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Give Your Best Operator to Your Customer

Save time and money by making your employee your customer's employee.

Here’s an idea worth considering: Take your best production person and send him out of the building to work for your customers. In fact, it might be a good idea to send this person to work for some of your worst customers.

There’s a method to this seeming madness. Your best production people are probably already spending the bulk of their time fixing jobs that have been sent by that small percentage of customers who struggle with preparing good files. your best operator is most likely the person who spends the most time fixing those problems-after all, he or she is the individual who knows the most about how to deal with troublesome files.

Consider this: You may believe that your employees work for you, and of course they do. But when it comes right down to it, all of your employees really work for your customers. And the truth is, even if you can bill out time for correcting bad files, it’s very difficult to recoup the true cost of lost production time and lowered efficiency.

So, why wait for the jobs to get to you to fix them? Wouldn’t it be a lot more economical to have them arrive correct in the first place? The customers who regularly send you bad files are costing you a lot of money. Why not spend a few hundred dollars sending someone to work with them in-house, in their environment, on their jobs?

Not only will the client company gain the knowledge it needs to prepare files properly, but your shop will also gain some inside knowledge about their company. By working directly with the individuals who are creating your customer’s files, and helping them through the process, you’ll gain the inside track when it comes time to select a company to print those jobs. In addition, you’ll garner some idea of the jobs they work on that you currently do not output.

But it’s important to make one thing clear: When you send an employee to a customer site, make sure everyone knows that, for those couple of days, that employee is working only for that customer. This is critical. Your customer needs to be able to feel as though your employee is their employee.

This kind of relationship also brings an additional positive aspect: You will be training their people in creating files that fit your company’s specific workflow. There are some tricks and tips that your key operator can share with your customers-information that will help your company handle those files with the greatest efficiency.

Weighing the costs

It will cost you resources to send a key employee out to a customer site. And although it’s likely to save you considerable money and probably bring in more work if you enter into an on-site partnership like this, there’s no reason you can’t charge a reasonable fee for such a service. Can you tie a customer to a contract that says you will provide this service in exchange for an agreed dollar amount of work? Maybe, but I wouldn’t push it. I’d even advocate providing the service without charge, and with no strings attached-relationship building is key here.

In the greater scheme of things, paying a few hundred dollars to send one of your best people to spend a couple of days helping out a customer likely will have a higher return on investment than just about anything you might do. Sure, it will make your customer appreciate your operator’s expertise and your company’s generosity, but it’s hardly charity-you will almost certainly recoup your investment many times over. If you do charge for the service, you might want to consider giving the employee a little bonus for service above and beyond.

Plus making your customer more efficient will save them money. And while there’s no guarantee, chances are excellent that this money will be spent on more printing- likely with you. they will be spending it by sending files to you that no longer gum up your entire workflow and cause your employees to pull out their hair.

A special skillset

The chief argument against offering these types of services is that shops need their best people to be running production-not out training customers. While this is certainly an understandable point, it’s also rather short-sighted. The greatest amount of down time, by far, is spent on correcting files created by just a handful of poorly trained customers. If you do not fix the problems at the source, they will continue, and every day they will continue to cost you.

One last suggestion: Not all good production people are good teachers. It takes a special skillset to be able to impart your knowledge to others. Even temperament and people skills, for instance, are vital in the selection of the best person to provide these services.

Stephen Beals (bpworkflow@verizon.net), in prepress production for more than 30 years, is the digital prepress manager with Finger Lakes Press in Auburn, NY.

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