Do your innovation projects take into consideration what would be best for your customers? Your customers want to know that you’re innovating to solve their challenges.
“This is the way we’ve always done it around here.”
This quote is often repeated when print businesses are trying to implement some sort of change in their processes or improvements. It is a sign of the general tendency of humans to resist change.
I am currently involved with a printer who has been invited to compete for a new client that would immediately become their largest and most important customer if they win the deal. In the RFP, the customer asked this question.
“What are the three most important innovations your company has implemented in the last three years?”
First of all—this is an excellent question to ask in an RFQ because the answer will tell a lot about how the print business is evolving and where its priorities are. In an early stage presentation prep call, we brainstormed about how the printer might answer this question. The interesting part of the conversation is that almost all of the innovations were what I call “internally focused.” The innovations were real (e.g. warehouse automation), but they were clearly focused on improving the lives of the people who work at the printer. Of course, warehouse automation and new printing equipment also impacts the customer but not directly. You can make that flimsy connection of we will ship sooner, or we will print higher quality faster, etc. I’m not doubting these customer benefits—they just aren’t that compelling or easy for the customer to see “what’s in it for them?”
The process of improvement/innovation in your print business is probably too focused internally and not enough focused on what you can innovate to make your customer’s lives easier. There are so many things to work on internally, so many ways we can keep improving our business, that we often forget to look at what it’s like to do business with us. Innovation can happen in the toolset you provide your customers. That toolset should be focused on how to decrease the amount of customer time/effort it takes to do business with you.
I’ve said this many times in many articles:
Your customer’s time is the most expensive thing you spend and too many printers have no budget when it comes to spending their customer’s time. If your order process involves tens of emails back and forth, three different file transfer methodologies, a few text messages, and a couple phone calls—you are overspending your customer’s time.
There isn’t a magic button to make this all go away. You can’t simply buy a new piece of machinery or upgrade a piece of software. This is human process improvement and humans are stubborn. We resist process; we insist that every interaction is unique; we go to great lengths to tell you all the exceptions of why wrapping a process or introducing a new tool won’t work. We are great at justifying our ability to constantly audible (the football term for changing the play at the last minute). When we run our business like this we are wasting our customer’s time.
How would you answer the question, what are the three most important innovations implemented in your print business in the last three years? It’s such a good question to consider now (before you must answer it in a mission-critical RFP). What if you looked at your innovation projects and said, would this innovation make a customer want to do business with us or not? Would our customer’s care about this innovation? How does this innovation make doing business with us easier on our customers? Do you know what your customers would say is the most painful part of doing business with you is?
Innovation is important. No business can stand still. We are in a business environment where technology is moving faster than anyone is comfortable with—this rate of change is accelerating obsolescence. Companies that used to slowly fade away with changing marketing conditions now seem to disappear overnight. Your thoughts about innovation need to include the voice of your customers. Don’t get trapped in the innovation projects that are only in your comfort zone (e.g. prepress, production equipment, finishing equipment, etc.). Real differentiation today is about how you engage with your customers—what the level of effort you demand from them to do business with you.
Everyone is out of time and everyone is looking for ways to save time. When you save people time, they aren’t as concerned about price. This is the real advantage of giving your customers a voice in your innovation projects—you will differentiate in an area that doesn’t decrease your margins. Generally, saving time for your customers also saves time for the staff sitting in the carpeted area of your plant so you can scale your business without hiring an army of customer service representatives.