How has continued industry consolidation and the rise of the super dealer impacted on customer relationships? This month’s panel share their thoughts, and highlight the value-add that a local reseller brings to the table
Local versus national: what is the impact on customer relationships, what are the benefits/disadvantages of working with a local/national print provider?
Matt Goodall, Service Director, Office Evolution:
“When we started Office Evolution 12 years ago there was a definite trend towards dealing with larger national suppliers, at the time they had the infrastructure to adopt the fast moving technologies, train their staff and invest in the changes. Many people moved towards the idea of a single supplier for all of their branches, thinking this would be simpler and easier to manage.
“What we started to see was a real disconnect between the customer and a ‘real person’, customers would experience the frustration of making a call and speaking to one person, calling back five minutes later and never speaking to that same person again, this led to customers being asked to ‘try’ things multiple times or returning to the beginning of a scripted process. Sales staff would make the initial sale and would then not be seen for the term of the lease and a relationship with the customer was never truly formed.
“In recent years, we have seen that trend reverse, customers want to know exactly who they are dealing with, a smaller supplier can establish and maintain a relationship with the customer. The customer can speak with the same point of contact easily and they can talk with the owners or directors with ease, there is no hiding behind a faceless corporate identity.
“As a smaller supplier, we have the same access to a manufacturer’s support, we have access to the market leading software and hardware and we can provide that personal level of service that customers crave. As such, we are signing contracts with more large corporate multinationals as well as our established customer base. We are accountable, contactable and responsible. The customer has what they want and that is a real connection with their supplier.
“The larger nationals also split their teams skills, a department for deliveries, one for software, one for technical another for sales etc., the processes become clunky from a customer’s experience. We have recently seen a customer take delivery of new copiers from a large national, four weeks later the machines are still awaiting someone to connect them up, that is not what I call service.”
Scott Walker, Head of MPS Business Development, ZenOffice:
“The managed print division of ZenOffice is a local company (North-West-based) with a national…in fact, global footprint. Put simply, whilst we’re based in the North-West, due to the fact we partner with Xerox and HP, we speak plain English to our customers…and the technical jargon to our partners.
“This allows us to assess, design and implement a managed print service…well, anywhere. We’ve got clients with sites in Australia, USA and Germany for example, but they’re all managed by ZenOffice with a doorstep manufacturer service from either Xerox or HP. A lot of organisations are pleasantly surprised by our capabilities.
“I honestly can’t see any disadvantages to our set-up (but I would say that), but the benefits are that our customers deal with dedicated account managers, their allocated ‘office buddy’ (so you’ll always be able to speak to a human) backed by direct manufacturer service. It puts our customers in a safe pair of hands.”
Mark Smyth, Chief Operating Officer, Vision:
“Local versus national is often about routes to market, verticals and procurement policies. For instance, corporate clients often have a national coverage and a number of offices nationwide and are therefore better suited to a national provider. Many verticals such as legal and finance and accountancy for example have strategic offices located in major cities, normally London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow etc. They control purchasing centrally and require a preferred supplier that can meet and fulfil all services for all locations whilst leveraging best price and purchasing power.”
Andy Perkins, Director, CSL Business Machines:
“Locally-based dealerships tend to be leaner and more efficient than the national providers. For instance last week, one of our smaller customers who are based 45 miles away, rang up and wasin desperate need of assistance. We had a man in place within the hour. This degree of flexibility can only be achieved by having local engineers and gives the local reseller a huge advantage.
“CSL concentrate on their productivity allowing them to control and reduce their costs thereby allowing them to be able to offer a service which is as financially competitive as national dealers but far more efficient and effective for their customers.”
Sam Elphick, Sales Director, Lex Business Equipment:
“We consider ourselves as a local print provider, but with a national reach. The majority of our clients are based within a 60-mile radius of our headquarters in Bury, Lancashire. It is though the case for several of our clients that their head office location is in Manchester, with the addition of four or five other offices throughout the country.
“The primary benefit of being a local print provider is the level of customer care we can give – from regular review meetings to discussing our clients’ ongoing needs, to ensuring prompt attendance to fault calls; usually within 3-4 hours. For those clients that aren’t ‘local’ we have excellent support from our manufacturer partners UTAX, Develop and Lexmark – with the same escalations.”
Kevin Tunley, Sales Director, Midshire:
“Local providers can offer greater flexibility in the level of service. Customer relationships are usually closer, as direct contact and regular site visits are easier to plan and achieve. They also have a greater understanding of local business needs and challenges, which national suppliers may be unaware of. Many businesses now have to highlight and demonstrate their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), which can really only be achieved well by working with a local dealer as opposed to a national company. At Midshire, each of our offices have developed close working relationships with the local community and support a number of projects and initiatives.”
PITR: In your experience do people prefer to buy local?
“In most cases YES – I believe that they do prefer to buy local and support the local economy both financially and as far as the jobs market goes. The old saying of people buy from people is true, and that commonality of being local, understanding the area, the challenges and the economy provides a link between you and your customers.
“Occasionally we do see prospective customers making a decision to move to a large national, or an out of area company, in many of these cases, we see them move back as soon as they possibly can to a local supplier.”
