24 Jun 2018

LFR Opinion: 3 reasons why the Mimaki JFX200 is a flatbed UV printer you cannot ignore

Mimaki JFX200 article LFR

LFR's Marc Burnett offers his opinion on the Mimaki JFX200 and details why he believes it is a UV flatbed printer that businesses cannot afford to ignore.

At this year’s Sign & Digital UK exhibition there were four Mimaki JFX200 printers being demonstrated on four different booths; three of those booths belonged to resellers who would have had to significantly increase their booth floor-space costs in order to showcase the Mimaki flatbed. They’ll have made that investment with confidence that the increased cost of demonstrating the printer will have been offset by leads and indeed sales.

The point I’m making is that the Mimaki JFX200 is a printer that is rapidly becoming the de facto standard for any sign and display print business looking to make a move into flatbed UV printing, and the resellers know it – they are all excited at the new business that they are winning with this latest Mimaki flatbed.

Mimaki is also rightly proud of the sales numbers across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The company reports a steady growth in sales of the JFX200 UV flatbed since its launch date.

Currently Mimaki is selling more than 40 of its JFX200 printers every month, and these impressive sales numbers are still on the increase.  Indeed the Mimaki JFX200 is, according to Mimaki Japan, now the world’s top selling UV flatbed printer. Undoubtedly it has to date been one of the most successful product launches in Mimaki history.

So what’s the fuss all about? Why is this flatbed printer creating such a buzz, and why is it being installed in these record-breaking and market-defining numbers?

First off, let’s give you a quick snapshot view of its capabilities:  The Mimaki JFX200 UV LED flatbed printer is able to print 8' x 4' rigid boards up to a thickness of 50mm, at up to 1200 dots per inch with quality further augmented through variable dot printing down to a 4 picolitre drop size - and it does all this at a speed of up to 25 square metres an hour.

As well as the primary CMYK ink set, you’ll find zero-cost options for printing with white ink, clear ink (with a primer coming soon) and now a choice of LH100 hard inks, LUS150 flexible inks and most recently LUS200 fully flexible inks for thermo forming type applications.

The net result is a high quality, fast and versatile flatbed UV printer that performs well beyond its price point.

Here’s a more detailed look at why we think this outstanding printer should be on your shortlist, broken down for you in 3 key areas:

1.    Capital Cost:

Today, if you buy a Mimaki JFX200 flatbed UV printer, you’ll get one for £59,995. That’s an incredible price, for a number of reasons.

Firstly this price falls way below the significant psychological barrier that exists when purchasing a UV flatbed – so far below it in fact, that the mind-set of the buyer is changed from thinking of it as an investment comparable to ‘buying a small house’ to instead comparing it to ‘buying a nice car’. That’s a big shift in the purchasing thought process.

Do you think that theoretical glass ceiling of product pricing doesn’t matter? I can assure you it does. And the veritable queue of buyers lining up to buy this affordable flatbed print powerhouse is all the proof you need. In pricing this printer, Mimaki has effectively created a whole new price point, a whole new customer base, and sales success has subsequently followed.

This price also sits the Mimaki in the midst of competing printers that simply, well, cannot actually compete that well.

To get like for like performance, comparable build quality, and the ability to print 8’ x 4’ boards rapidly and at high quality, you’d have to spend significantly more on any alternative.

To get like for like pricing, you’d need to be looking at a brand-name printer that has been throttled back in terms of its features, functionality and productivity – or you could of course take a gamble and try your luck with a cheap flatbed printer of questionable origin, more than questionable pedigree and the distinct possibility of all but non-existent after-sales support.

2.    LED Lamps:

We’ve previously written a feature on the benefits of LED UV lamps - read it here to save us going over the same ground again – and the benefits, for the jobbing printer certainly, are significant.

In a nutshell you’ll get significantly longer lamp life - by a factor of multiples - when compared to mercury lamps.

With LED lamps you’ll get no realistic heat produced; LED lamps are cool in more than one sense and what this means in real terms is an ability to print to more substrates, including thin and sensitive materials.

You also benefit from Mimaki variable lamp intensity - beyond the simple On or Off of most mercury lamps - again meaning better tuning of cure performance to the specific substrate and ink partnership.

