As a print provider, you're an enabler for your customers' everyday functions. They use your products for everything from internal recordkeeping to vital communications with their own audiences. This means you are an indispensable part of their ecosystem, and puts you in the position to strike up a strong relationship. What can you do to ensure you stay on the same page as your customers? The process begins at the formulation of your overall strategy – keep the needs of your clients in mind and the relationship will start off strong.

Customer-centric in the digital era
A recent WhatTheyThink piece by contributor Jennifer Matt explored the role of the print provider in a relationship with its customers. She explained that when you're setting up a web-to-print system, your first, second and third thought should be about the kinds of services your clients will request from you.

This is what it all comes down to – if they aren't happy with the features you offer, they will find a better partner. Matt emphasized that, when putting different web-to-print solutions side by side, the ones that are better for your customer base should take precedence over those that might be aimed at helping you internally.

One key element of the above priorities that might be easy to miss is that you are selecting the best web-to-print offering for YOUR customers, rather than a generic group of print users. Matt explained that each audience will have its own preferences and needs, and you should be sure to perform some research before deciding on a digital print solution. Maybe some features aren't relevant to the industries or regions you serve. It's far better to select these than ones that seem good in the abstract.

The author proposed that you put yourself in your customers' shoes. What issues will they face when it comes time to print something? Does your proposed digital ecosystem have the answer to that challenge? Not only should you be addressing the real struggles your audience will undergo, you should be doing so in a way that will be simple to access, without the need for time-consuming training or extensive documentation.

Applying criteria that put your customers first could make you the most user-friendly print provider in your particular market. This is a huge advantage, as businesspeople don't want to be bogged down in daily processes. This is what printing is to your customers, something that is at its best when it is efficient and fits into the routine seamlessly.

Service is key
A Printing Impressions piece by contributor Erik Cagle contained more lessons that can help you suit your clients' needs and become a leading print provider. The author interviewed Lawrence Chou, the founder of a firm that bases its entire approach around customer-centric web-to-print service. Chou told Cagle that he was inspired by the success of today's largest web-native companies such as Amazon and Zappos. These organizations have made fulfillment into a mission and won over customers en masse.

Chou's comparison of massive retailers to print services may seem like apples and oranges, but his point is important: Your customers have doubtless had experience with the titans of the online sales world in their personal lives. This means they know what fast, attentive service feels like and have come to expect it. If you deliver something less than this, they may not retain you as a print service provider.

Having a great web experience is especially important today because many of your customers may be young millennials – digital natives with high standards for online services. Chou told Cagle that his team is youthful and these Generation Y individuals still love print. The fact that enthusiasm for printed products remains strong is a promising sign for your business, provided your digital services don't disappoint.

Market opportunities
There is no surefire way to win customers to a print provider, as every situation is different. However, as long as you learn to study your circumstances and pick the right offering for the demographics, industries and location you serve, success is possible. Today's digitally empowered marketplace is rich with opportunity, but you have to ensure both your products and the portals you use to sell them are in tune with modern sensibilities and customer preferences. If not, you may be left behind.