Perfect processes are a clear advantage for print businesses in competition for customers
I ordered two pairs of shoes from a well-known manufacturer of sporting goods in their online store. In the store, one of the products looked great, but actually the color was much too flashy for me. 

And why should you care? Quite simply, the returns process was a prime example of optimal customer service processes. All I had to do was visit the store, enter my email address, order number, and reason for return – and I was sent a barcode. 

At the postal agency, this barcode was scanned and the label was printed for me. Just fifteen minutes after dropping off the package, I received the corresponding confirmation from the online store with instructions for the remaining process up to the refund. Such a process can not be better and more comfortable, and if I ever want to order sports shoes again, I know where.

In fact, optimal business and production processes have become a real competitive advantage. It simply gives a good feeling when orders run smoothly from order acceptance to delivery. This creates trust and prepares the ground for a long-term customer relationship.

This applies to every business, and the printing industry is no exception. However, many print shops still see price as the most important argument for winning customers. But two aspects should not be forgotten.

Point 1: For many customers, their print products are also an emotional matter – the first business stationery; the new product flyer from which they hope to achieve a breakthrough; the elaborate annual report to convince investors. If something goes wrong here, it is felt particularly frustrating.

Point 2: The more extensive or complex a print job is, the more customers pay attention to the fact that their print partner has suitable processes in place that relieve them as much as possible.

Smooth processes create trust

The fact that ideally structured and largely automatic processes save time and money is certainly generally acknowledged in the printing industry. The lower error rate is also learned. Mostly, these benefits are seen as "internal", their outside effect is underestimated.

But it is just true that the smooth processing of jobs is an important contribution to customer acquisition and loyalty. Print shops are often not really aware of this, and "process excellence" is not usually mentioned as an argument in sales talks with customers.

Wolfgang Bangert, Managing Director of Bechtel Druck in Germany, is aware of this reluctance: "Basically, process efficiency in the procurement of print products is taken for granted by the customer – but it is not always the case. Unfortunately, we print shops still find it difficult to communicate this argument. We talk to our customers about it and have already been able to trigger a mindset in some of them that 'cheap-cheap' is not always good'.

Every process must serve the customer
The Medus print shop in Merano in South Tyrol feels similarly. Managing Director Andreas Gögele: "The efficiency of our processes has always been important to us – there should be no process that do not serve the customer. Apart from that, especially with the short runs that are common today, this is crucial in order to still achieve a margin at all. It's a matter of leaving out the unnecessary and automating the rest. We live this principle, but are currently communicating it in a relatively restrained manner. In doing so, we experience often that our company is perceived as fast and uncomplicated in order processing."

Holistic thinking is required 
The efficient and error-free processing of jobs is always the sum of many interlocking processes, and that doesn't just apply to production workflows. It starts with sales and doesn't stop until shipping and invoicing – so it covers the entire value chain in print businesses.

Accordingly, print businesses should analyze each individual segment to uncover optimization potential. The interfaces between the segments are particularly important here – the often cultivated "silo mentality" is probably the biggest hurdle in all initiatives for company-wide process optimization. 

The goal must be a holistic digital workflow based on a central database. Standardization and automation are the magic words here. Cloud-based applications have a clear advantage in this respect.

This ensures that everyone in the company always has access to all the information that is important to them – and can inform customers about the status of their orders at any time. 

Integration of organization and production is crucial

Probably the most important aspect is the data networking of all areas involved in the process, from the ecommerce tool to the production workflow and organizational order processing using an MIS/ERP system. Unfortunately, this is still far from being the case in all print shops, and the processes in the individual areas often run independently of each other.

In recent years, the acquisition of store and web-to-print systems has been a major topic in print shops. However, these are rarely integrated into the production workflow, and even more rarely in the direction of MIS/ERP. 

This means that information has to be transferred manually, which ties up human resources and is also a major source of errors. In the worst case, the orders generated via the store bypass the MIS/ERP completely – all-encompassing planning, control and appropriate controlling are then ruled out from the outset.

With its open interface (API), our cloud-based print business management solution Keyline provides the option of integrating all systems involved. It thus enables the bidirectional exchange of all relevant information – for example, information on the status of the order can also be forwarded to the store system. This not only unlocks efficiency potential – everyone in the team knows the status of each individual order at all times and everywhere – keyword customer service.

Rene Huhn, together with his brother and father Managing Director of Merkur Druck & Kopierzentrum in Leipzig (Germany), also sees the "external benefits" of perfect internal processes: "Optimized and automated processes reduce manual intervention in the workflow, and every manual action less is money saved. In addition, we present ourselves to our customers as particularly efficient and reliable – our very personal service also pays off. In return, we can achieve higher prices."

Integrating customers points the way to the future

In the future, Zaikio will enable all-encompassing collaboration between print businesses, their customers and suppliers. Zaikio networks all parties in the printing industry so that they can exchange data quickly and in a standardized manner. The big advantage is that this works without print shops having to worry about individual integrations of their systems with those of their suppliers, for example.

Zaikio currently supports MIS systems such as Utraxx, Prinect Business Manager, Printplus, Printvis, RSK from Datamedia, and Keyline. Networking enables print shops to query items and prices directly from their MIS, order paper from Antalis, Sappi, Metapaper, and Premier for example, and track deliveries. The tedious importing of material and price data is no longer necessary. The way Zaikio works and the way the systems are linked ensure that all data is automatically kept up to date. This significantly speeds up the creation of correct quotations, for example, because telephone queries with suppliers are no longer necessary.