Highlights from SPIRE 2021

SPIRE LogoSPIRE is an invitation-only event that is typically held in the spring for CEOs and top executives from industry leaders in retail, point-of-purchase, OEM, transit, outdoor and similar graphic solutions. The goal of the event is to create an environment where attendees can learn about emerging trends and industry conditions, gain insight on where to take their businesses, share experiences with similarly focused peers, and enjoy the camaraderie of colleagues and friends. Of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing, the 2021 event was transitioned into a virtual one, with attendees tuning in to two days of online webinars from industry experts on a wide range of topics. Here is a look at the keynote, with additional insights from the event. For those interested in attending the (hopefully!) live event in 2022, it will be held Feb. 20–22 at the Bonaventure Resort and Spa in Weston, Fla.

Don’t Settle for Satisfied Customers

The keynote speaker for the event was Scott Wozniak, CEO of Swoz Leadership, with a session titled “Building a Raving Fans Engine.” He noted that you should not be looking for “oh, that’s a good transaction,” but rather, “man, I love those guys!”

Why not settle for just having customers walk away satisfied with your product and service? He noted that on average, it costs a business 600% more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing customer, making it imperative that shops do what they can to keep those customers happy. Further, increasing the customer retention rate, on average, increases profits by 25-95%, and raving fans, in particular, spend 31% more with the vendors they love than merely “satisfied customers” will spend. Finally, raving fans, Wozniak said, are 50% more likely to try a new product or service than a satisfied customer, making them great prospects for shops looking to add new equipment, new processes, or even try new techniques before rolling them out to the wider customer base.

“Raving fans buy more, more often,” he said. “It’s pretty basic, but you can do some simple math — what’s the price point, or purchase frequency that you would say ‘these folks are different from those folks.’ You should probably go study them. What happened, why’d you get there, how did you do it? Also, there’s a strategy shift for each of these behaviors — if you want them to buy more, more often, then you need to maximize the post-transaction feeling.”

Next he noted, is “raving fans pay full price. If you have to give them a discount to buy, they’re not a raving fan.” In fact, he said that the more you discount your products or services, the harder it is to get them emotionally engaged in your company. “Once they buy at a discount, it’s hard to feel good paying full price again,” he pointed out.

Finally, the reason shops want to cultivate raving fans, he said, is because these customers are the ones telling other people to buy from you. “This is the ultimate in marketing,” he said. This is unpaid advocacy, and the gold standard of recommendations — they are the ones you don’t have to ask for, but are provided because the customer just loves you and the work you did so much that they want to let others know.

Happy Customer ReviewSo how does a print shop build a “raving fan” instead of a “satisfied customer”? Wozniak shared his “raving fans engine,” with three essential elements that can’t be skipped. First and foremost is customer insight. And, he stressed, this is not just demographics. If you look at pure statistics, he shared that Ozzy Osbourne and Prince Philip — two very different men — most definitely have very different wants and needs when it comes to the goods they purchase and the services they look for. And yet, on paper, these two men would look exactly the same: male, married, British, age 65-75, and lives in a castle. “If you want to make raving fans, you need to know the difference,” he said.

Second, and perhaps one of the most important factors to focus on, is operational excellence. It is the biggest piece of the puzzle when building a raving fan. “If you don’t get this right, nothing else matters,” he said. “If they don’t rely on your deal, if you don’t deliver excellence, they don’t care. The question they’re asking is: can I trust you?” He continued, “We don’t judge companies on their best day — we judge them on their worst day. … Here’s the hard truth — being inconsistently excellent will earn you the same amount of trust as being consistently bad.”

Further, he noted that every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets — meaning if your shop is having inconsistent results with anything from quality to service, then it is because that is the system you have designed. Shops need to take a hard look at their operations and identify the problem areas, and then find ways to make them consistently excellent across the board. Wozniak suggested starting with two questions: What are the critical few things you have to get right every time? And how big is the gap between your best day and your worst day? And then begin to make improvements from there.

