Envisioning a Future Without CSRs

crystal ballThe sales and corresponding CSR roles have been a part of our industry for as long as one can remember. But I don’t think anyone can recall in recent times the same type of changeover that the industry is currently going through.

Companies are being forced to adapt and change how they operate in order to survive and serve their customers like never before. Not to mention competing against electronic media, a struggling economy, and a dog-eat-dog marketplace all the while.

When I look into the future with my crystal ball, I see a different type of printer that will operate under a non-traditional sales/CSR model. There will be a drastic change in the way printers communicate with their clients and handle their workflow internally. What will result is the elimination of the CSR role and a transition to a redefined sales representative possessing profound new-media marketing skills.

This drive for future change stems from the rapid digital transformation, increase use of Web storefronts and JDF workflow automation. The printing companies that survive will have invested in each of these technologies and, if they are used correctly, will thrive because of them.

InfoTrends’ “Ultimate Guide to Web Print Solutions” predicts $30 billion (25 percent) of U.S. primary print industry shipments to be fully e-enabled (excluding e-mail and FTP) in 2011. It sees the majority of the growth coming from existing print volume migrating from traditional job submission methods to Web-enabled services. Increased digital print volumes will also contribute to the growth, as this work will contribute to the growth of print being ordered through Web-to-print systems.

As this trend continues to grow, the personal interaction between customer and sales/CSR will drastically decline. With a storefront system, you are putting the tools of a CSR directly in the hands of a customer. The customer can now preflight, make necessary corrections, generate electronic proofs and electronically sign off on the job.

Nick Gawreluk is product manager of integrated solutions at Mimeo. His passion for print has spanned across the globe to South America and Europe in addition to many unique work experiences inside the United States.

He enjoys sharing his insight and involvement within the industry and is always searching for new experiences. Nick’s goal is to lead his generation into the future of the printing industry.
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  • Michelle L. Bracali

    A prescient and gutsy post. I like it. And I pretty much agree with his position regarding the elimination of the traditional CSR role. Kudos, Nicholas.

  • Sam

    Great in theory, but what salesperson will spend the time necessary and the needed due diligence every job requires, especially the complicated projects? Shouldn’t the salesperson be out selling instead of changing shipping info and stock selections? Somebody has to do the work; not sure what sales staff you work with, but I can hardly get them to fill out a purchase order, much less manage a job through the shop. Will a computer be able to predict a possible gas ghost or color burn out? Who’s going to enter the 300 shipping addresses into the system? I am curious to know…

  • Dave G.

    I also see the sales position and the CSR position evolving into one position. Outside sales reps will become a thing of the past as more printers go to inbound marketing. Pre press has already become a thing of the past. I think you are right on with this.

  • Laura

    Wow – you seem convinced. It is hard to imagine a company without customer service. In a perfect world there would be no issues or mistakes, however we live on earth and humans are involved – and the customer always does everything right – Utopia

  • Scott the Printer

    NIck, please contact me to discuss your assessment of the service side of print. I sincerely appreciate your view, but have a business story of my own to share. I transitioned from an awesome customer focused environment to a digital, customer owned environment and the change was devastating to the customers. The customers thought the process was great – and cool, but in the end did not want to pull the trigger and place the order, which was jdf-ed out the door based on the customers specs in ordering. More customers needed reprints, than were satisfied. The print world is complex, and when you step slightly outside the jdf workflow, only a CSR, Salesperson or client based workflow will meet, and most probably exceed client expectations. I would love to discuss this as I believe in the technology, but also the people behind it.


  • Hugh Butler

    You are assuming a level of expertise on the part of printing buyers which is well beyond where most real people exist. File prep skills are at the lowest point ever (I spend an awful lot of time explaining what a "bleed" is"). Most of my customers who have gone to storefront printers have migrated back.

    That said, your point that sales people need integrated marketing expertise is right on. It has always been important to see your customers business in its’ real world context, and integrated marketing is the world we live in.

  • Dan

    Nicholas – You bring up some good points with Web storefronts and JDF workflow automation. In very few instances I see the elimination of the CSR possible. Scott the Printer and Sam obviously know the complexities to the print world. Plus most end clients don’t have the experience / knowledge to operate in such an environment as you suggest possible.
    Service is what is currently setting most printers apart these days and it is service that weighs heavy on my purchasing decisions.
    I recommend an internship or two may change your thought process.
    Great perspective though!

    Dan the agency print producer (formally a print CSR for 15 years)

  • Ken M.

