COVID-19 has been a difficult experience all around. From a business perspective, it may have created a niche for the folks who sell alcohol, hand sanitizer, and face masks, but in general, it has been rough for the office equipment channel. When the country began to close down mid-March, print volumes fell off a cliff and overages dried up. Dealers had limited, if any, access to their customers, and as you’d expect, placements declined and machines weren’t upgraded or replaced. Clearly, that has had a large impact on revenue and profitability.
But these problems haven’t been death blows. Recently, I spoke with Sarah Custer, Vice President, Services and Solutions at Supplies Network about how they are navigating the current environment. During our discussion, she described the problems COVID-19 created for Supplies Network, their partners, and the end customers they serve, and how they solved them.
Solving problems remotely before it was cool
The Supplies Network MPS Select Program was a little more prepared for COVID-19 than others. It’s not that they saw the pandemic coming; it’s just the nature of their business that required them to innovate before the pandemic. “We’ve always been a level removed from the end customer, and for that reason, we had already developed a number of processes and procedures that would allow us to assist customers remotely,” said Custer. So when it hit the fan in March, Supplies Network was in a prime position to help their customers. For example, they will install software in the end-customer’s environment that enables them to monitor and manage the environment remotely. “When everything shut down, we were able to jump in and help a lot of the MPS customers,” said Custer.
Supplies Network would go on to build upon and expand their existing procedures to navigate the barricades thrown up by the pandemic. For example, said Custer, the company helped print-reliant workers continue to do their jobs from home by updating the device addresses of networked printers and MFPs. This allowed Supplies Network to leverage local print management software, allowing end-customers to request supplies and submit meters just as they would from the office.
The company was also contacting customers in specific verticals that were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. When schools shut down, Supplies Network stopped and held supplies shipments bound for schools. “We kept track of what they would need and made sure that if we sent supplies somewhere, that there would be someone there to receive it,” she said. Indeed, this prevented a good deal of supplies from being stolen or damaged by the elements. But more importantly, they preemptively solved a problem that their customers might not have thought about and spared them from returning packages.
Even though the pandemic drove volumes down, there were still service calls. However, while customers needed service, they didn’t necessarily want a service technician coming into their office. Another key development is Supplies Network integrated with Smart Device Services (SDS) to further enhance their ability to remotely access and fix devices. “With the SDS integration, our Service Desk can now power cycle the device, review event logs and perform firmware updates to the devices virtually, allowing us to resolve issues without involvement from the customer’s IT department or staff in many cases. We’re excited to see positive impact on our resolve rates as more of our partners adopt SDS,” explained Custer. In other situations, the company was able to overnight parts to a customer and walk them through the repair remotely. Ultimately, the responsiveness that Supplies Network brought to the table helped many companies remain productive during a pandemic without missing a beat, while Supplies Network increased its remote repair rate from 12% to 14%.
Looking to the future
Custer is confident that the entrepreneurs in the office equipment dealer channel are going to prevail. She is bullish on the future of the channel and says that we’re already starting to see a reversal of fortune as employees are getting back into the office and volumes are coming back. “As we enter the fall season, we’re seeing an increasing number of devices in our partner program. Dealers are out there closing deals. The volumes are still low, but they are there. I am very confident things will go back to normal,” she said.