Why pay to have someone do what you can do yourself? As the internet makes it increasingly easy to handle printer maintenance and spare part replacement in-house, that’s exactly what seems to be happening.
DIY is having a resurgence - after all, why fork out for someone else to do what you can do yourself. Well, have one of your staff do in-house anyhow.
It’s hardly news that we’re in a period of intense disruption, with the last decade having seen the pace of technological change outstrip anything that has been seen in history thus far.
In its wake, the established way of doing things is being shaken up, and shows no sign of abating. One company that has fully embraced the significance of the digital revolution is the Belgium-based Digiprint Supplies formed eight years ago with the premise of empowering customers by giving them access to information that helps them run their wide-format businesses more profitably. And that includes DIY printer maintenance and spare part replacement.
“We were the first online to make it easy for wide/superwide format printers to source, buy and install the parts they needed for their machines,” says Digiprint Supplies marketing director Albano Masino. “We have worked so hard at this because when we started out printer manufacturers were actually preventing their customers from having technical information to protecting their revenues. They didn’t want customers to have the knowledge to go out and buy their own spare parts and tools because it interfered with their maintenance contracts and archaic distribution channels.
“It was almost impossible for customers to act independently from the manufacturers, and as a result they were spending much more money than they needed and waiting longer than they should have had when their printers were down.
“We were unpopular with the manufacturers because we revolutionised this, but our reputation has grown by word of mouth. Our business is all about putting customers in charge and giving them the choice.”
But there’s more to the Digiprint model than providing spare parts and tools - the company realised that by giving customers the opportunity to free themselves from their OEM suppliers through knowledge, it had to give support, guidance and reassurance.
“We made sure we got our customer service right,” continues Masino. “As we’re a global company, we made sure customers could actually communicate with our expert engineers, so we employed multilingual experts available 24/7 both on the phone or on live chat to help customers diagnose their problem, identify the right parts needed, and help them install the parts.
“We also provided our own educational materials such as schematics of printers, webinars, installation guides, step by step replacement part videos, maintenance manuals. We set out to give information and confidence, and to be there if any help was required.
“Also we sell OEM parts, all with original warranties and have a large stock of wide-format printer spare parts. We have loyalty schemes for customers, the majority of which are engineers, so the more frequently they purchase from us, the more discounts and special rewards they can access.”
This year, the company went a step beyond and founded the Digiprint University, a free online certified training programme designed to take customer knowledge and confidence to the next level. Running since February 2016, the first course finished in June with over 200 students graduating.
The inaugural syllabus was written and delivered by Digiprint’s in-house printing experts and engineers. Each month registered delegates attend online webinars on specific topics such as printheads: cleaning and maintenance; bad prints: troubleshooting; motion systems; printhead replacement; pumps and capping stations; printer electronics and maintenance cycles.
“It’s another first for us,” says Masino. “It really has been very successful. We’ll be running the standard course again in January 2017 but we will be updating it. This time we ran the course in English only, but next time we will run it in other languages as well. It was very much a pan European activity, and because of the timing issues our US customers were not able to partake, but we are opening an office in the States, and I expect our engineers to run online courses from there to our growing American base.”
In addition to this tier one offering, the company will be running an advanced course, which it expects its first wave of new graduates to sign up to. This course will run from this September to Christmas including sessions such as the printhead alignment masterclass: the quest for perfection; advanced print quality troubleshooting; advanced colour management and the very topical how to hack your printer.
“We really understood that the internet created an information democracy, giving customers a freedom from established practices. We encouraged our customers to be independent, and helped them in their journey to realise this. For so many maintenance tasks on a wide-format printer, you do not need to call a service company in. There are so many simple parts that you can change yourself at a fraction of what manufacturers have been charging.
“We’re not saying customers don’t need engineers, they do when they have a serious problem but there are also many things they can do themselves with basic training. We are giving them own-skill set knowledge to maintain their printer and prevent breakdown, to diagnose when things are going wrong, and in many cases replace what has worn out or what may have been damaged.
“We’ve got a regular customer base of over 50,000, a third of which are engineers, because we can source and distribute parts quicker than the manufacturers themselves at prices that are competitive.”