Staffing to meet your customer’s needs

Not everything today is brand new. Take the fundamental goal of printing, for instance. Historically its goal was, and still remains, the dissemination of information. And not only that, but one of the most essential business strategies for printers – configuring their tools and production processes to provide information to customers in ways customers want – has been around forever.

In 1455, Gutenberg streamlined production of the Bible using different tools and a different process (in his case a printing press with moveable type) so the information didn’t have to be disseminated by laboriously hand-written manuscripts any more and could reach more people.

“In other words, people had ready access to the information they wanted,” says PrintLink’s Managing Director Myrna Penny. “The same process is still happening for the same reasons today – no matter what the transportable medium. Though printing is a process of custom manufacturing, it has also always been a service industry – one that succeeds by identifying and meeting customer needs,” says Penny. “A successful company keeps its eye on the customer ball and recognizes that value is defined by the purchaser, not the seller.”

Gutenberg’s customers were all those people outside 15th-century royalty and the Church’s highest echelons who wanted to be able to read the Bible in an accessible, more affordable form. (Gutenberg’s Bibles sold for 300 florins each, a sum then equivalent to approximately three years’ wages for an average clerk. But it was significantly cheaper than a handwritten version that could take a single monk 20 years to transcribe! As the industry has continued to evolve, this one motive remains constant: the desire to make it easier to disseminate information to an ever-increasing number of recipients.

The importance of customer choice

Customer choice remains one of the biggest drivers in communications today. As an example, in a November 2005 presentation for OPIA, Hugh Dow, president of M2 Universal, confirmed that methods of accessing information are evolving in response to consumer demand. He demonstrated how such novel technologies for information transmission as gas-pump monitors and cell-phone video screens are rapidly becoming mainstream vehicles to provide information to customers wherever they want to receive it.

Media consumers are favouring more specialized and targeted focus and consumer control, said Dow. They are moving from mass media (things like network television and mass-circulation newspapers) to specialty TV channels, commuter newspapers and consumer-generated Internet postings such as blogs and podcasts. Similarly, growth in magazines and magazine advertising is tending away from general-interest and towards special-interest and niche publications. And young radio audiences are migrating toward choose-your-own-repertoire Internet options via iPods & MP3s. The same principal is evidenced in the growth of variable imaging and one-to-one marketing.

Adapt your human resources to your customers’ needs

Now more than ever before, printers need first to identify their key customers, then identify those customers’ business objectives. But most importantly, printers need to figure out what they can pro-actively offer to facilitate their customers’ communication needs. Can you offer tools, production processes and services to help them disseminate their message more effectively to their own customers, thus solidifying the partnership between you and them?

Next, look at how you can continue to meet the needs of your key customers through your staff. Your customer-focused improvements may require a realignment of staff duties and responsibilities. Make sure the job descriptions and skills of existing staff continue to meet customer needs. Identify the gaps and what it will take to fill them.

Don’t forget that competent managers and supervisors are critical to the process of successful staff development. Do you have them in place and are they up to the task?

Additionally, the current electronic revolution has not only given us more sophisticated tools of the trade, it has also put some significant business, production, process control, analysis and cash-flow management tools at our fingertips. Does your staff currently include qualified information-systems specialists who understand the integration of management and production?