Supporting the Web Press | Article

helpful guy at keyboardAny company that has had to order printing knows how frustrating that process can be. The typesetter missed that typo. The pressman was confused about the PMS color and then printed the brochure on high gloss paper! Grrr.

Hopefully, the Net will simplify the printing process and make it more accurate. ImageX.com, a Kirkland, Washington company, provides tools and services to help corporations produce or procure printed materials. With its acquisition last year of printbid.com, ImageX.com also became the operator of a business to business exchange connecting buyers with the commercial printing industry.

ImageX.com prides itself on its printing accuracy. It experiences less than one error per 200 orders. The industry error rate is in the 10 to 20 percent range, according to Eric Bean, vice president of products and technology for the Internet printer.

The company, which began its printing services in 1995, realized its customers needed support. While it was fanatic about customer support, it wanted to answer questions about the two color process, not how to configure the firewall. “We discovered we would be the first real ‘change your business process’ that a company would use on the Web,” recalls Bean. The company felt it should outsource its technical help function since browser compatibility issues weren’t its core expertise.

Bean says the executive management, the customer service department and the in-house technical support staff were all comfortable with outsourcing. All believe a company “should leverage other people’s services when you can.” ImageX.com began looking for an outsourcing provider for its technical support in early 1999.

Turning Away From Traditional Providers

The managers had had experience in former positions with the traditional call center outsourcing provider. The business model of these firms centers around failure, since they are paid per incident. The more problems ImageX.com’s services have, the higher the outsourcer’s fee. “Those incentives were misaligned with how we thought about this application,” says Bean.

Still, ImageX.com considered hiring a traditional call center outsourcing supplier when it began its supplier search. But it soon discovered they were “just trying to look like a new economy outsourcer.” The company refused to do business with a traditional outsourcing provider who insisted on doing things the way they had always been done. “We needed someone who had the same view of the future as we did,” continues the executive.

Having washed that idea off the presses, the printing company looked elsewhere. ImageX.com wanted to bind with an outsourcing provider whose business incentives were more compatible. “We are a new economy, Web-based company. We wanted to find an outsourcing partner who had the same mentality, energy, style and outlook on life as we did,” intones Bean.

They turned to SafeHarbor.com, a new company also located in the Seattle area. The printing company found the technical support firm shared its business model and new economy approach. The printer became SafeHarbor.com’s second customer.

Before beginning the outsourcing relationship, ImageX.com executives produced a detailed outline of its pressing issues and expectations. “Know what your business objectives are,” offers Bean. “If you don’t know what you want, you sure aren’t going to get it.” He includes financial objectives as well as customer service issue in this job ticket.

Be Clear About Expectations

Then, “drill down” to understand what you expect the supplier to do. Since ImageX.com was handing over its hard won customers to SafeHarbor.com, the printing company had to make sure SafeHarbor.com understood exactly how to handle those frustrated souls. It made sure the supplier was clear about the commitment and energy that were required. “We just didn’t hand over our customers and say, ‘Take care of them,'” notes Bean.

Finally, the outsourcing buyer suggests first time customers assess their own processes carefully. Learn everything you can about the process you are able to outsource. “If you don’t know anything about the problem you are outsourcing, you’re not going to have a provider who can figure it out for you. YOU have to be an active part of the knowledge transfer for the activities you want done,” he acknowledges.

In his experience, an outsourcing provider can build on the buyer’s original input. But don’t expect a supplier to be able to strip in your business essentials.

Bean proudly announces that ImageX.com is in a successful outsourcing relationship. The company knows it’s successful because it conducts formal and informal polls of its customers. The A+ report it receives for its in-house customer service department matches the 4.0 scoring of SafeHarbor’s technical support. “We get unsolicited raves about their tech support,” he reports.

Bean is an outsourcing cheerleader. “We have too much to do. Outsourcing is a huge way to leverage your time,” he says.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:

  • Select an outsourcing provider whose culture and values match your own.
  • Know the process you want to outsource. Don’t expect the outsource
  • rovider to figure out what they should be doing for you.
  • Buyers must take an active part in the knowledge transfer to the provider.
  • Select a solution that’s predicated on success not failure.


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