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E-TOOLS - Staying Connected

May 2001
BY CAROLINE MILLER


Performance Printing Vice President and Sales Manager Debbie Moore reaches for the bottle of aspirin less and less these days. Instead of chasing down faxes, responding to customer job queries and shuffling paper work, she is spending more time selling to new clients and building better relationships with her existing clients.

Moore is one of a few commercial printers who are enabling their clients to track jobs over the Internet. A Collabria user for the past 18 months, Moore's clients—which primarily purchase collateral materials—are able to track their print jobs via a desktop Web browser.

"It frees our time up. We aren't getting those phone calls tracking orders," she says. "It saves me time and allows me to do extra things for my customers."

Moore's clients are notified via e-mail by Moore once their jobs have been approved. They can see whether a job is pending, finished or has been shipped. In addition, her clients also have the ability to track past jobs. "Customers really want the ability to go back and track their orders after the fact," she explains. "They want to know, 'When did I order that piece?' or 'Should I have ordered more than I did?' It helps with their budgets. They don't have to go back and pull their invoices. Instead, they can pull it up on the Web browser and track their printing. They have more control over their spending now, and can plan for the next year," Moore claims.

It's this ability to track ordering patterns from year to year that attracted the attention of Rick Davis, of Allied Printing and Ket-Moy Printing in Hamilton, OH, to Printable.com two years ago.

Davis currently uses Printable with a large retail customer whose operations span three states and seven outlets. The client is notified when a job is submitted for approval, when it is on-press, as well as when it has been bound and shipped. Likewise, the customer has the ability to track past jobs.

"It's a retail outlet, so its ordering patterns are pretty much the same from year to year. Printable's archiving system allows orders to be archived; the client can see what was purchased the year before," Davis states.

A Web-based system also ensures that, although a print buyer may be replaced, a printer will not be. "All the new print buyer has to do is go check the site to see what they normally order. Because it's easy to use and understand, it makes Performance Printing that much less replaceable," reveals Moore, of her Atlanta-based operation. "It makes it harder for new print buyers to bring in their own people when this system is already in place."

Because Moore often works with large, multiple-location companies, job tracking offers clients the benefit of managing all their printing at one location, as well as enabling them to expand their selling capabilities. "We are no longer limited to the Atlanta area. For example, a regional office in Atlanta may purchase printing from us, but its headquarters are in California. The Collabria system enables me to expand my geographic area and bring in more sales," Moore says.

John Arai, general manager of Lason Online in San Francisco—a PrintChannel user—reports that without job tracking capabilities Lason would not be as successful. "We can leverage remote sales forces because of it. Our customer base is everywhere," he reports.

Lason's PrintChannel system has also freed up its sales and customer service reps. Lason, which monitors its customer service calls through a customer service database, found that with between 4,000 to 6,000 transactions per month they receive about 700 customer calls spread over just 20 clients. "Most of the calls from clients are on how to run the system or how to modify their orders. We get very few 'Where is my order?' calls," Arai explains.

PrintChannel has also been a benefit to Lason Online internally, he adds. Lason serves a subcontractor for a vendor of record. Because the vendor of record can access the information via the Website, the vendor can reference the transaction data so that they can be the first line of customer service for the end user, Arai says.

Once up and running, Web-based job tracking can be an incredibly useful tool, but getting to that point does require commitment, cautions Moore."It's a new technology and you need to hang in there with your customers to get the kinks worked out. I know most people don't want to be the guinea pigs when it comes to new technology. But this is different. We wanted to be the first ones on the block with this; once everyone gets ahold of this, then there is nothing to differentiate ourselves. We are all printers laying ink on paper."

One way that Salisbury, MD-based Atlantic &Hastings President Brian Twilley has found to help iron out those kinks is to offer the system to his salespeople as an external marketing tool.

Twilley, a printCafe user, is in the process of adding a Web-based presence. Currently, only the sales reps have access to the system. In the future, though, Twilley plans to offer limited job tracking to customers. "I didn't want to go into our clients half-baked and then not have it work out. We are perfecting it with our reps first and then introducing it informally to larger clients," he says.

While Twilley is slowing introducing the benefits of printCafe to his clients, he does see a time when its use will become more prevalent. "Right now, there is not a stampede for it. But my prediction is that print buyers want this functionality. You will always have people who want face-to-face contact with salespeople and who want reps to do everything for them. But more and more, clients don't want to call and bug their reps or wait for them to call back. The point isn't to get rid of the rep; it's to make that rep more efficient."

Agreeing with Twilley, Arai thinks that Internet-based job tracking technology will continue to impact the way printers conduct business. "In the early days, when this was a new idea, customers saw it as an added benefit. Today, there are a lot more ASPs around and it really has become a requirement."
 

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