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What’s app with your customer service?

Neil Rom, Printacom Technologies. (Vernon Reed)Neil Rom, Printacom Technologies. (Vernon Reed)

How do you radically improve the customer experience? There’s an app for that!

In a world where margins can’t be cut any further and technology is no longer a key differentiator, what you’re left with is the customer experience. Printacom Technologies’ MD Neil Rom decided from the outset that this was going to be his business’ core focus and differentiator.

To this end Printacom, the sole authorised distributor of OKI printers and consumables, has embarked on a big customer service drive that it calls the ‘Smile Factory’. Rom clarifies: “The Smile Factory concept is very off the wall. Oki is a fun, challenger brand and we like to come up with fresh and exciting concepts to keep our team engaged with customers.

“First and foremost we recognise that our support guys are the face of our business, they’re at the front line with our customers and as such, are first to deal with problems that arise. But it can be difficult for them to deliver an awesome customer experience in the face of negative or even annoyed customers. We had to consider how to encourage them to deliver great customer service in such a way that the customer is satisfied and the problem rectified.

“Engineers aren’t inherently communicative,” says Rom, “they don’t always think to tell customers when they’re running late or provide as much feedback as the customer might like. We’re changing this by incentivising friendliness and willingness to communicate. Obviously a successful end result is fixing the customer’s problem, but if you communicate along the way, you have a much happier customer. And a happy customer is a customer for life.”

Once the issue has been resolved, customers are invited to rate the service they received from Oki’s engineers in the form of ‘smileys’, which have a rand value attached to them. Rom explains: “The ultimate goal is to encourage a great attitude and a culture where we get back to customers, even when they’re angry. People are always complaining about poor customer service, especially in this industry, which is why we decided to do whatever it takes to make our customers smile.”

An additional challenge for Rom was to extend the concept to Printacom’s 20 independent service partners countrywide. “Their behaviour also reflects on Oki, our customers don’t know the difference between authorised service partners (ASPs), Printacom and Oki, so a year ago we decided to extend the Smile Factory to the partners too. In order to give urban and regional service partners an equal opportunity to benefit from the programme, we hold an annual ASP conference at which top performing ASPs receive prizes based on their performance in earning smileys from customers. We see them as an extension of our business because even though they aren’t legally linked to us, we obviously want them to be profitable and stay in business. After all, they carry out 80 percent of our service calls.”

Software-driven service

Printacom is working with a developer on an app that will further improve communication between its technicians and customers. Rom says: “The app will enable automated callouts, will tell the customer which technician is en route, what he or she looks like and their whereabouts. Once the visit is complete, the customer can accept that the job as fixed and rate the service level. It also ensures that an engineer is only assigned callouts that he’s qualified to take. I think it will really leapfrog us over our competitors by enhancing our customer experience, improving our business processes and saving us money as we’ll be able to allocate resources properly and efficiently.”

Rom says he sees the future of the business being software-driven and around managed print services (MPS). “We’re developing software for smaller resellers that want to get into managed print services. A successful MPS solution relies on products, logistics and technology expertise, all of which need to be managed. We want to give smaller resellers access to this type of software at an affordable rate. Every device needs to be managed and its profitability tracked. This will give resellers the ability to do their own contracts instead of backending them to the vendors and being paid a commission, thereby losing sight of the customer. Printacom doesn’t want to work like that. And while the software won’t be limited to Oki devices, we’re obviously hoping they’ll support Oki if they use it.”

A big advantage of MPS is that it can help customers save money by redeploying their assets instead of replacing them, a key benefit in tough economic times. “Printing is probably the last thing that gets looked at when budgets are tight. Which is why there’s such a big opportunity for MPS,” says Rom.

The above are just a few of the ways in which Printacom is demonstrating its loyalty towards the channel. Rom clarifies: “Our business model has always been channel-centric, through a distributor or reseller, we’re one of the few brands that don’t go directly into a business. Because the channel trusts and supports us, they’re happy to take us into some big corporates, which has proven to be very good for the business.”

Printacom timeline
1996 – Oki Technologies SA is established by Neil Rom as an independent company distributing Oki within the then MB Technologies Group (Now Tarsus Technologies Group)

2003 – The name of company is changed to Printacom in order to accommodate other print-related products
2005 – Oki launches updated LED printer products, enabling Printacom to go after the multi-functional device market sector
2009 – An office automation division is established, a game-changer for Printacom
2010 – Printacom changes strategy and instead of competing with the bigger established office automation vendors, partners with them by sourcing products that fill gaps in their offerings
2015 – Printacom doubles laser printer sales and for the first time exceeds its dot matrix printer revenue
2016 – Printacom establishes dedicated MPS software solutions division focusing on software products that enable the channel and end users to manage document workflow, contract costs and printer fleets

Brands represented
Printacom Technologies distributes the following brands in South Africa and the wider Southern African Development Countries (SADC) region.
•    Oki
•    Tally Genicom/Printronix
•    Tally Dascom
•    Papercut software
•    Sendys

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