When talking about LED vs Mercury, warranty is also a factor, and a potential cost. A typical mercury lamp will have a lifespan of about 500 to 1000 hours, so if you’re busily printing you’ll be changing lamps every 3 to 6 months, or you’ll inevitably suffer from the inherent degradation of curing performance that comes as standard with a mercury lamp equipped printer.

The expected life of the Mimaki LED lamps is actually well in excess of 10,000 hours, with Mimaki reporting a potential upper operational ceiling of as much as 20,000 hours. That said, the actual warranty on the lamps is for 5,000 hours of printing – plenty enough to last your average sign & display print shop a good number of years.

Mimaki JFX200 article LFR lamps

3.    Warranty and Credible UK based Support

Beyond the lamp issue, here in the UK you’ll be buying a Mimaki JFX200 with a full 2 year warranty as standard. That’s 2 years for you to recover your up-front capital costs before you even begin to consider the cost of your printers maintenance and upkeep. Indeed if your £59,995 Mimaki JFX200 has not paid for itself within that warranty period, well frankly, you’re probably in the wrong game.

From the end of year 2, you’ll be looking at an annual cost of just £4,995 for a warranty that also covers the printheads and again the lamps, even when the lamps have gone beyond their own 5,000 hour warranty.

The warranty is provided here in the UK by exclusive Mimaki UK & Ireland distributor Hybrid – with service provided by its own in-house Mimaki-trained engineering team.

Yeah but…

Of course there are counter arguments. One of them might be that bigger, faster and more expensive UV flatbed printers have lower ink costs. Personally, I think that’s perhaps an argument best saved for the time when you actually need a bigger, faster and more expensive UV flatbed, perhaps to meet the demand for higher print volumes from business that your Mimaki JFX200 might have won for you.

The bottom line?

In my opinion, today, right here right now, at this price point you simply cannot make a flatbed UV printer purchase without first taking a very close look at the Mimaki JFX200.

Think I’ve got it wrong? I’m here to be proven wrong, and I’m more than happy to listen to any counter-arguments, and indeed give you the platform of LFR to share your thinking. Get in touch.

Mike Horsten blog: Solvent is dead? Long live solvent!

Mike Horsten mimaki europe

In his latest blog, Mike Horsten, General Marketing Manager EMEA at Mimaki Europe B.V., discusses the future of print - and solvent printing in particular:

In many a history book we have read the lines ‘The King is Dead, Long Live the King’ – the old king dies and the new king is welcomed and becomes the greatest king. The history and evolution of printing technology and processes could be compared with this premise. In the Solvent printing business this has been happening. The older ink technologies which were smelly and poor quality but seen as wonderful during their time are being replaced with a new generation of inks which are bright, odourless and long lasting. The question is…‘Is Solvent the correct technology for the sign making industry at this moment in time?’

There are many new ink technologies that have come to market in the last few years. The main ones are Latex (resin-based inks) and UV ink technology. Latex has been on the market for about 5-6 years and has developed into a niche market ink for many printing segments. Mimaki is the only company apart from HP that has developed Latex. We see the speciality market as a significant opportunity where the use of Latex is an advantage to all in the supply chain. The indoor usage of Latex has a supreme advantage because Latex is a non-VOC and HAPS ink. This makes this ink ideal for interior decoration such as the wallpaper, indoor signage and print proofing markets. This last segment is something that has recently been developed by Mimaki by adding Orange and Green Latex inks to the portfolio so that the colour gamut is bigger than offset. The latest generation of Latex ink makes it possible to have a premium solution for commercial proofing specifically on many uncoated substrates. Latex also offers printing transparencies because of the availability of Latex white inks. It is possible to use transparencies with a clingfilm effect on a Latex printer. The printer can also use colour/white/colour printing to make a perfect backlit image for day and night printing with this technology.

So if Latex is the solution why stay with Solvent? Before we answer this, let’s look at another ink technology, UV curing inks. These inks are appearing in many markets and for many different applications. In the beginning UV inks were cured by big hot UV lamps that hardened the inks by changing the monomers to polymers. This resulted in great inks for rigid substrates but not useful for roll to roll media due to the fact that the UV inks were not really flexible. This has changed in the last few years. The inks today are much more flexible and can even be used for car-wrapping giving about 200% stretch. Now it’s possible to print all roll-to-roll media with UV ink and dismiss Latex and Solvent all together.

