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Staffing Issues & Insights for the Graphic Communications Industry.
Making Every Hire Count: Maximizing Your Human Capital Investment
Quality of Hire Begins With Sourcing: Pick Your Method to Suit Your Needs
Getting a grip on mission-critical "soft" skills: 5 simple steps
Forget Doing "More with Less" Older Workers Help Companies Accomplish "More with More"
For Expanding Your Value-Added Services Profitably, Hiring Is Rocket Science
Assessing job candidates beyond the technical skills
Employer Branding: The solution to attracting & keeping great staff
Successioning Your Business: Five Simple Steps that Aren't Exactly Easy
The 20-60-20 Rule: Simple Concept, Practical Applications, Profitable Results
Universal Employment Concerns: Creating Opportunity Out of Adversity
Hanging Flexible in Tough Times
Value-Driven Outsourcing
Downsizing: Don't Retreat - Motivate!
Navigating Today's Hiring Minefield: Who Is Available & Do You Really Want Them?
Today's Financial Storm Inspires Tomorrow's Long-Term Success
The case for HR: Why & how you should implement formal policies & procedures
Staffing for success in a soft market
The Challenge of Hiring Sales People
Workforce Optimization
Evolving Your Company into a Service-Oriented Business
Redefining Sales
Staffing for the Future of Print
Communicating With Employees From Start To Finish
Eight Steps to Prepare You for the Retirement Brain Drain
Job Hopping for the Right Reasons
Resumés are just the Tip of the Iceberg
How Some Hires Fail
Hire Like You Mean It
Concluding Your Hiring Workflow: Closing the Deal
A Hiring "To Do" List
Challenging Employee Excellence to Achieve Company Pre-eminence
Aim for the Top: Getting Value for Compensation Dollars
The Productivity Challenge
The Dynamics of Telephone Interviews
How People Enable "Enablers"
The People Side of Succession Planning
Tips for Effective Interviewing
Corporate Culture: What It Is, Who It's for, Why It Matters
What's In a Name?
Investment in Regulatory Managers is Money Well Returned
Flexibility in HR Management Reaps Rewards
People Drive Technology
Return on Experience
The Credible Resume
Leadership Delivers
Managing Employee Skills & Knowledge
Managing Employee Success
Profit by being a good employer
Achieve Employee Excellence with Effective Job Descriptions
Maximize your Human Capital Investment
Demystifying Job Descriptions
Benefits of Outsourcing
Surviving The Management Paradigm Shift
Invest in the Best


Evolving Your Company into a Service-Oriented Business

Printing is and always has been a service industry. It is especially easy to lose sight of this fact in 2008, however, because this is a “drupa year” - the one year in four when drupa, the world’s largest printing-equipment exhibition, convenes in Düsseldorf, Germany. This May and June, as always, drupa plied printers with an unparalleled selection of advanced tools to upgrade their manufacturing operations with technology.

By no means do we dispute the fact that printers need the right equipment and drivers. But we’re writing this article to point out the equal if not greater importance of managing the service end of the business. The reasoning behind this strategy is that printing is not just a manufactured product; rather, it is CUSTOM manufactured. And this reality requires you constantly to envision not your equipment but your customer and the service component of the business as the vital center of your operations. Moreover, we want to suggest that any company, regardless of size, should not only start viewing printing and its products as the outcome of service, but also revise its hiring criteria accordingly to emphasize the service aspect of the business.

Commodity Manufacturing

Commodity manufacturing is price-driven. Historically there has always been a country somewhere in the world that has eroded North-American commodity manufacturing primarily because it has access to a less expensive labor force. Arguably, modern China and India are the most dramatic and broad-reaching such examples. In response, North America has essentially advanced its economy by developing its expertise in logistics to deliver goods manufactured elsewhere. Not surprisingly, job-creation statistics in both the US and Canada consistently show hiring growth in the service sectors, offset by considerable hiring shrinkage in the manufacturing sectors.

In light of these trends, we in the printing industry are especially fortunate. The outcome of our service is the delivery of the indispensable vehicles that disseminate information. We are still a large and essential industry. Moreover, although printing is frequently (if incorrectly) regarded as commodity manufacturing, and although technology developers market and sell their tools to service providers worldwide, the practical option to source printing offshore is viable in only a small proportion of cases.

Many reasons still exist for buyers of print and related services to buy locally - or at least in North America. These include:

  • Time-sensitive turnaround of finished product. Many buyers place a high premium on North America’s mastery of just-in-time delivery.

  • Enhanced relationships between customer and service provider, including personal face-to-face interactions. Customers increasingly appreciate the value of personalized service to their business success.

