Selling printing or any service is a relationship business. Since so much of producing printing products and services is customized, building trust and personal relationships are vital in maintaining top customers. We occasionally hear from back seat critics who refer to a successful salesperson pejoratively as a “farmer” or “account manager”. This is simply not true.
Great printing salespeople are able to build deep relationships with their profitable accounts while continuing to prospect and close new opportunities. Consequently, a key selling skill and behavior is maintaining high customer satisfaction.
Start with Leadership
Of course, great customer service starts with the culture, processes, and attitude of the printing organization itself. In this environment, those print providers who have not completely embraced customer service will not survive. Customers have more choices than ever.
Since most new business comes from existing accounts in our industry, it’s not enough to provide just “good enough” customer service. We have all learned that highly satisfied customers will stay loyal and continue to do business. As we poll print buyers, we find it was often not the price but the service that caused the customer to go elsewhere.
Learn from the Internet
The Internet has provided some good lessons. In some cases, Internet providers have been able to satisfy customers better than many direct sellers. Important information is gained instantly. There is no wait or annoying endless call backs. We all can point to Internet providers that have essentially built tremendous relationships, loyalty, and have gained repeat business with their customers. For me, it is Amazon.com.
Customer satisfaction starts right at the beginning of each sales process. That means providing expert consulting, sharing information, setting expectations of exactly what the customer will get, and then delivering on the promise. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of selling print and what separates it from almost all other forms of manufacturing, is that if the printing job is refused by the customer, there is no other possible use for it and the printer takes a financial loss.
The Rickard Principles
Based on our work with printers and service providers, here are the Rickard principles for providing outstanding customer service.
Show a positive attitude: Customers want to be appreciated and treated professionally in every interaction.
Know your customer: Helping customers with their business requirements, versus just their print requirements, will create customer loyalty.
Be patient: Take the time to make sure each customer prospect is a good fit with your firm’s capabilities for the type of work and service required. This will lead to long term repeat business.
Know what you are talking about: It is very irritating for a buyer when the seller is not an expert in what they sell. You can’t sell what you don’t know.
Manage your management: Creating print solutions is a team effort. Ensuring that production, management, and CSRs know what makes your customer happy is fundamental.
Add value: All research points to the importance of salespeople becoming trusted advisors. Going beyond order taking to being a valuable resource tightens the bond between buyer and seller.
Set realistic and manageable expectations: Do what you say you are going to do. Giving customers what they expect limits mistakes, rework, and losses.
Provide fast, predictable service: Today everyone expects quick turnarounds and timely information. This is not negotiable. Being on time, or even early, is considered a minimum standard of customer service by today’s buyers.
Treat buyers fairly: Prices can be checked very easily via the Web. Customers expect fairness. Those who charge noncompetitive prices or terms will lose trust and business.
Follow up and follow up more: Getting back to customers with the status of each job and finding out how you did is not optional. Customers expect it and will often reward good follow up with more business