American Printer's mission is to be the most reliable and authoritative source of information on integrating tomorrow's technology with today's management.

PLANT VISITS: LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT

Jan 1, 2003 12:00 AM


         Subscribe in NewsGator Online   Subscribe in Bloglines

Pride in one's company is admirable. However, it needs to be based in reality.

For visitors to a print facility, reality consists of their expectations and experiences as customers and prospective customers. A visitor's perception of a company created during a tour or press approval is not the issue. The issue is the perception of the company's premises, people, equipment, workflow, attitude and preparation compared to other facilities that have been visited. Under these circumstances, the print company may be at a disadvantage.

Experienced print buyers are likely to have visited more companies than sales or customer service representatives, lending them a broader frame of reference. Unfortunately, if there's one thing a buyer is unlikely to exercise candor about to a printer, it is his or her impressions from a plant tour. Any criticism smacks of ingratitude. It's seen as comparable to being invited to a neighbor's home for Thanksgiving dinner, then criticizing the table setting or furniture.

BAD IMPRESSIONS

Our organization has conducted several mail surveys of visitors to print facilities in the past several months. The feedback rarely confirms the print company's assumption that all first-time visitors are impressed to the point of writing a purchase order on the spot. (In the case of existing customers visiting the facility in connection with a job in process, insufficient attention is paid to the visitor's perception. The attitude is that “they already know us.”)

The shame is that these visits are unparalleled opportunities for printers to provide evidence — not simply spout claims — of why visitors should do business with them. Strong, positive buyer perceptions can be created. Let's look at the worst impressions printers can make during facility visits:

  • Perceived lack of preparation

    The visitor is committing valuable time. It is difficult to recover from the impression, usually created during the first 15 minutes of the visit, that nothing special is being done to address his or her needs, interests and challenges.

    What creates this perception? Incredibly, it is most often caused by failure to alert the entire company about the visit. This most often occurs in the case of press approvals, which the printer may treat as routine, but which are viewed as important by the customer.

    A visitor immediately senses if a receptionist is surprised by his or her arrival. Conversely, being greeted by name can create a very positive atmosphere at the beginning of the visit. It also helps if, in advance of the visit, the visitor is provided with a letter confirming the agenda, the purpose of the visit, and the names and titles of staff members he or she is likely to meet.

  • Lack of control

    The old cliché says that while a printer is showing off its equipment and production capabilities, visitors are actually basing their judgment of the company on the condition of its restrooms. Our research suggests that this is indeed often the case, although this scenario has a more profound meaning.

    It is reasonable to assume that a buyer wouldn't visit a facility unless he or she thought that the company had production competence. Thus, a visit should establish and reinforce a company's control of the process. Internal communication of customer needs and expectations should be demonstrated during a visit. This could involve showing the visitor computerized customer profiles or even the jacket of a completed job. Staff should demonstrate that very little occurs by accident.

  • Poor staff attitude

    After a facility visit, a visitor's perception of staff competence, enthusiasm and genuine interest in a long-term relationship is priceless. In the case of a major problem, a customer's belief in staff intentions frequently makes the difference between account retention or account loss.

    When customers or prospects are unabashedly enthusiastic after a facility visit, it is usually because of how well they were treated and their perception that the print company has the resources, technical expertise and enthusiasm to help the client achieve its own business objectives.

  • Uninvolved management

    No one likes to be sold — most people wish to be made to want to buy. That's not a minor distinction. If all the suggestions discussed above are implemented, their impact and importance are magnified if a visitor to a graphic-arts company spends time with the owner or senior management of the printing company.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS

The purchase of any custom-made product, including print, is a subjective experience perceived as high-risk by the purchaser. A facility visit is a rare, valuable opportunity to address that elevated anxiety level.

Remember that the visitor wouldn't be in your facility unless he or she already was convinced about your ability to meet job specifications. Don't underestimate the fact that little things mean a lot.