  • An increasing focus on environmental sustainability. Purchasing locally offers greater assurance that the manufacturer utilizes “green” raw materials and follows principles of environmental stewardship and corporate social responsibility. Increasingly conscientious buyers also value vendors who protect employee health and safety and exhibit a general respect for human dignity - practices that are practically impossible to monitor with arms-length, offshore suppliers.

  • The increasing trend toward shorter print runs translates into less significant cost savings when buying offshore. Thus the risk of doing so has become less worthwhile financially.
So again, your best defensive strategy against offshore commodity manufacturing is to emphasize the essential service component. You and your dynamic team of people must do everything possible to achieve the service-minded orientation that will enable your company to earn and retain an escalating share of available business.

Polish Your Front End

Undoubtedly the work of any printer is a highly complex process. But regardless of its intricacies, it always starts with a customer: either a customer contacts the printer with a request, or else a sales representative contacts a customer to offer his or her company’s services. In either scenario the next step is to engage a significant network of personnel (besides manufacturing staff) to execute and support the customer’s project:

First among them are the front-end people who funnel the work to manufacturing. Their functions are critical because they make the manufacturing process cost-effective. These functions include:
  • Project Planning
  • Estimating
  • Project Management
  • Production Coordination
  • Scheduling
  • IT
  • Customer Service
Depending on company size, each front-end function can be performed either as a stand-alone position, or else one person can execute several functions in combination. A further important consideration is that each of the above roles never operates in isolation but interacts constantly with the others and with manufacturing personnel. Thus, a universal hiring prerequisite for any front-end roles is the ability to work effectively as part of a team.

A serviced-oriented perspective also requires you to hire customer-service staff with excellent communication and people skills. Don’t laugh if this proposition seems too obvious to mention. Bad customer-service staff can aggravate delays and unnecessary expenses through their apathy, recurring mistakes, or negligence. Conversely, good Customer Service Reps are a strategic investment you make in order to generate income. You need to hire candidates who exhibit competence, positive attitude, energy, initiative, and sense of responsibility; people who are respectful and pleasant to be around; people who can communicate well and inspire trust and co-operation from others.

A customer-focused front end also requires Salespeople who invest the necessary time and expertise to research and understand the nature of a customer’s business; people with the initiative, problem-solving acumen, and presentation skills to approach the customer’s key decision-makers proactively with strategic recommendations to enhance the customer’s business; effective communicators who can convince customers and prospects of the advantages they can derive from your company’s products and services. (PrintLink’s last article elaborates on the important activities of Salespeople.)

Hire managers to turn strategy into reality

All front-end and manufacturing positions need to be streamlined by managers and supervisors who are operating from a service-driven outlook; people who ensure that work is not merely being “thrown over the wall” to the next department, but who manage all your internal activities with the goal of delivering value to customers. They can organize your customer-contact systems and workflow in a manner that expedites and enhances rather than obstructs and frustrates your customers’ goals. Each step in your process needs to build your customers’ trust and make it easy for them to do business with you.

Even more importantly, evolving your company into a service-oriented business requires the right strategic outlook, followed by a plan, followed by a budget, followed by implementation, followed by review, followed by adjustments. To ensure all these steps are executed properly, you need to hire leaders who are well versed in business strategy as well as the printing industry specifically. In the past, hiring managers have found it difficult to recruit candidates with a combination of both kinds of experience. The good news is that at PrintLink we are seeing more and more managers who have achieved this critical combination of expertise; people who recognize that the printing business is evolving in a service-oriented direction and have built their professional qualifications accordingly.

Plan creatively

On a superficial level, even a commodity printer can demonstrate great customer service. But for a genuine service organization the bigger and more important challenge is to analyze your target markets; understand what will benefit those markets; then equip, staff and train to fulfill those customers’ needs. You need to devise and implement an entire company-wide plan to augment what you already do for your customers and position yourself as a vital element in your customers’ own success.

To devise such a plan, you need to be creative: You’re a printer, right? And today’s print is data-driven, right? So what else can you offer to utilize that data? What else can you transfer onto a substrate? What ancillary services compliment those you already offer?

How about:
  • Web-to-Print?
  • E-Commerce development and management for your customers?
  • Security options that are RFID, ink- or coatings-based?
  • Variable print?
  • Offset printing options such as metallics and lenticular?
  • Equipping to provide a variety of run-length options?
Even if you already offer a service that makes you and your customers completely happy, you still need to investigate and plan your technology and staffing carefully. The more successful service providers will continually offer their customers a complete package from initial consultation through to execution and evaluation. Additionally, your company needs to be continuously engaged in research and development to uncover both new technologies and other applications for the processes you already operate. In short, evolving your company into a service-oriented business requires a constant commitment that goes well beyond the cut-and-dried obligation you take on to deliver just a product. It is a commitment that can only be achieved through a fine balance between effective technology and the strategically orchestrated efforts of effective, knowledgeable staff.
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