    I look at this as redefining the sales role more than the CSR’s role. The CSR has daily direct contact with the customer, handles job specs and makes sure the job gets done and done right. The sales role becomes one of pure business development and not handling jobs and/or existing customers. Isn’t that what they’re really supposed to be doing anyway?

  • Frank

    Nicholas…Let me know ahead of time if you decide to do this with a public company…I will need a couple of days to sell my stock…

  • Brian

    I could not disagree more. Spend 2 weeks or maybe a month interning as a CSR and you’ll soon realize that sales, customers, manufacturing, scheduling, and the executive team members rely heavily on the information that a service representative provides. When was the last time a sales person was able to draw up a layout, speak intelligently about file preparation, discuss the intracacies of mailing or fulfillment, or track/route freight shipments? Thinking that companies will inverst hundreds of thousands of dollars into software to eliminate an experinced team of service reps is very far fetched. Most companies still rely and run on old software and home-grown job ticket systems that tie into all their IT aspects of the business. Starting over, and taking the customer service representative out of the printing equation, is the sure-fire way to lose customers. If that’s the future of print, then R.I.P.

  • Chloe

    There will never be a world where 100% of print orders will be solely handled online. As pointed out in a few responses, there are too many complexities and planning in some of the more larger or mutifacted print orders. Having said that, the 80/20 rule exists here. As we continue to move through the proliferation of "web to print" defined in the broadest sense, you will see more companies ordering more of their printing through a templated online process. Technology, developers and production will be in demand and CSR’s and sales will play similar roles as they do today.

  • RelationshipsCount

    Your last sentence:"Social media expertise, robust online marketing tactics and knowledge of the JDF workflow are just some of the skills needed in the next-generation sales force." You make it sound like anyone who can fog a mirror can replace my CSR or my salesperson’s knowledge of printing, developing relationships and generating new business. Try doing that with a major publisher or commercial customer who depends on their salesperson and CSR’s to answer technical questions and be their in-house expert. As a buyer awarding millions of dollars in printing every year, the dumbing down of the people we depend on the most has been my greatest aggravation with the industry as a whole. I want to pick up the phone and talk to an expert. Your story may work for the job shop but it doesn’t work in major, high volume print environments. I don’t want to work with a social-media savvy robot who can’t answer a technical question to save their job let alone ever take the time to come put their keyster in front of me because they think they can just create a relationship via email. Face time is important, developing a relationship is vital to your success. I award work based on trust and confidence and I want to look you in the eye when I’m doing it. Nick, go spend some time at a major printer as a CSR and let me know how this philosophy works out for you.

  • Michelle L. Bracali

    From the comments below I sense a lot of people are scared. Scared of becoming irrelevant and outdated. I get it. Sometimes I feel that way too. I think what Nicholas is trying to say is the world is changing. The CSR and sales jobs as we know them today will probably look far different or be somewhat eliminated ten years from now. I believe Nicholas’ message is "be prepared."

    It may be hard to sense now how CSR’s and sales may become less necessary in the future but that is because we’re looking at things in the context of today. Think of this industry twenty years ago. It looked far different and few people then really predicted the dramatic change that was to come. Those who did were sometimes vilified and a lot of us proclaimed that print would never go away. Well, print has’t gone away but it sure has heck has declined. And it’s been painful. It’s the same thing now. We can say that it’s impossible for the roles of CSR’s and salespeople to disappear. But what if they do?? What can we do now to prepare ourselves for the future?

    Look at the world ten years ago. A decade ago we didn’t have FB, Twitter or texting. Look at how those tools have dramatically affected our communication. Ten years from now we will be living in a world that is even more advanced. We’re bright and talented people. We should look at ways to continue to evolve our skills so we remain viable and continue to make a contribution to the industry.

  • accuchris

    I am a salesman at a company that builds and hosts web based storefronts for our workflow and our clients. Clients love and hate it. CSR’s love and hate it. I love and hate it. Nick I appreciate the vision of this article but there is no print utopia on the horizon. Technology will continue to create efficiencies in our industry but we will always need experienced people. This is after all the print industry where everything is constantly changing.

    JDF is wonderful for repetitive jobs with set variables and predefined spec options however in my world most jobs/projects introduce some new variable not accounted for in that prebuilt workflow. I’m not talking about business cards, letterhead & envelopes. I’m referring to:
    *Multi-component products that include multiple operations to produce and involve a complex dance of scheduling to meet deadlines.
    *Complex cross media marketing campaigns with many moving parts, schedules and components that can change while in progress.
    *Clients that change their mind in mid production resulting in material or process changes that affect workflow and scheduling.

