To tackle industry issues like the question of supplies management we put together a blog series we are calling This or That, and what better place to start than supplies? All of the printers out there – the ones you manage, the ones you don’t and the ones in your own office – need consumables, and we’re going to look at the best way to help you and your customers better manage those supplies.
When it comes to effectively managing supplies, being proactive as opposed to reactive seems like a no-brainer. The truth is, though, that making the shift from a manual, reactive process to a proactive one can be difficult for end users. It’s not often the concept of being proactive that concerns customers, but it’s the change that comes with moving from reactive to proactive.
Proactive vs Reactive
The reactive model hinges on outdated ordering and billing processes. End users place their own orders via phone, email, even fax. It’s easy to see why this process is appealing for customers – it’s a familiar method that they understand and are comfortable with, and they have a significant amount of control over their print environment. However, it is difficult for dealers and supplies distributors to keep track of supplies.
As technology changes, so too do business models. Data analytics and automation have created new opportunities to reduce costs and increase efficiencies at every level of the supply chain. While reactive supplies may have been a ‘proven’ model a decade ago, it is quickly becoming outdated and businesses that fail to embrace the move toward proactive and automated processes will find it difficult to keep up with those leading the charge.
The proactive model is a data-driven process that relies on meters and supply levels at the device level to determine when supplies are needed. At the centre of this shift from reactive to proactive is managed print services. Enhanced data collection capabilities and advances in predictive analytics have made estimating the days to empty possible, increasing the insight dealers and distributors have into their customers’ environments and making supplies management much easier for end users.
There are numerous benefits of using a managed print solution to improve managing supplies, but this value won’t resonate with customers unless you address their concerns about adopting a proactive model.
Using a managed print solution to make the shift from reactive to proactive supplies management involves a lot of change, particularly at the end user level. Many customers will have concerns and objections about MPS, the majority of these dealing with a loss of control over and insight into their print environment. Here are some ways to mitigate some of these concerns and help your customers adjust to proactive supplies fulfillment.
- Help your customers understand what managed print is. There are many misconceptions about MPS, and you may have to dispel some of these myths when speaking to your customers. When it comes to consumables, it is important to show them that MPS is not just a change from billing per cartridge to billing per page, but program designed to optimize their print environment.
- Users have to see it to believe it. There are a lot of things working against the concept of proactive supplies, in particular the dreaded LCD screen. The device may say ‘low toner’ but depending on print thresholds and cartridge yields, the cartridge can last for three more days or three more months. To help your customers better understand their print environment, demonstrate how an MPS solution works and show them what the MPS application you use looks like. If you are unable to do this, consider using a rapid assessment tool to not only provide them with device data but show them how it can be used.
- Ensure you and your customers are on the same page. From clearly defining processes to setting expectations, a successful MPS program requires everyone involved to understand who is responsible for what. A standard tool in this regard is the service level agreement (SLA) which covers topics such as service and support availability and escalation processes.
Service Level Agreements
As a standard document in the IT service and software industries, some have argued that the SLA is not a worthwhile document to create. I would argue that reports of the death of the SLA have been greatly exaggerated, and this is particularly true for managed print services today.
As we move toward increased industrialization of our industry, it is important for businesses at every level of the supply chain to clearly articulate and agree to support and service expectations. It is also an essential document when it comes to managing change in periods of growth and transition. As people, roles, businesses and providers change, the requirements of everyone involved also change.
To put this into perspective, let’s consider what would happen if a service provider did not have an SLA. How would the customer know who at the service provider’s location to reach out to in the event of a problem? What if they had to escalate an issue? When expectations and reality are not aligned, there is a high potential for customer dissatisfaction.
Photizo Group’s 2015 “Decision Maker Tracking Study” revealed that approximately one out of three MPS users indicated an intention to switch providers or exit managed print services altogether1. Of those who indicated they were looking to switch providers, 13 percent cited their vendor did not meet pre-contract expectations, managing the process was too difficult or customers weren’t satisfied with the results of their MPS engagement.
The most effective way to ensure expectations and reality are aligned, and both the service provider and the customer know what they are responsible for and why, is to clearly articulate these in an SLA. If you are helping customers move from reactive to proactive supplies management, an SLA will also help address their questions along the way.
Managed print services can help you proactively manage your customers’ environment and generate recurring revenue from existing and new accounts, but only if you effectively address customer concerns when helping them make the switch from a known process they are comfortable with to a new process that changes how they have typically managed their consumables.
To help manage these expectations, download our customizable SLA template! Stay tuned for our next This or That blog post where we will look at local and network devices.