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Making Customers Comfortable: The Valet Parking Effect

EDITORS NOTE: The Graphic Finishing Industries of Illinois (GFI) recently encouraged its membership to focus on making the outsourcing experience easier for binding and finishing services customers.  AMERICAN PRINTER asked GFI past president, Jack Rickard, for his thoughts how the post press community can and should make outsourcing more comfortable.  This is how he responded.

When is the last time you’ve been to a fancy restaurant? You know – the kind of place where jackets are required and valet parking is a must?

If the food was outstanding, the service impeccable and atmosphere delightful, you probably enjoyed the experience, right? But, what if the valet looked a bit scruffy?  Now, how would your experience have changed? Throughout the dinner, would you feel a little uneasy and have a nagging doubt about the safety of your car lurking in the back of your mind? Would you ask yourself, “Is my nice, new car going to be in one piece when I get it back?”

Now, let’s think of how printers feel when outsourcing work for final conversion at a bindery. It has to be difficult to take an important job fresh off the press and hand it over to someone else to finish it. Isn’t this experience akin to leaving an expensive car with a valet? It involves taking something for which you have a heavy amount of responsibility and relinquishing your control of it to someone else. It’s perfectly natural to have a high level of uneasiness with the process. You need a very real assurance that your prized possession is in good hands. Your bindery may have a great reputation, but you probably won’t rest easily until you see the benefits of doing business with them for yourself.

First impressions are lasting impressions

When you hand your keys to the valet attendant, you form an impression about the restaurant before you even step inside. Is the valet well-dressed and neat? Is his disposition pleasant? Does he seem mature and confident? And, if something were to go wrong, do you have confidence that he and the restaurant would assume responsibility? A ‘yes’ to all of these questions means you were put at ease as you began your experience with the restaurant.

For a bindery, great first impressions are extremely important to creating good working relationships with customers. It’s natural for printers to have trepidation when outsourcing is involved. The key for bindery professionals is to remove this fear before jobs are even received. Printers are looking for competence and responsibility in their finishing partners. If they don’t see it right away, they’re going to take their business elsewhere.

Every job is valuable, not only for its monetary worth, but for what it says about a company. Like every other service-oriented business, printers need to remove fear and instill confidence in their clients.  Partnering with reliable and competent finishers is a big part of this process. An outsourcing error on the printer’s part will generate a negative impression that will be very difficult to shake.  The relationship likely will be permanently damaged.

The impression that your company is more than capable of handling the needs of your clients extends well beyond first impressions. If you do a job for a client on time and do it well, it’s nothing more than a good start. Remember that every person in your shop, from the owner on down to the newest employee, is responsible for maintaining a client’s confidence in your firm. Something as simple as your truck driver getting lost while delivering a job or a CSR misspelling the name of the client’s representative, will negatively impact the perception of your company. Presenting a confident and competent approach at every point of customer contact will reinforce your image as a partner that makes business life easy.

Do your homework: Is there a good fit?

There’s naturally going to be a great deal more fear on the part of the printer if the relationship with the finisher is new. Fear of the unknown can be nerve-wracking, but can be minimized if the printer does a little homework and matches the strengths of the finisher with the needs of specific jobs. Just as you wouldn’t ask a quick printer to print 500,000 magazines, not every finishing shop is suited for all kinds of work. You’ll want to match that 500,000 run with a bindery that thrives on doing regularly scheduled, long run work.

On the other hand, that same bindery may not be the best choice for an intricate direct mail piece. If they don’t have people experienced in handling such jobs, don’t make the mistake of bringing it to them. By analogy, you may be satisfied with the cuisine at your favorite Italian restaurant. However, when you want a steak, it’s time to try another place.

Communication is the key

Of course, even the best-laid plans can go awry.  Overcoming inevitable problems requires a seamless transition between printer and bindery. The last thing either party wants is a job that simply isn’t going to get finished the way the printer expects it to be.

Binderies need to ask questions about potential jobs the moment the quote comes in. Any concerns about the feasibility of a job must be addressed immediately. In my opinion, one of the worst bindery sins is to just “wing it.” Of course this is risky behavior and is completely wrong. Every detail of a project should be understood by the company doing the work.  If there are any open issues, they must be resolved as soon as the job arrives – or, better yet, before it’s even printed. It’s too late to ask what type of coating is on the piece when it’s sitting on a machine with glue failing to adhere.

As any seasoned graphic arts veteran knows, production issues surface daily. A big part of making customers feel at ease with the outsourcing process is when binderies take responsibility for production problems.  Bindery representatives should show initiative by brainstorming for solutions so multiple options can be presented to clients. This is much better than picking up the phone and saying something disheartening and unprofessional like, “We can’t get it to run.  Please pick your job up.”

When you think of the image that you want current and potential clients to have of your company, remember the first time you handed your keys to a valet at a new restaurant. The level of confidence you have at that first moment of contact helps determine whether or not your experience is a pleasant one and the likelihood of you returning. Make every point of contact a good one, starting with your company’s equivalent of a valet. Now it’s time to hear your clients say bon appetit!

Jack Rickard is the President of Rickard Bindery, and a former President of the Printing Industries of Illinois and Indiana, Binding Industries of America, and Graphic Finishing Industries of Illinois.  Rickard Bindery specializes in discovering solutions to challenging bindery jobs.  He can be reached at (800) 747-1389.  His company’s website