So why go with solvent? Well, in the first instance it is a choice as UV printing can be a more expensive production method. The reason for many users choosing to go with UV printing is still the advantages it has to offer when printing on rigid printing substrates. There are of course some hybrid solutions on the market, but these are not very effective. Printing roll-to-roll on an expensive flatbed printer is not only inefficient, but I believe you should use the printer for the purpose it’s made for. You can always buy a smaller roll-to-roll printer that is faster and better for the price of the roll option on a flatbed printer. At Mimaki we don’t have a roll option for this exact reason. Why pay 20K euros for something that will give you say 20sqm/h when you can get a printer that can do 100sqm/h for the same price?

So UV printing has taken a part of the Solvent and Latex markets, but it still may not be the right solution for many markets and applications. It is great for glass, wood, metals, cardboard, foam and forex types of media that don’t fit into a roll-to-roll printer. One of the other problems with UV is that the adhesion is not always as good on all substrates. Surface tension is very important for perfect adhesion so you can’t print on all substrates – although adding a primer to the substrate can solve this problem. Also flaming, plasma and corona treatment all help with the adhesion of inks, but it is still a trial and error way of printing. Lately we have seen new technologies that can replace Solvent printing but for some reason this has still not happened. There must be a reason, right? Yes, there is – but I will get to that later.

So is there more? You bet! Mimaki has a new technology – it’s called SUV or Solvent UV hybrid ink. This new technology combines the best of both worlds. The Solvent ink side gives adhesion on vinyl that is very good and the UV ink part achieves the gloss and colourful finish you desire. This type of UV ink component is also flexible so you can really work with it from a roll. The other advantage is that you don’t need to wait before you start working with it. You can laminate it without waiting. The advantage with this ink technology is that there is enough time for the pigment particles inside the ink to fall and laydown on the substrate giving it a very flat surface thus giving it a great scratch resistance and also the best reflection of the widest colour gamut you can think of. The results are stunning. As the ink has a big UV pigment component the weather and light resistance are also extremely good. Three months outdoors on a vinyl substrate is possible without any worries. This is therefore perfect for short term outside jobs with no need to laminate. With this element you can save a big part of the production cost.

Looks like a winning technology? Mimaki believes it – SUV is on its way!

Although this is a great technology, there is still a big market for Solvent inks. The more affordable production costs, the diverse availability of substrates and the high speeds of printing still make Solvent the king of printing for wide format.

Today Solvent based inkjet printers can print to very high quality standards on banners up to 100sqm/h. It is possible to print perfectly onto transparencies with white Solvent ink – also silver inks give metallic effects that are not available in the other technologies. The Solvent solutions work and are a lot cleaner than commonly known. Even with the new reach laws and environmental considerations we still have a great technology in our hands. Just think – what other technology will let you print and cut on one single machine? What other technology can you use for a car wrap and a retail poster or community signage by just changing the media? What print technology will let you print 100sqm/h for less than 20k euros? There are no technologies that have yet been able to replace the Solvent technology on all of these fronts.

So long live the KING – Solvent is still KING of Wide Format.

About Mike Horsten:  Mike Horsten has been with Mimaki Europe for more than 3 years and his responsibilities have been to expand the Mimaki brand name, marketing digital printing technologies and cutting solutions. His goal has been to expand the Mimaki brand into becoming the industry leader in not only the sign & graphics markets but also the industrial printing products and the new expanding textile and apparel world.

In his position he gives advice and vision to Mimaki Europe and its distributors and dealers growing the print industry and converting their current business model in more sustainable and green ways, without losing sight of company profitability and margin goals.

Mike has more than 30 years of production and international marketing experience. With inspirational ideas how to make vendors and suppliers work together to achieve a digital printing world.

 

 

Thomas Valjak talks about HP's plans for PageWide technology

HP Thomas Valjak LFR

In June 2014, HP announced it would ‘disrupt’ the US$1.3 billion production print market – previously dominated by monochrome light-emitting diode (LED) printers – with its PageWide technology; its existing small format inkjet-based PageWide Technology would be scaled up for the large format print sector thereby enabling the delivery of high-quality wide format prints at faster speeds and lower per-page costs.  

