The past three years have brought on disruption.
Uncertainty is the only certainty. One uncertainty is how selling and supporting document imaging technology such as copiers, printers, and MFPs will change, joined at the hip with the certainty that the way your business works will also change.
“Fewer service calls are primarily a function of declining volumes,” noted Wes McArtor, president of NEXERA. He likened the decline to what car dealerships have seen during COVID-19, doing fewer repairs as cars are driven less when people are not commuting to work, and how rental car fleets shrank with less demand from business travelers.
“There are three primary reasons for most service calls,” said McArtor. “Jams, noise, and copy quality. None are electronic, and all are relatively subjective: How many jams are bad, what the noise is, and how copy quality is not as desired.” McArtor said jams—both original and paper handling—are often caused by roller issues or paper quality. Noise is something a woman may hear, but the tech (typically a male) does not because women usually hear better than men. Copy/print quality can be subjective–too light, too dark, streaks, or the color is off.
Such surface-level stuff has always been present, but bigger issues are afoot. “The market is shifting to fewer machines that turn out less volume, need less service, and cost less,” said McArtor. Backing this up is that more than 40% of the non-production machines in NEXERA’s proprietary Worldstats database produce only 1,300 pages per month, according to McArtor.
Watch This Space
COVID-19 showed some customers that certain monthly service charges may have been excessive and perhaps, not even necessary. This notion justifiably strikes fear in the hearts of many dealers because it can disrupt revenue streams and business models. Some of this is a result of remote working, which moved pages electronically and showed hard copies to be less important than they once were. The long tail is that copier service is destined to become less critical, or at least less frequent, in the years to come.
Reacting to this shift requires understanding the dynamics of customers’ businesses. Shawn Cashmark, co-founder of Predictive InSight, related how some dealers called customers, acknowledging that their print and copy volumes were down due to COVID-19, temporarily adjusting service contracts to help ease customers’ pain. Meanwhile, other dealers continued to rake in service revenue until customers brought the matter to the dealer’s attention.
Fast forward to now. Realizing that some of their employees will always be remote and that hard copies are diminishing in importance, some customers are rethinking how much they spend on copiers and printers.
Cashmark said, “In some cases, they may buy desktop MFPs from online retailers or direct from an OEM for a few hundred bucks and forgo the local copier-printer dealer and service contract altogether.” A new device is acquired when an old one fails. Meanwhile, the business owner pays no service charges. Toner is automatically delivered or bought online. This process could be the future of at least a portion of the copier/printer business.
Proactive dealers will be ready with solutions when a customer whose lease is up comes looking for a smaller and perhaps less capable machine(s). It may be a fleet of desktop A4 MFPs or installing a smaller walk-up machine, but those dealers will be ready. Those who billed for services never performed may not be. And they may lose some customers completely.
Such a minimalist approach is not right for every business, but this trend is likely to continue. As copiers and printers have become more reliable, and customers realize how easy some of these machines are to keep running, the need for expert service is declining in importance.
If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
One would think that preventive maintenance (PM) would make a difference, but McArtor and Cashmark said PM is ineffective. “Less than 2% of all calls NEXERA does are based on PM,” said McArtor.
One reason for PM reluctance is that replacing some components on a copier often requires removing others, making the leap to “While I’m in there, I’ll also replace…” easy, but resulting in additional costs. And that can lead to questions like, how much longer will any of the parts being installed last? A month? A year? Until after the lease ends? Because there’s no way of knowing, it may seem more expedient to do such repairs as they come up.
On the other hand, seeing a few weeks into the future can make a difference. For example, if a copier has enough clicks to have passed the point when a tech should replace a part, and the tech can tell from the machine’s history the customer is about to hit a peak period, replacing a key part or two may make sense.
Predictive analytics (PA) lets you do this for every device. Both McArtor’s and Cashmark’s companies offer software (in a SaaS model) and support that helps dealers make faster and smarter decisions about equipment usage and service.
“Copiers were designed to be serviced,” explained McArtor. “Printers were meant for user-servicing.”
That’s no surprise given the comparative complexity of these devices. One wonders, though, how the intrusion of MFPs will affect this over time. While becoming simpler, the copier portion of these devices is still complex enough to require trained techs, yet in an age when disposable products are in high demand, the question is whether copiers will also go the same route. It is easy to imagine machines that would run for the length of a lease with only modest maintenance but be nearing end-of-life at lease-end.
Now, add in a measure of AI (artificial intelligence), which is primarily a relational database that draws on outside info and uses algorithms to predict likely outcomes. As a result, many copiers and printers sold today can be remotely monitored by dealers (and OEMs) to determine usage, service work done, age of components, consumable levels, and more. For a simple example, consider the frequency of paper jams, which are often caused by worn rollers or cheap paper. A service tech can arrive at a customer’s site knowing the device is jamming, and that AI and PA suggested the tech have rollers for the device in their car stock so they could solve the problem.
Predictive analytics software and AI can also impact the very business model dealers have come to rely on. Consider this: A customer orders a walk-up copier from you and goes online to buy a couple of dozen inexpensive A4 machines for $500 each. The customer also has a person using some AI and predictive analytics software to ride herd on the machines. Service is done when needed based on the predictive analytics software. Toner arrives automatically. Replacement machines arrive every three or four years. This model can make a lot of sense for a wide range of businesses and should help some dealers anticipate customers’ needs more effectively. “Hopefully, we will be less reactive to customers’ requests and able to have a tech on-site for one call and be queued up for other service at the same or a nearby location based on info being fed back to us,” said Dan Driscoll, local service manager at imageOne in Oak Park, Michigan.
Given that all this will take some time, how does a vendor see copier service changing? I asked Kevin Streuli, vice president of solutions support division at Konica Minolta.
“Customers will expect techs to arrive without calls to their dealer and demand remote service responses for MFPs,” said Streuli. “Dealers do more with less, using virtual access tools, remote diagnostics, software upgrades, predictive maintenance, and trend analysis tools to maximize uptime and profitability while reducing costs and travel time.”
What can a dealer do to adapt to this changing service environment?
- Be adaptable to customers’ needs and look for ways to be a resource that adds value rather than being a monthly cost.
- Minimize the cost of tech support. Dealers that don’t will lose customers or be unable to support them in ways that increase profits. Take predictive analytics seriously and implement it for customers. Use PA with AI together to help ensure techs’ car stocks are aligned with the machines in the field and that your techs know the status of every machine they work on—before arriving at a customer’s office.
- Use PA only if needed or if it is efficacious, not because it sounds like a good idea.
- Learn about your customers’ businesses so you can sell or lease them the best machines for their changing requirements. Although some devices may be smaller than those you’ve been selling, it helps you keep the customer. And talk with your OEMs about what your customers need and how their current product lineup can meet those needs.
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