Print service providers today should not shy away from digital solutions where possible, giving their customers an experience that is enhanced via self-service features and other notable conveniences. Considering the potential for these offerings to make the printing business more agile, adaptable and suited to modern buying tastes, it may be time to acknowledge that the printers still in business post-IT-revolution are counting on IT to move forward.

Web-to-print interfaces are a major part of the printing industry's engagement with software. Print buyers are becoming increasingly self-determined and independent, and W2P remains the main way to harness this energy on the part of customers. The use of self-service tools is a great example of a point where the print industry has changed one of its major operational methods to suit the market.

Important for printers of all sizes
Printing Impressions contributor Patrick Henry recently laid out the stakes of the current W2P market. He noted that while companies aren't absolutely required to offer their print services through such a system, it's hard to imagine opting against it. There was a time when the technology hadn't yet become a mainstream concern and some print service providers offered it as a differentiator, but it has become a standard. Even smaller companies are getting in on the action.

Offering W2P to a local clientele can give a small print shop the same profile as major competitors. Henry made note of a provider with a mere 18 employees that reaches its customers through a highly professional W2P interface, allowing consumers to perform a huge variety of tasks and reducing the workload for the modest team.

No matter the size or specialty of a print service provider, there are a few connecting threads that link competent and impressive W2P experiences. Henry noted that users should find the interfaces intuitive and clean-looking. Ideally, the appearance of the system will also be tuned to look like a natural part of the service provider's own website, rather than a third-party piece grafted on.

If he process of implementation goes well and a W2P portal looks and feels good to use, the results can be noticeable. Digital print service president Andrew Hrywnak told Henry that a client picked his organization on the basis of its self-service website. When potential buyers are performing research on print service providers, they may determine which W2P solution will work best for them over time. An organization that puts in effort to tune its offerings will reap the rewards.

Dealing with W2P intelligently
Succeeding in the W2P space means getting the software up, running and in line with company standards. As WhatTheyThink columnist Jennifer Matt pointed out, this process is far from automatic. She described a vicious cycle in which companies add a new W2P solution but don't take the time to properly learn about it and its uses. Then, the organization becomes fed up with the solution and decides that the purchase was a mistake. That sends buyers back out to find a new interface and the process repeats.

The key to escaping this disappointing spiral lies in approaching software with patience and an open mind. Matt stated that this means learning about the software and teaching its ins and outs to other parts of the company. When problems do occur, and chances are they will, users should consult with other print shops that are using the same software. This means they'll get relevant real-world experience that might not come up in discussions with the system's maker.

Problem-solving is a serious test of a team's commitment to its W2P solution. Matt noted that when issues occur, it behooves print employees to think of ways to go around them and offer great services despite those shortcomings. Treating limitations as deal-breaking moments discourages creative thinking and could encourage printers to enter the cycle of disappointment described above.

The market is digital
For all the challenges associated with making W2P work, the advantages are too glaring to ignore. Simply put, the software interfaces connect clients with printers in a way that suits the modern market. The present age of marketing is based on inbound tactics. This isn't a printing-specific trend, but an overall shift. Becoming discoverable and giving buyers a great deal of agency are companies' tactics of choice for securing loyalty. Customers can become remarkably self-directed with W2P, in line with these new priorities.