Customer service is dead … long live customer service!

"The need for hands on, technically capable account teams was gone ..."

Over breakfast with an old industry colleague we were discussing how the print management and marketing services market had changed over the last 10 years. He highlighted two major changes:

  1. The key to a successful contract is to get very good at reporting performance and savings to international procurement teams (an oxymoron if ever I heard one).

  2. The need for hands on, technically capable account teams was gone – he qualified it by saying that most projects are briefed electronically, via e-mailed or over the phone. The account manager just places the order and project manages, often remotely. Files are distributed and flight checked electronically and most proofing is on-line; the account manager doesn’t physically touch the artwork or finished products anymore.

I get that improvements in the technology have radically changed the industry over the last 30 years.

Repro houses have been replaced by production houses (TAG started life as Ad Plates where future TAG CEO and current Chairman of Crystal Palace, Steve Parish, was a scanner operator), film is no longer needed with direct to plate and digital imaging, improvements to press technology has eradicated fit and colour issues for the competent, leading to a better quality product all round. In short producing printed product has become more of a manufacturing process and less of an art.

This is a good thing for those of us who used to spend hours press passing watching colour fluctuate as the minder played piano with the colour keys on a press running at 40,000 sheets an hour. Often the job was well into the run before colour was signed off. But my question is: does improving technology remove the need and benefit of knowledgeable account teams helping marketing clients to establish what they need to execute their marketing campaigns effectively?

What service are you providing?

The fundamental question for me is;

'Is the service you are providing account management or administration?’

What my colleague was describing to me sounded like administration. This would be fine if the client knows exactly what they want, the supply chain or manufacturer is set up optimally, brand colour guidelines and press curves established for each substrate and process, pricing automated and nothing goes wrong. There may be companies and accounts out there that tick all those boxes, I just haven’t met them yet.

I concede that a proportion of any marketing spend is low value and standardised, bar the changing images and that work should be automated and administered, but what about more complex Cross Channel Marketing campaigns, in store theatre or complex Point of Purchase campaigns? Who sets them up and manages them and what skill set do they require to ensure the client gets what they need (which isn’t always what they ask for)?

Long live customer service!

Is the truth that there still is a role for a knowledgeable account team who can hold a client’s hand and navigate them through their options when it comes to executing marketing campaigns effectively and maximising Return on Marketing Investment? If the account team don’t offer the support, then the onus is put back on the client to know what they want and be technically proficient enough to specify it. Where is the value add from the print manager or marketing services provider in that case? The client might as well take over all the management themselves.

Outstanding customer service has never gone out of fashion. People buy from people they like and trust, who help them get better outcomes, while helping them to look good to their colleagues in the process.

In just about every survey I have read in the last 5 years, the same key reasons marketers give that are holding them back from executing more effective data driven marketing campaigns keep coming up. They are:






Internal Skills


If that list doesn’t constitute a cry for knowledgeable proactive account teams who can provide the resource, systems, time and expertise to help the marketing team I don’t know what does.

So, what is holding everyone back?

If I am right and the need is there for knowledgeable customer service, why is the service provided being dumbed down?

Inexperienced account teams, administrators or generalist project managers are being deployed and expertise let go (as demonstrated by Konica Marketing Services when they made their entire UK print procurement team redundant earlier this year).

The reasons for this are various, but I think the key one is selling on price rather than value. The true cost of providing a managed service is not being disclosed and procurement teams are choosing to believe the cost of service and savings numbers they are being given, so the marketing services providers are reducing their costs as they try and make their money elsewhere or through the back door via rebates and technology charges.

I think this is short sighted and a mistake I made back in 2001, when a cost reduction driven audit by Management Consultant McKenzie’s at Sky imposed a manufacturing model for cost recovery, on my outsource team that just didn’t work financially. Rather than fight it I reduced the team size and experience and with it the quality of service and confidence of the client, eventually losing the client.

Expediency seems to be driving managed services providers down a route where they honestly believe that the changes in technology and the way we work means that experience, expertise and outstanding service is no longer required to provide a great customer experience and retain clients.

What can we do?

Sell and put a value back on applied experience, knowledge and expertise.

Educate clients on the market and the benefit they will get from working with a managed service provider or manufacturer in terms of time, resource and getting more done. How deploying your systems and technology will improve efficiency, effectiveness and results for their marketing campaigns. How your team’s involvement will help them get more customers, sell more and measurably improve their ROMI. This applies as much to Creative Agencies, Production Houses, Marketing Service providers, Print Managers or Manufacturers alike.

The alternative? Hunker down, accept the current direction of travel and continue to de-skill customer service teams and reduce the quality of service.

I tried that - it didn’t work for me.

Mike Newman, theSPC


Help is at hand

At theSPC we value knowledge, experience and expertise. Our raison d’etre is to leverage our experience to plug the production skills gap for Brands and Agencies. We provide strategic production advice and support, making sure our clients get the right production process and partners to make their marketing happen effectively and efficiently. If you need any advice please just call and we will do our best to help and if we can’t help, we probably know someone else who can.

#marketing #marketingservices #buying #procurement #print

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