In order to find out more about HP’s plans, LFR recently interviewed Thomas Valjak, General Manager and Vice President for HP Large Format Design Business EMEA.

What is PageWide technology?

The technology is not new per se: it has been available within the SOHO and enterprise space (widths of up to A4) for a while – hence the name PageWide.  What is new is the fact that HP is scaling up its PageWide technology to meet the needs of the large format market.

Firstly, we asked Thomas Valjak to explain PageWide technology in layman’s terms.  He said: “PageWide technology for large format will enable our customers to print a wide variety of documents – including technical documents and drawings and simple posters – in a quicker, more cost-effective manner and – crucially – in colour, should they wish.

“Simply put, HP’s PageWide technology replaces traditional left-to-right printing printheads with a stationary printbar spanning the width of the printer and housing more than 200,000 ink nozzles.  It is akin to offset printing methods inasmuch as only the media – rather than the printhead – moves, and this then enables users to very quickly produce a variety of black-and-white and colour output, such as drawings, maps and posters.”

The result of this new technology is that with HP PageWide printer, customers will be able to print a wider variety of large format documentation at higher speeds, thereby saving valuable time and money.

New inks

Key to the success of the HP large format PageWide technology was the development of a new generation of water-based pigment inks that enable high black and full colour densities to be produced in a single pass with lower ink loadings compared to scanning print head printers.

All the ink drops are printed in a single pass and within approximately 5 milliseconds – hence all ink interactions are wet-on-wet.  The ink designers had to come up with unique ways of controlling colour-bleed, feathering and mottling in area-fills and images.

Additionally, according to Thomas Valjak: “The scaling up of PageWide technology required much research and development into the formulation of a water-based pigment CMYK ink from HP which prevents nozzle clogging – which would ultimately lead to banding – in order to maintain print quality at super-fast speeds.

“Without the correct ink, the printers would need frequent printhead cleaning cycles – as is the case with competitive solutions – which would slow the whole process down.  “HP’s bespoke ink formulation enables continuous high speed colour printing – irrespective of the page coverage.  This ultimately leads to a lower cost of ownership and a more profitable, productive solution.”

What are the key benefits?

Thomas Valjak explained that the primary benefits of HP’s large format PageWide technology were twofold: “Firstly, it means a significant increase in print speeds.  Because the only moving part within the print process is the media, it enables the print process to be massively boosted and media is virtually ‘fast-forwarded’ through the print engine.”

Secondly, it enables the printing of wide format documents in full colour at high speeds.  Thomas continues: “High speed wide format print has been available courtesy of LED technology from other vendors for a while.  However, this is only for black and white applications.  What HP has achieved with the new wide format PageWide technology is a significant increase in speed for printing colour wide format documents.”

For which applications?

At present, HP is primarily looking to target the technical documentation market: Central Reproduction Departments; architectural, engineering, construction (AEC) and design firms; public sector agencies; quick printers and small- to medium-sized reprographic houses.

HP is also targeting enterprise production departments with teams of designers, architects and teams working on technical documents – any type of business that needs high volumes of printed documentation – either black and white or colour – and fast.

Colour prints are becoming more and more important within these businesses as Thomas Valjak explains: “We are seeing an increasing adoption of colour to differentiate things – even in documentation such as construction diagrams.  People want the ability to print different colours signalling different items – such as wiring, water, gas and walls of different construction.

“At present, it is very difficult to produce a high volume of coloured documents quickly and cost-effectively.  The new PageWide technology combines speed and colour in a cost-effective manner as it has been designed so that colour output is the same cost as LED black and white; black and white and colour production cost the same on HP’s PageWide solutions.”

As well as being used for technical production and technical drawings, HP’s PageWide technology printers will be suitable for use as a general purpose poster printing for the reprographics market.  As an example within the reprographics market, Thomas Valjak cited that by deploying a new PageWide printer to take over some of the more straightforward poster applications, PSPs would be able to free up capacity in higher specification machines to focus on higher level applications.

How does PageWide technology sit alongside HP’s existing portfolio? 

Thomas Valjak explained that – in essence – this is a new market sector for HP:  “With PageWide technology, we are now able to challenge existing manufacturers in an arena we’d previously not really targeted.”