Once that work is done, shops can move on to the next phase of the raving fans engine, which is providing personalized service — which means going beyond basic transactions and reactive service. “The question they’re asking is ‘do you notice me?’” he said. Raving fans want to know the shop sees them as more than a transaction on a page, more than a job or number, but sees them as individual, with unique needs the shop is striving to offer. This is critical in taking someone from a satisfied customer happy with the job, to a raving fan.

Finally, the last element is crating memorable moments. “Humans don’t tell facts — they embed them in stories,” Wozniak noted. This is where the marketing comes in, but don’t forget that the shop isn’t the hero of the story — the customer is. “They don’t care about your story. They want to tell their own story, so you need to put your customer at the heart of the story.” He noted that the key question customers are asking in this stage is “how do I feel about myself when I’m with you?” Do you know how you want your customers to feel: Apple folks, he said, feel creative and cool. Harley Davidson raving fans feel a little dangerous. Volvo fans feel like the safest people on the road. “Are you the smart play? The high-tech play? Are you the reliable play? Are you the local, community play? What is it about you that says, we choose them because of who we are?”

And as a bonus, running around the entire engine and helping drive the raving fans forward, is a healthy leadership fan. It didn’t used to be on the engine, Wozniak noted, “but I’ve learned the hard way that some teams are like track teams, and some teams are like football teams. A track team you’re technically on a team, but you’re all running separate races — I don’t need you to win for me to win. Whereas football we have a shared destiny — we win or lose together.” To crate raving fans, he stressed, you can’t “cherry pick your favorite parts of the engine” and just focus on those elements — to create raving fans means excelling in every area, which takes a strong leadership team dedicated to seeing it through.

A Focus on the People

SPIRE was packed with great sessions this year, with experts in their fields sharing insights, tips, and tricks for how to run a better business. One of those sessions was titled “Recruiting/Retaining Production Personnel,” led by Kristopher Parks, the director of Print Production at The Bernard Group.

The first part is really the hiring process, he stressed, and while there are a lot of ways to go about it, he noted that he believes setting expectations is “way more important than asking a bunch of questions.” One thing to establish is whether or not the person is a fit for the culture — not how they look, or how they talk, but whether they “can fit into your culture.” Does your shop focus more on continuous improvement? On a “work hard, play hard” mentality? Establishing that expectation up front, Parks said, makes everything easier further down the line.

Next is finding a person with the right attitude — “attitude almost always trumps skills,” Parks noted. Skills can be taught, but attitude, he stressed, can’t. If the person comes into the shop with a willingness to learn and be part of the team, that’s half the battle.

Once the right people are in place, Parks said the next element is the leadership style — and people, he stressed, aren’t looking for the same things as they did in the past. “They want coaches. They want mentors,” he said. Today’s top talent is looking for leaders who actively listen to them, who challenge and inspire them, who empower them to do better, elevate them based on merit, embrace mistakes as learning opportunities, and are always looking to innovate.

It’s all about engagement: engaged employees, after all, are 200-300% more productive. That said, Parks noted, engagement isn’t about a score — it is a process where the employee and company both benefit. And while surveys can help measure engagement and point out areas where improvement is needed, those indicators are always lagging — they are a point in time, not the sum total of the experience. Instead, use them as roadmaps on what is working, and where the shop can do better.

These are just a couple SPIRE 2021 highlights; the full event and sessions were jam-packed with information attendees can use to improve their businesses, both right now and long term. Just because 2020 — and now into 2021 — was marked with once-in-a-lifetime changes and pressures doesn’t mean business stops, or that change has to be bad. Attendees walked away with great tips to see them into the recovery and well beyond, for a profitable future.

Toni McQuilkenToni McQuilken is currently the senior editor – Printing and Packaging Group, NAPCO Media. She has been writing and editing for more than a decade. Her work includes B2B publications — both in print and online — in a range of industries, such as print and graphics, technology, hospitality and automotive; as well as behind the scenes writing and editing for multiple companies, helping them craft marketing materials, write press releases and more. She is a self-proclaimed "tech geek" who loves all things technology, and she knows that she is one of a select group of people who get to do what they love for a living.