We need to talk about Printing

One thing I DON’T miss about Quantum now that the cafes are all sold is dealing with customer issues over printing. Although it’s the same in every public printing outlet, it was just a constant hassle. Here’s a light hearted blog I wrote in 2017 lamenting the problem.

Ah. Printing. The most necessary of internet cafe services and, perhaps surprisingly, the most contentious! You see, dear reader, this is not about quality of prints (which we always ensure are top notch), or the availability of printing services (we have several printers and even some hot swaps on standby in case of total failure!), this is about the most dangerous issue of all – we’re not in control!

At first glance that makes sense, right? I mean who wants to ask permission to print and have someone nose through what you’re printing on your screen? Much easier to create a process whereby customers can print what they want, when they want AND can see it before it goes to print, thereby checking numbers of pages, removing anything they don’t want to pay for, and making sure it only goes to the printer they select, ie colour or black or white. It’s a great system, it works perfectly and infallibly at a technical level. And yet, it has created more customer service issues than every other issue we have ever faced put together! How, I hear you ask, is this possible?

Well, before I reveal the answer to that, I should mention a few things. We love our customers, we really do, we know many, many of them by first name, even if they haven’t visited us for long periods. We have a great reputation for customer service on Tripadvisor, Google reviews and Facebook, numerous wins and nominations for the Reading Retail Awards for service and environment and so on on and so on. But even we’re allowed a little moan aren’t we? And anyway, some of our day to day printing experiences are quite amusing, if not downright funny, and should darn well be shared! So there it is.

When people sign in to use our services, they are asked if they’re doing any printing. If so, they are then given a lovely little laminated sheet with the instructions on, which are also talked through at the counter. Lovely clear, step by step instructions, with pictures, that show exactly how to print, how to check the prints and how to confirm the prints. It takes less than 30 seconds to read. It’s designed so that even if you have never printed before, you can do it, and do it right. First time. It’s so simple, and yet very awesome.

If you were asked to make a guess at what percentage of people read and follow these instructions, what would you say? 80%? 90%? even 100%? No, not even close.

Over the years, we’ve come to estimate that around 10% of our customers do this. If you’re one of those, know that we genuinely LOVE you. You’re in, you get what you need and everyone is happy. And I mean literally happy – we love it when people embrace the system and get what they want, and we always let them know. That’s how it should be.

But it wouldn’t make much of a blog article would it?! So what could possibly go wrong. The answer, it turn out is lots. Lots and lots and Lots and LOTS to be more precise.

You see, it turns out that most of us don’t like instructions.

So, that other 90% will either ignore the instructions completely (30 of that 90%), ignore them partially (50 of that 90%), or just go for it by directly printing because they ‘know how to print’ (the last, and most dangerous 10 of that 90%).

The problems this causes ranges from losing time to losing tempers and can be categorized quite easily thus:

The ‘ignore completely’ crowd will shout out from the computer when they want to print. It doesn’t matter if we’re rammed and running around behind the counter like maniacs, they will still want us to come over, right then, and explain how the printing works, almost always with the instructions they’ve been given sitting face down next to the mouse. In busy times, the wait time can be quite a few minutes as we’ll serve each customer in turn, but they’d still rather do this than read them. Once we’ve arrived, we’ll inevitably, and politely, remind them that everything they need to know is literally right there, pick up the discarded instructions and read the first couple of lines out loud to get them started.

My top three favourite excuses for not following the instructions are, in no particular order, “I don’t have time to read them” (although they have several minutes spare to wait), “I don’t understand them” (although they haven’t actually read them and invariably do once they have) and the old classic “I want you to do it”. We’ll always help if people are stuck, but I can tell you it’s impossible to sit with every customer whilst they download, amend, save and finally want to print something, and it’s always because they just can’t be bothered to read the instructions. At least a good portion of people are honest about this part ultimately, but we still end going through the instructions anyway, usually with the staff member reading them out loud, because there is, of course, no other way to print than to follow them whichever way you look at it!

The ‘ignore partially’ crowd are the biggest group, and we appreciate that they’ve given it a stab and read half of them. They’ll have got their document lined up, they’ll have selected their printer, they’ll have the preview on the screen ready to hit the confirm print button and … they’ll wander up to the counter wondering where their prints are. The answer is, they’re still on the screen with a big box saying ‘when you are ready, press the confirm button at the top of the screen, which looks like this’ (it has a little picture to help you). This happens ALOT and we’ve never really worked out why. It seems most customers just give up reading after the first half and it doesn’t matter it has ‘PRINT PREVIEW’ in big letter across the top of the screen, to the customer’s mind, it’s been sent and that’s the end of it. This is also tricky to handle, because some customers get quite irate about the fact that their prints aren’t there and you have to be a bit tactful about pointing out something that is suddenly extremely obvious to the customer when you bring them back to the screen to help them.