PageWide solutions will co-exist with and complement HP’s other product and technology portfolios and the key will be picking the right printer for the right applications. 

Alongside the planned new PageWide printers, water-based pigment inks, software and accessories, HP will also introduce a range of HP complementary media which will enable users to print general purpose posters – for purposes such as price promotion – on glossy and durable media.

Availability?

The wide format PageWide printers will be commercially available in Q3, 2015, but HP plans to showcase the technology at Sign and Digital UK in March this year – as well as at FESPA in Germany.  HP said that models will be priced competitively in comparison to other wide format production devices currently available on the market.

Summary

In summary, HP’s PageWide technology seems to differ from any other solutions currently available in the market.  Namely:

  • It is well suited to both low print coverage documents as well as medium to high print coverage applications.
  • It can produce black and white and colour documentation, cost-effectively and at fast speeds
  • It will achieve productivity significantly higher than that which can be obtained with traditional scanning print head solutions.

According to HP: “The new family of HP Large Format PageWide Technology Printers will be the first implementation of a third-generation HP Thermal Inkjet printing platform that will form the foundation of HP solutions – now and in the future – offering high speed, robust and economical printing on a wide range of media.  These solutions are scalable and versatile in design and performance to meet the needs of a broad range of applications in the office, commercial and industrial printing sectors.”

With the first HP large format PageWide technology printers set to roll out later this year, only time will tell whether HP truly manages to disrupt the production print marketplace.

[Image shows Thomas Valjak.]

About Thomas Valjak:  Thomas Valjak was appointed General Manager and Vice President for HP Large Format Design Business EMEA in 2011.  The organisation focuses on solutions addressing the printing needs of customers working in architecture, engineering, construction, GIS and graphics industry segments as well as related print service providers.
Thomas has more than 20 years of HP expertise in business management, channel and end-user sales and has worked in a variety of international domains including Germany, the Middle East, Spain and Austria.

Mike Horsten blogs for LFR: Glass. The next 'Holy Grail' of digital printing?

Mike-Horsten-mimaki-europe

Mike Horsten is the General Manager Marketing EMEA for Mimaki Europe BV, the subsidiary of Mimaki Engineering Japan, and we are delighted to welcome him as a Guest Blogger on LFR.  Here we bring you his second blog in which he discusses the technological progress made in the next ‘Holy Grail’ of digital printing: glass.

Some time ago, when I was looking at the possibilities for glass printing, it seemed that digital technology was going to leave this type of process alone.  Glass was difficult to print on and the adhesion was problematic.  The solution? Stick to traditional methods. 

That was until the development of ceramic glass inks and other technologies started to appear in the market. However, these still required the glass to be baked after printing. This meant bigger markets were unable to start using this technology because of the non-existence of suitable finishing equipment in the digital world. Traditional glass manufacturing companies had these technologies in house so they could immediately start using the ceramic inks.

These challenges prompted us to embrace the glass industry with newer digital printed UV-Curable inks.

So ink technologies begun to change and some applications are now available following developmental help. So much of the help came from silkscreen technologies that have been available for a long time.  This includes the introduction of primers to enhance adhesion, flaming, corona treatments, even plasma treatments. Tried and tested in the traditional world they helped the digital environment to understand that this was needed also for printing with UV inks.

The results varied and the quality of the adhesion was quite different to the old ways. The biggest difference was, how things were printed on the glass. For example, digital printing requires less ink so the ink combinations with the different glass types complicated the process while considered testing was and is needed to get good results. Unfortunately there is no correct way to print on glass.  

That is why we are constantly reviewing what we are doing. The newest method we have been playing with is spraying a silica layer.  It creates an adhesive bond layer that UV-Curable ink loves. So at last we have discovered a good match between pretreatment and the UV curable inks that we have been using in the digital world.

Now with the same printers that we have been using for POS signage, short run packaging and even promotional items we can now print on glass. The exciting thing about the glass printing world is that it offers an extensive array of production options from printing on kitchen cabinets, glass meeting room doors, glass table-tops to bottles and cosmetic flasks.

And the results are stunning. The quality of the prints are better than any achieved by traditional processes and the amount of different colours available is very impressive. So much so nobody could have believed this a few years ago.

