June 2000
Behold the client experience
Wouldn't be nice if your clients just did it your way for once? Dream on
It’s well known that the most successful sales people in the commercial printing industry are those who build strong relationships with their clients. It’s also very clear that they work for companies that nurture those client relationships with a passion. Such companies make sure that the “sale” is not the sole objective, but just one aspect of what I’ll call the total “client experience.”
Striving to constantly improve the client experience involves much more than that important one-on-one chemistry between the sales rep and the customer; it involves a client-oriented staff in all departments of the company, and systems to assure that continuous improvement is part of the company’s culture.

Undoubtedly, some firms develop this client-oriented culture far better than others. It’s quite easy to find the companies that excel in this area—simply go down the Gold List of the top 100 printers in Canada and you’ll find plenty of operations growing at a good clip. They’re gaining a bigger piece of the relatively constant Canadian commercial printing pie. I’m convinced that they’re the ones who understand and have acted upon the importance of this concept of client experience.
It’s not an easy task to create a client-oriented culture in a commercial printing company. We all experience the demands of the market place and it can be tough to meet our clients’ expectations at times. Last-minute corrections that play havoc with press schedules and those press approvals that go full circle at times—wouldn’t it be great if we could get the client to do it “our way”?

But, of course, trying to change client expectations is not a realistic solution. And many companies have realized that. About a decade ago, our company set out to broaden the understanding of client expectations throughout our organization, from sales and customer service and the entire production phase, right on down to our clients’ receiving docks. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t an instant fix but the results of that analysis are entrenched in every department of our company to the clients’ benefit. It also enhances job satisfaction for our employees, particularly the sales department. Keeping clients is a lot easier than finding new ones, I’ve heard.

Keeping clients is a lot easier than finding new ones, I've heard

So, how do you get started on this kind of process revision? Every company is different, so a cookie cutter approach will not likely work. But, I am pleased to share how we went about our “client experience” initiative. In an initial meeting with supervisors and representation from all departments—from sales to shipping—we identified the point of interaction with our clients. We called them “moments of truth.” From the initial contact with reception, to the packaging and delivery of the printed products, we identified each and every contact point that influenced their experience of us.

We found there were many such points—in internal sales and the planning and production processes—involving the customer. Originally, nearly all of these were designed and implemented to give us optimum results and internal control. But we discovered during our revision that nearly all of them could be improved from a client’s perspective, from the way our quotations were presented to the documents that accompanied our contract proofs. We left no stone unturned.

Armed with the valuable information that we had collectively identified, a “champion” was recruited from each department to get input from his/her colleagues on potential improvement. Involving all the staff in each department provided an opportunity to broaden the understanding of the customer’s expectations very quickly. The solutions that were brought forward by the various departments were very practical and often brilliant, much better than what the guy in the corner office would have been able to dream up.

The solutions brought forward were very pratical and often brilliant

Dozens of small procedural changes were implemented with great ease, but a permanent aspect of this initiative was an improved awareness that each employee can influence the client experience. That set the stage for a continuing company-wide employee role in the building of those important relationships. And I’m proud to say that it’s alive and well 10 years later.

Today, our company exports a significant percentage of our products stateside. Producing complex projects for clients at some distance from our plant has posed new challenges. The benefits we derive from our early adoption of a client-focused culture make it possible for us to find solutions to these new challenges. From scheduling several components of a job on various presses simultaneously so the client’s valuable time is considered, to the comfort of our visitors while they are on our premises, assuring the best possible experience has become second nature to all of us. Our clients are happy, and often thrilled, and our employees enjoy being a big part of that. The passion for improving the “customer experience” continues and it grows great relationships.
Dick Kouwenhoven is the CEO and founder of Vancouver-based Hemlock Printers Ltd., a sheetfed printing company, with sales offices in Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle and San Francisco. He can be reached via e-mail at, or by telephone at (604) 439-5001.
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