This group also tend to close down the print preview screen by clicking on the red X present on the top right of every window rather than completing the onscreen or laminated instructions, log out and then swear blind, sometimes quite aggressively, that they’ve followed the instructions exactly. Also tricky to deal with, but usually diffused quite amicably when we come over with them, go through the whole procedure of logging in again, getting the document and this time reading the instructions aloud to them in their entirety, including that inevitable ‘eureka’ moment when the customer realizes what they did and, more often than not, makes a light hearted, self deprecating comment about it. It doesn’t matter how off with me they’ve been, all is forgiven in that moment as far as I am concerned.

But the most dangerous group by far is that last 10 percentile group – the ‘I know what to do, so I’m going to ignore your rules’ group. These guys (and gals) are mavericks and they sure as hell ain’t gonna any instructions in any format. EVER. And anything that goes wrong is going to be the cafe’s fault. AND they will need to be compensated or given a significant reduction as a result of the ‘obvious’ negligence of the cafe. End of.

The truth is that this group is the hardest to deal with. Yes, it’s technically possible to bypass preview systems or do ‘direct printing’ if you know your stuff, BUT the reason we hide all this stuff is because it leads to no printing, the wrong stuff printing or it going to the wrong printer. And it happens almost every. single. time.

The big one is blank pages. Yes, it happens with people who mostly follow the instructions too, but that usually (although not always) still turns out OK. Most people get that if they haven’t checked first and just tally-ho to the ‘confirm’ button, that something may go wrong. And we charge for blank pages, incidentally, for the same reason every other similar organisation does: the cost of producing that page is not just the paper or toner as many people think, the main part is sending it through the device. AND, if you’re on a printer lease contract, it doesn’t matter if there’s nothing on it or it’s 100% ink, it still counts as a costed sheet at your agreed rate. Now, if we agree that you didn’t check it before you sent it, and you had the tools at your disposal to do just that, do you still think it’s fair that the cafe or any other similar organisation should pay for it? Some people do, and argue the point quite vehemently, even though the vast majority of those will readily admit they didn’t read the section about blank pages and never checked them anyway!

Next on the list is sending to the wrong printer. This doesn’t happen so much with this last 10% as they often bypass the preview and try and send it directly to the one they want. The trouble is, they don’t realize that web site they’re printing from isn’t actually a single page, but 32 pages long. In colour. And without a preview to confirm, they’re not going to know that until they sign out. So that’ll be £12.80 instead of 40p please … and let the confrontation begin. You can see why we insist on using the preview system!

The truth, as much as I hate to admit it, is that we’ve lost customers over this, probably dozens over the years, who have promised not to come back (and sometimes really haven’t) because they’ve printed a whole load of stuff they didn’t want to, had to pay for it and were, frankly, furious at us for it. Sure, we could let people off and pay for it ourselves (and actually sometimes do if there’s special or mitigating circumstances), but that really shouldn’t be expected where someone just hasn’t bothered checking first. Well, that and the fact we probably wouldn’t stay in business very long.

And duplex printing? Oh, don’t get me started. We do have a duplex machine actually and it’s a service we used to offer. It’s expensive to install and maintain and it created a rather unexpected point of argument: “If you print two sides on one page, surely that’s just one print?” Er no, that’s actually two … and it cost a hell of a lot more to produce than two single sheets! After a few weeks of having these sorts of arguments, some of them heated, we turned it off. Better to not offer the service that cause lots of unhappiness!

And finally, there’s the ‘printing direct from my phone’ issue. Yes, our printer CAN do that. No, you CAN’T do it at the cafe! We tried this, it was a total disaster very quickly! Within a very short time of this being turned on, we had prints from all sorts of sources, but no tracking system as it didn’t come through our admin point. With no preview, customers just printed without realizing that one page was actually 15, and then, realizing what they’d done, quickly disappeared before they could be identified! In fact, this very quickly became the norm, and the technical knowledge required by the staff was significantly more, not to mention the sheer hassle of installing drivers, pairing devices and fiddling with layouts. In the end, of course, it ultimately led to arguments about who’s printing was who’s and how many page had been sent, so that service was also shut down to keep the peace!

So next time you wonder why you can’t print from your phone at Quantum, or can’t print duplex, or we insist on you taking and reading printing instructions, take pity on us. Humour us. Trust us. And, above all, let us help you. We’re REALLY good at this and have successfully printed many tens of  millions of pages over the years. Together, we can do yours too … even if it’s only page 37 of a 300 page document you want printed in colour six times. We’ve got instructions for that and we’ve tested them. A LOT. They really, REALLY work.

Happy printing!

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