The glass industry has a new friend - digital print.  Short run production, special objects or even art can now be printed on glass and finished with a UV coating for protection.

The way to add value and create much needed margins with high quality glass printing has now become completely transparent. What's stopping us?

Let's create... together.

About Mike Horsten: Since joining Mimaki Europe more than three years ago, Mike Horsten has been responsible for promoting the Mimaki brand and marketing its digital printing technologies and cutting solutions. He is charged with making the Mimaki brand the de facto digital print leader within the sign and graphics, industrial printing and textile and apparel markets.

Mike has more than 30 years of production and international marketing experience, providing a wealth of inspirational ideas on how vendors and suppliers can work together to achieve a better digital printing world.

He encourages businesses to develop in a more sustainable and green way, without losing sight of company profitability and margin goals.

 

Mike Horsten Blogs for LFR: Keeping up with the printing world

Mike-Horsten-mimaki-europe

 

Mike Horsten is the General Manager Marketing EMEA for Mimaki Europe BV, the subsidiary of Mimaki Engineering Japan, and we are delighted to welcome him as a Guest Blogger here on LFR.  Here we bring you the first in what we hope will be a series of blogs from key industry insiders.

 

Keeping up with the printing world

It used to be that we tried to keep up with the Smith Family, those ubiquitous neighbours who seemed to really have it all. If Mr. Smith got a new lawnmower, guess what? You did, too. But over the years, the rules of the game have changed. We now are not only trying to keep up with the Smith Family - we are also just trying to keep up with ourselves.

Studies have proven that the overall pace of life has increased by 10% worldwide since the mid-90s. In some places, it has even increased by 20%. And in the case of Singapore, it has increased an amazing 30% in the last ten years.

This points to the many technological advances as a possible explanation for our collective sense of urgency. The immediacy of communication has informed our perception of time. Today, ‘now' has become the new yesterday. As a result, we are left time-crunched, stressed, and overwhelmed.

But what are we racing toward? Chances are if you were to stop and really think about it, you wouldn't come up with a satisfactory answer. You might find an explanation (I don't have enough time; I have too much to do; I am so stressed!), but those reasons are not at the root of our frenzy.

They are merely the symptoms of a much larger issue at hand. The true cause of the race is our sense that time is a ‘waste'. We really believe that we don't have enough time left; consequently, we do not. In the paraphrased words of Shakespeare, nothing's true but thinking makes it so. If we were to embrace time-abundant thinking, my guess is we'd all be a lot happier, too.

We at Mimaki might have found a solution to this rat-race and time consuming problem (or how we might call it the human race).The new Mimaki JV300 solvent and CJV300 solvent print and cut printers. Faster and better than any solvent printer we have made before, more technology to support overnight printing, automatic nozzle outage detection, nozzle replacement and even an email notification system that details the status of the printer. With all these innovative technologies we believe we have given you back some of the lost time, so that you can again start enjoying this stressed out printing world.

Let's Create…together.

 

Mike Horsten has been with Mimaki Europe for more than 3 years and his responsibilities have been to expand the Mimaki brand name, marketing digital printing technologies and cutting solutions. His goal has been to expand the Mimaki brand into becoming the industry leader in not only the Sign Graphics markets but also the Industrial printing products and the new expanding textile and apparel world.

In his position he gives advice and vision to Mimaki Europe and its distributors and dealers growing the print industry and converting their current business model in more sustainable and green ways, without losing sight of company profitability and margin goals.

Mike has more than 30 years of production and International marketing experience. With inspirational ideas how to make vendors and suppliers work together to achieve a digital printing world.

Do the right thing and win: Customer Service makes the difference

Lfr Customer Service

This printer? That printer? At times it seems that there is so little to choose between models these days.  The choice is now increasingly about you and your preferences - not the product.  Large Format Review's Marc Burnett is convinced that exceptional customer service is the way to win new customers and retain existing ones.  He says…

So you’re a reseller of wide format printing solutions, and you want to win more business. You want to win that business without having to slash your prices to the point where the business is not worth having, or perhaps even worse, so that the profit you make will not adequately cover the costs of the ongoing support that your customer will rightfully expect.