    I believe that automated workflows will continue to create efficiencies but we are far off from eliminating the CSR from the equation. I count on our CSRs every day to masterfully handle the unanticipated changes caused by, customers, equipment, material availability and more. They are able to somehow perform a dance that makes it all work out more often than not and make us shine as a company in the eyes of our clients. Until we can build that into an automated workflow we better keep our CSR’s happy.

    PS – No offense taken by all the cracks on sales people in these comments. Many of us deserve them. In fact if we don’t improve our knowledge and game we may be replaced in the future too.


  • Kathi Woolsey

    Your blog certainly got my attention. And I have to say that you present a very interesting case to support your theory. However, depending on the segment of our business that you are involved in, I don’t think that you can really make such a sweeping statement. For those of us who utilize many of the enabling technologies that have become available to our industries in recent years; we have grown our business on building custom solutions. Those custom solutions require customer interaction and relationship building. While I beleive that it is possible that the commodity side of our business will experience a reduction of touches required by customer support personnel, I don’t think you are going to see that on the Marketing Services side of the business. Good job getting the buzz going!

  • Rick Sands

    Looks like you struck a nerve…I do believe that the role of the CSR will dramatically change as the implementation of storefronts and automated workflow solutions take hold. I imagine our CSR actually will be able to service customers proactively, work with problematic jobs and complex projects and hopefully, leave the simpler, straight forward work t the technology. My question is whether and how to best transition existing personnel to the new world. Not too dissimilar to old time traditional forms print sales people successfully transitioning to selling digital.

  • Jim

    I have been talking to our pre-press department for 10 years on this very subject. However I always fall short on providing them the software and
    education to make the move. I started click on claxton for our company in
    1994 using ASAP – a program I pick up for 250 dollar that would move a file from a customer desk top to our pre-press. I spent 10 of thousand of dollars in the 90’s on this idea. Even built a site for one customer that had ever job we had ever done for them in PDF on line, all they had to do it pick the quantity click the pdf and it would send use an e-mail ordering the job.
    They never once used the program, just picked the phone up and called.
    So I dropped it all thought the early 2000 business was so good, I said for get it. Now I behind. My problem is who solution should we buy, MIS is going to lose out to W2p, but you must have an MIS system to understand cost. So even if your w2p system orders all the jobs, even make my own sales force order the job though the system, you must have an MIS system to understand cost, and work with JDF to capture cost, and move the products though the company. We are a 2 million dollar smaller shop. What should be look at and what can we afford. Right now I’m looking at Pressero and printpoint merger, or pressero and print solutions, but this companies do not have a strong JDF line up. the 100,000 dollars systems to costly.
    Jim Claxton Claxton Printing Co..

  • Nick Gawreluk

    Thanks for the comments everybody. I think everyone here can agree that the technology is there (Storefronts, MIS, JDF/JMF) to operate without a CSR. Within my time interning at Heidelberg, I saw the future of complete integrated workflow systems and this inspired me to write the article.

    The real question, as we all know, is whether or not a company could operate this way and still please the customer. I believe that certain, not all printing companies in the future will operate without the need of a CSR successfully. It will take the right-sized company with the proper aligning business model, technology and customer set to do this.

    The part people are missing is the sales person and customer, as we know it, are going to change and evolve. As my "generation" begins to enter the workforce they will possess new technological skill sets and expectations over the existing force. I would expect my generation of customers to actually drive this elimination of a CSR within the correct setting. They will want to personally control the available technology (storefronts) themselves when changes are needed.

    Today’s customers both fight and embrace the available technology. But my generation, who will be tomorrow’s customers, devours technology 24/7. I respect the views of those opposed to my ideal world of the future. Change is something that always stirs controversy and I want to remind everyone that I wrote this article in a positive light. Thanks!

  • BobJob

    In the last 15 years the print industry has already went through major changes: film replaced with electronic prepress; impact of the internet and the shift from contract proofs to those output digitally. All of which I would argue are more transforming than any myriad variety of social media.

    The reality is that the only thing that distinguishes many salespeople from one another is the aggressiveness of their estimating department to willingly slash prices to secure work and the production capacity that they represent. Take those away and you have a salesperson with no sales volume. There is just too little willingness in this industry (domestic and abroad) to maintain pricing levels at the detriment of the industry.

    The role of a CSR won’t go away. The role of "Salesperson" will simply devolve into a more service oriented role like that of a CSR as there is simply no reason for a salesperson to collect commissions on sales volume that is being sold at a loss.

    The real question is whether your average salesperson is going to take the time to understand the more technical aspects of file preparation.

  • BobJob

    I should also add that NAFTA and the entry of China into the WTO was pretty transforming as well.