he was knowledgeable.

In commercial printing, if you “jerk people around” like that, you are out of business eventually. Why? Because I can hang up the phone and call another printer for a price or schedule or design help. Customer Service is very important for survival in this age of printing. In some cases, it is the only thing that separates you from your competition.
What about quality? Everyone prints well these days…
What about service? Deliver jobs in 3-10 days or your shop will quickly be empty.
Price? This industry is so cheap already I am amazed at pricing levels. With technology, prices have plummeted. A job that would have cost $10,000 in 1980 will now cost $3,000. Name me another industry where you charge 70% less for your product and you still survive (maybe electronics?).

Treat your customers well, and they will come back…and your customer service can be the difference maker, and possibly the only thing that separates you from your competitors.

In the printing industry, sometimes we get defensive about the business we are in (“print is not dead”), or we use phrases like “when the economy turns around____”, trying to be positive about the future. What we are experiencing in the printing industry is two fold: radical technological shifts (think e-books, web advertising, lights-out Prepress, 10 minute makereadies) coupled with a global restructuring of economies. Riots in Turkey, the downturn in housing, outsourcing issues, unavailability of bank credit, clients paying their bills slower, etc. – ALL have the same underlying results/causes: Leveling the playing field for the middle class around the world; and the U.S. will be squeezed the most of any country.

There is no “getting better” for the economy, in the traditional sense of the term. We are not going to have dramatic increases in Revenue and earnings, unless one has invented a new product (like iPads). Any “recession” predictions for 2012 are somewhat humorous – of course it will be a tough year, and
you will scrape and claw to survive – not because of any recession, but because the WORLD is changing and equilibrium has not yet been established.

Markets will continue to go up and down for the classic reasons (product life cycles, consumer confidence, monetary policy, etc). BUT as a business manager you MUST constantly be looking for ways of reducing your costs, run lean, and be nimble or you will not survive in the long run. Translation: cheaper products, high unemployment continues, stagnant housing markets, shorter prosperous business cycles (weeks and months instead of years), clients going bankrupt. And, perhaps most importantly, this new economy requires every employee to be willing to change more rapidly, learn and apply more skill sets. A complacent or stubborn employee will eventually be unemployed, because the rules of the business world have changed. Learn, adapt, change or become extinct. That is the new world we live in. Business is very Darwinian, now more so than ever.

We will have to PERMANENTLY deal with having less in this country. The world has changed, we need to all get used to that. Stop waiting for the
rainbow – it’s gone and not coming back. I am neither bear nor bull – just a realist with lots of experience on an everyday basis in the business world. This is a different business climate now, and not like any other I have experienced in the last 35 years in my industry. It’s not impossible to succeed, it is just more difficult and requires a higher degree of industry knowledge and acumen, as a manager and as an employee.