The difficulty is, regardless of what products you represent, pretty much all wide format printers now work reliably and effectively. Certainly within their particular niche – typically defined by the type of ink used – they are all fairly comparable in terms of performance and their ability to get the job done.

Whereas once upon a time you could sell on the basis of some technical advantage or some incomparable benefit unique to your product, today a customer can increasingly make his or her wide format printer purchasing decision with the flip of a coin.  The chances are that the printer will deliver on the most relevant daily production needs.

So, in this maturing market where technical differences are now minimal, where reliability is a given, and where the choices of product and supplier are numerous, the decision regarding which printer to buy and from whom is no longer about specifications, it’s about people buying people.

What was once a technical race to the finish line, is now a people business – the customer will buy you, your business and your philosophy. It’s all about trust.  Customer support is not a cross you have to bear; it is an opportunity to ensure your customers remain your customers forever.

Provision of quality customer support is an opportunity for you to build a long term relationship with your customer. It’s also an opportunity for you to build and cement a reputation. And your reputation is everything.

Some years ago I worked at a company that was generally accepted as the leading independent UK supplier of innovative wide format printing solutions.  The business was built on being first to market with the very latest emerging technologies. We sold the UK’s first Encad Novajet, the first electrostatic, the first UV flatbed printer.  In a nutshell, we sold innovation and we sold opportunity.

The trouble was, such innovative equipment usually came with teething problems attached – and ironing out these bugs, which typically involved site visits, was only ever seen as an unwanted overhead.  It was a cost that had to be carefully managed and minimised. In short, customer support was seen as a necessary, but perhaps rather unwelcome, evil.

Naturally this led to an uneasy relationship with some customers – particularly those customers who were early adopters and expected, rightfully so, to have their hands held through any initial troubles.  Ultimately, this innovative supplier of ground-breaking technology suffered from poor customer retention levels and today the company is no longer trading.

Which leads to the question: how do you avoid the above, and ensure that your customer service levels are going to generate happy, loyal and long-term customers?

Ethics, ethics and ethics…

Warren Buffet, the oracle of value-based leadership, once had this to say: “I want employees to ask themselves whether they are willing to have any contemplated act appear on the front page of their local paper the next day, to be read by their spouses, children and friends… If they follow this test they will not fear my other message to them: lose money for my firm and I will be understanding; lose a shred of reputation for the firm and I will be ruthless.”

There are two vital things you need to take from the quote above: the ethics of your business have to come from the very top, and every single person in your business – from boardroom to warehouse – has to buy into it.

Only with that level of top-to-bottom all-in investment in nurturing and protecting your reputation can you hope to turn your business into a truly ethical and customer-focused operation.  And if you do, it will win you new customers. Just as importantly, it will help you to retain your existing customers.

In this day and age, everyone and everything is under review; the supply chain is being scrutinised constantly. When buying like for like and closely-comparable products from vendors such as Amazon, customers are making their buying decisions based purely on ratings, reviews and reputation.  Ignore that trend at your peril, pay lip service to it and you’ll get found out as a charlatan, invest in it and you will reap the rewards.

For far too long the wide format print industry has been built on a premise of over-promising and under-delivering. Change that, and you’ll stand out from the crowd.

But – and this is the real crux of the matter – you have to change it completely. Don’t just pay lip service to it; don’t simply pretend to be ‘customer-focused’; and certainly don’t lie about it.

If every single member of your staff applies the Buffet rules above, they’ll perform better, they’ll produce more, and just as importantly, they’ll be happier for it.

Inside the workplace, and further afield, treat people with respect, do what is right, always seek to improve, and accept personal responsibility for your own actions.

The proof is in the pudding.  In 2014, 3M was recognised as the World's Most Ethical Company by Ethisphere, a USA-based independent centre of research, best practices and thought leadership that promotes best practices in corporate ethics and compliance.  Interestingly, the average length of service for a UK-based 3M employee is 15 years. Quite simply, ethical practices - both business and personal - foster a sense of contentment.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, people actually want to do the right thing, they want to make customers happy, and they want to be empowered to do that.  So give them that power, because ultimately quality customer service in a maturing market where products all perform to similar levels is the fundamental reason why customers will buy from you, and will continue to do so for years to come.

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