Tales from the Coalface: Adding Value, Part 3 – Client Control


This third tale, once more brought to you directly from the coalface, follows on from the previous TftC editions and covers shepherding your customer through difficult decisions, helping them formulate their own internal processes and generally discusses when it’s okay to take control and when it’s best to take a more hands-off approach with your clients.

Crowd Control

Sometimes, you just have to help your customer get their ducks in a row…

I’ve talked about going the extra mile for my clients – and this week I will be continuing this theme. I’ve also covered pre-sales processes and how to extend that helping hand. Now I want to expand on control and control-confidence.

Everyone agrees that the customer is always right; the customer should be in control; it is their whim that dictates your efforts and any outcomes should be directly traceable to client requirements. What do you do, though, when your client basically has no clue at all?

This was a new experience for many of us, here at Syncoms, and it challenged our preconceptions about when and where to leave the ultimate control of a platform deployment and when it’s okay to remove that control entirely from a customer’s hands and – to a certain extent – dictate terms.

Gravity Check

I don’t want you to gather the wrong impression here.

It is never okay – ever – to bully your customers; to upsell them to irrelevant solutions or to otherwise carry on as though you are the Emperor of your own little Imperial Domain. This is a sure-fire way to drive them elsewhere, guaranteeing you will never hear from them again.

When faced with a customer with only the most nebulous idea of what they want, however, in some circumstances they are actually begging you to take the reins and do what must be done. They just don’t have the answers. It’s why they’ve come to you, in the first place.

Take control. Don’t be shy. But don’t be overbearing, cock-sure and obnoxiously arrogant about it, either. 

For us, Web2Print is our domain and I am its Emperor (cue Bond Villain laugh here)! Seriously, though, this is what we do at Syncoms and I am proud to say, we do it rather well, according to customer feedback. When faced with the sort of request that we received from this client, I realised that a certain element of control needed to be brought back in-house, so that we could fulfil their mission brief.

Quality Control

The client’s requirements were sophisticated: they required a way to upload third-party data (all GDPR-compliant, we’re all into that, nowadays!) so that it could be easily merged with a template that they could select from a file, which would then be printed as letters and despatched by Royal Mail.

The absence of any rota, timetable, or technical requirements list and the necessity for strong encryption meant we weren’t about to use a third-party solution without intrinsic security. This would expose everyone to some huge security flaws at crucial stages in the process which would also lead to my legal team ambushing me in the carpark for a serious beating. Law books are hefty, so I definitely didn’t want that.

Additionally, the client wanted to take a hands-off approach when dealing with the data itself, so that it could be simply transferred or uploaded to the system in question and magically integrated with their specified templates.

Reality Check

Other than these requirements, the mission brief was rather light on additional substance… It was barely even a Post-It note, really!

Here at Syncoms, we like our processes transparent, we really do. We don’t like surprises (unless they’re made of chocolate). We don’t like springing surprises on customers and while we will roll with the punches, it’s better if the customer doesn’t have any to spring on us, too. In order to prevent this from happening, we have some pretty tight, internal controls on our own processes and some process watchdogs who will bark at us if we stray too far from them. We like to call them Reality Checks – it ensures that we never over-promise and that the customer’s expectations aren’t drifting into fantasy.

Taking a leaf out of our own book, therefore, the first thing we settled upon were a solidification of processes: how is the system supposed to work? What do you want it to do? What do you want your end-users to see? What do you not want your end-users to see? Where can errors creep in? Have we planned for those? How can we sew up all periphery processes so that any process break-downs are manageable and easily corrected? 

Portion Control

We broke down everything into smaller modules, analysed these chunks for errors that may arise and worked out a process flow to send to the customer for approval. When this was accepted, we noticed a few typos in the rough letter templates we received from our client, so we set about creating new, better ones for them, this time with proper grammar and spelling. We also designed a better template and look for the letter – one that would appeal to their own end users and increase the chances of these letters being read.

Then – and here’s the part I think you’ll really love – we wrote all of these nuggets of information into proper documentation: FAQs about data transfers; customer- and user-facing FAQs; complete process flow charts for both our undertaking and the client’s own, ultimate letter-sending processes. We set our designers on them to make them visually appealing and memorable and even made sure our client’s branding was all over the customer-facing collateral.

We took control. We directed them. We explained our approach, what we were going to do, how we were going to do it and by when we would achieve it. We broke down each and every part of the process – what would need to be customised, what needed to be coded, what we needed from them in order to fulfil and by when, etc. – and produced totally granular documentation so they would never be in the dark.

And then we followed through on everything we said we would do.

This is obviously the most crucial part. Never over-promise and never say you will do a thing, or provide a feature, and then don’t. This is how you develop a bad reputation and you know how fast bad news spreads within the Print Industry!

With Great Power…

My team and I, ready to assemble.

I mean, I’m kind of upset that they released the Spider-Man: Far From Home posters before the Avengers: Endgame movie was even in the cinemas, thus openly spoilering the fact that he would survive the whole Infinity Gauntlet saga, but that’s not the point!

The point is, that with great power, as Uncle Ben (or Voltaire) said, comes great responsibility. If your customer is handing you that power, they are also handing you the responsibility that goes with it: don’t rip them off; don’t cheat them; they have placed their trust in you and it is up to you to satisfy that trust. Fulfil. Exceed expectations. Give them value.

Yes, we did take control from their hands, but only once we realised that they were, essentially, helpless in this aspect. As I have mentioned before, in a previous blog, they already do a job and have a speciality. They don’t need to know our speciality; they just want to benefit from it and that is absolutely fair enough. That’s what specialists are for.

Once we had completed the remit, we handed control straight back, so they could give a yay or nay, suggest changes, tighten procedures where they felt it was necessary and generally participate as an equal partner in all of this. We closed this deal on the ability to know when to dominate the proceedings and when to back off – when to take control and when to relinquish it.

Only the truly insecure amongst us needs to feel in control 100% of the time. The rest of us know that we all have our strengths and weaknesses and the best way to move forward is to play to our strengths. This client was a pleasure to work with as they obviously understood this already. Now they are enjoying the benefits of the system they wanted, with all the features they requested, performing the processes they required.

We were – and always will be – more than happy to oblige.