“On a personal level, I always try to purchase local. Sometimes it isn’t possible, but I’m a firm believer in buying through ‘the little guys’.”
“We experience a relatively small number of clients that have a policy to buy locally and that’s often based on their local business community and corporate social responsibility objectives – where supply chain, travel and carbon footprint for example, can have a dramatic impact on providing the client with products and services.
“This is also present with corporate and multinationals and if you have national coverage, then it’s about that coverage and the availability of sales and services professional resources available locally in the field to meet their needs and demands for account management and support. The focus for most clients, especially corporate, national clients, is about the ability to meet SLAs, compared with SMEs who can be a little less driven on SLAs.”
“Yes, most customers would prefer a local dealer, although there are circumstances when national and international companies have a global agreement. Even then it’s interesting how many will seek to find a way of using a local reseller because they know from experience that they are likely to receive better service.”
“I think more recently the emphasis on ‘local’ purchasing has become more prevalent. We are fortunate in that due to our long-established reputation and presence throughout the north-west, we can be as competitive price wise as the national providers, but our true advantage is our local service. On this basis, I would say that organisations do prefer working with local suppliers.”
“Most customers prefer to buy local. Generally, the feedback from customers who have experienced both national and local suppliers feel that service response and the solving of issues is easier to achieve with a local company with a flatter management structure.
“At Midshire, we have developed a network of regional offices that can offer all of the benefits of local service and account management, but have the ability to offer national coverage when the account requires. Our board of Directors and Senior Managers across this network share best practice, knowledge, ideas and strategy to ensure each office remains innovative and competitive.
“Local dealers also have the ability to offer a wider range of solutions – i.e.:network support, audio visual products and services, communications etc. Customers are always looking to reduce the stress involved in dealing with a number of different suppliers, whose products interlink within their business. So a single supplier that they can rely on and trust really helps in this respect.”
PITR: We’ve seen lots of consolidation in the industry. How do you think the status quo has changed and will change as more acquisitions are completed?
“I am sure that more companies will sell out to the nationals, but what happens is that the customer sees a change from the local service that they used to get to a national call centre, and all that comes with that.
“We have seen how many of these large companies acquire smaller companies and as they progress, their reputation become sullied and their service wains. The end result is that the short term gain may be beneficial, but the customers that don’t get the service they need with look for another local supplier as soon as they can get out of their contract.”
“You will unfortunately always get the odd one or two customers who will automatically associate a past bad experience from a provider. However, the message mustn’t be that ‘it’s business as usual’. Why should it be? Why would you want it to be?
“The message must be explained to customers that there is in fact change, positive change…and that they support their provider during this period of transition. Small or big, no MPS provider gets it right 100 per cent of the time…it’s how you put it right that counts.
“I’ve had mixed messages across the board from contacts. Some aren’t happy about recent acquisitions, some are indifferent, and others are embracing the change to see what it brings. Change can often be a positive thing…they just need reassurances.”
“I have experienced a large number of acquisitions of varying sizes over many years and you always experience some movement of clients and employees. Clients typically do not welcome change and the integration of businesses drives change which leads to a potential impact on the client experience with account management, administration, billing process and service delivery. The outcome can result in the client voting with their feet and they go elsewhere.
“With employees it’s somewhat different, it’s about matching locations of services such as call centres, field engineers and account managers, where there are strong potential areas of consolidation and efficiency. The location of services both organisations provide does not often match or suit the acquiring business plans and or footprint of offices, and therefore employees are subject to reorganisation. Compensation pay plans are also a contentious issue as they vary between organisations and employees are forced to either accept changes or move on!
“Business efficiency is a key and vital component to acquisitions that comes from integration and consolidation and that’s what makes acquisitions a viable formula for growth! I believe there is now some market recognition that managing an effective transition and integration of organisations can soften the blow for clients specifically and therefore minimise the client impact, whilst improving retention rates through the integration process.”
“Consolidation gives the remaining local dealers more opportunities to utilise their ‘fleetness of foot’ in structuring their offering to individual users.
“So much of our industry is now software orientated with both local and national resellers making significant investment in their IT support teams. The local reseller is capable of personalising software implementation and ongoing support.
“The use of remote diagnostics is becoming increasingly important, but there is a danger that this will reduce the personal touch that customers value and the locally based dealers are better positioned to maintain relationships with their client base.”
“I wouldn’t say there has been much of a noticeable change in recent months to the industry, despite the consolidations which have taken place. I believe as a ‘local’ print provider we will still strive to offer the best service and value to our clients and to keep up to date with changing technologies and to ensure our product portfolio is strong. It is difficult to say if the situation may change should more acquisitions take place – I guess it will be a case of ‘watching this space’.”
“Given the number of recent acquisitions by manufacturers, it’s inevitable that there will be more to follow. Manufacturers have seen that their equipment sales have been increasingly reliant on their dealer network and are taking action to secure their route to market, by creating or increasing their direct sales capability.
“We are moving back to the majority of sales being direct from the manufacturer or via the new breed of super dealers, which will inevitably result in a reduction in choice for the end user. However, for all the reasons mentioned earlier, there will still be a market for the remaining local dealers who can develop closer relationships with their clients and add value to the sale.”