Web-to-Print Makes 24/7 Productivity Accessible

Not long ago, one of the blogs posted on QuickPrinting.com extolled the virtues of occasionally unplugging from the constant onslaught of electronic communication. A reader responded by saying, “I need to be connected to the office...Getting emails or file transfers late at night or on the weekends is indeed helpful, but the 24/7 connectivity gets old.”

Any printer who can relate to that statement is a perfect candidate for Web-to-print. The downstream migration of Web-to-print technology has brought this capability within reach for the majority of quick and small commercial printing companies. And not a moment too soon!

Most print buyers are aware of Internet printing companies. The VistaPrints and PrintingforLess.coms of the world try to lure them away from their local printers with all kinds of promises. Obviously, you don’t want to put your company out of business by trying to match their loss leader prices, but there is one other enticement they offer that you can certainly match—convenience. Web-to-print allows you to put into place the same kind of customer convenience, ease of use, and streamlined productivity that the industry’s 600-pound gorillas have, but on a scale that works for our industry segment.

The real beauty of Web-to-print is that it helps build customer loyalty in ways the Internet printers can never hope to achieve. To understand why, we need to look at how Web-to-print works.

Nuts & Bolts

While anyone with a website can accept files over the Internet, Web-to-print is a far more sophisticated and efficient method of doing so. It also allows you to offer related services that can result in a huge perception of value added.

There are a number of choices for printers who want to move into Web-to-print. You can opt to install and manage a dedicated software package, use adjunct features available with your MIS/estimating software package or website services provider, or you may choose software as a service (SaaS). There are numerous providers to choose from in each category.

Whichever method you choose for implementation, the features will likely be very similar. As with any new technology, it is generally best to start out simple and move into the more sophisticated applications as you and your employees become familiar with the various aspects of the services. It is also advisable to set up your first few portals with established customers who are willing to help you test drive the system and work through the learning process together.

At its most basic, Web-to-print allows you to set up a digital storefront for your customers. You may set up a public access portal for occasional customers, but the heart of the process is to design dedicated portals for individual clients. That portal then resides on their desktops. Personalized storefronts can store a catalog of existing documents and a history of previous orders for each client. Those clients can use the library to reorder, edit documents, check invoices, get instant price quotes, and even allow their employees varying degrees of access to the site. This aspect is particularly valuable for companies that have multiple locations and want to maintain control over the uniformity of their printed collateral without having to micromanage each site.

Of course, they can place new orders through the system as well. When customers have a print job, they only have to click on the portal’s icon, upload the file, and fill out the information necessary to complete the order. Most software makes this part of the process quite easy for the customer. The system will ask for standard information such as quantity and the deadline for delivery. It can also be configured to help customers make decisions about subjects such as paper weight, ink colors, and finishing options. For example, if the customer doesn’t know whether he wants a booklet to be stapled, perfect bound, or coil bound, you could set up the system to offer illustrations, guidelines about when each application is practical, and variations in pricing.

Once the order has been placed, the job enters into your shop’s workflow. Typically, it will be registered in your accounting system, a job ticket will be created, and the file will be routed to the prepress department to make sure it is printable. (You are already using a PDF workflow, aren’t you? It isn’t strictly necessary, but will greatly streamline the entire process.)

After the file is deemed printable, a soft proof will be sent to the customer for approval. Once approved, the job flows seamlessly into your production process. You can even set up most systems to send email alerts to customers as their jobs move through the system.

Service + Savings = Loyalty

Web-to-print saves time and money for everyone in the equation. Customers save time by being able to place their orders whenever they need to. This gives them the 24/7 convenience that allows your company to match any Internet printer, but with the local support that the remote facilities can never hope to offer. And you don’t have to answer your cell phone at midnight.

Clients can also control their print budgets by being able to try out various permutations of each job and get on-the-fly price estimates for comparison. This allows them to make every print job—especially the smaller, repeat jobs—as cost effective as possible.

Printers save time because the job comes into the shop without any intervention on their part. Particularly if they are using a streamlined PDF workflow, the job requires fewer “touches” than it would have in the past. And the fewer times a job is touched the more profitable it is. Money saved by moving a job through the system more efficiently drops straight to the bottom line.

Another prime benefit of using Web-to-print is that it frees your sales staff to concentrate on pursuing larger jobs and new customers. Certainly, neither this technology nor any other will ever supplant face-to-face sales calls, but it will allow both the salesperson and the customer to turn their attention to larger matters.

This is also an excellent way to address the “I didn’t know you could do that” factor. By making services available on the personalized portals, you raise the customer’s awareness of your company’s capabilities.

Web-to-print should be a fairly easy sell. Since customers are always interested in hearing about the benefits you can offer, the personalization and savings aspects make Web-to-print a natural fit. However, it is crucial that your salespeople are up to speed on demonstrating the system before they walk into the client’s place of business.

Give ‘em What They Want

From the customers’ point of view, the type of connectivity that Web-to-print services provide has become almost second nature. The wide acceptance and use of Internet shopping, bill paying, and banking have significantly increased the eagerness to do business online. In fact, it is something that customers are demanding more and more—particularly younger buyers.

While older customers may take a bit of convincing, it won’t be as difficult as it would have been five years ago. Generations X and Y expect to do business online. And the Millennials are practically hardwired to their electronic devices. You can use this to your advantage. As Baby Boomers begin to reach retirement age and printing customer demographics change, Web-to-print will become an essential element for staying in business.

What’s next in the world of Web-to-print? It’s a pretty safe bet that before too long we’ll hear that there’s an app for that. We’d better be ready.