This isn’t really an article about marketing. Maybe it has something to do with communications, but that’s not all of it. Today’s post starts with two similar stories from two good printers who happen to be clients. Unfortunately, they’re the kind of tales that make your stomach cramp just a little and leave you shaking your head. The worst thing about these stories? You’ve got some just like them.
The Dark Cloud
Why is it that some jobs just have a dark cloud that hovers above them? They short-circuit equipment and people from the design department all the way through the production area and create puddles on the loading dock floor. The first story is about that kind of job – graduation programs for a school system, last minute changes, and a small (but potentially embarrassing) mistake that was caught while the project was on press.
My client, the company’s owner, always shoots straight. He gets in touch with his contact at the Board of Education to discuss options. His company assumes the cost of a partial reprint and the customer is happy. Then, the bookletmaker goes down. There’s still time to cope, but the assistant superintendent gets involved, freaks out, and pulls the job at the last minute. They’ll produce something in-house on their own copiers.
Was calling the customer a mistake?
Business Card Blunder? I wonder . . .
Who really orders thermographed cards any more? To be precise, the second story is about 43 sets of thermographed cards. It was a decent order for a decent customer who does a few thousand in business each year – mostly letterhead and envelopes. They’re a big operation, and my client says that they won’t consider a smaller shop for anything else. The business just went through a re-brand, and the new cards are for the corporate office. Stock is selected, ink color is specified, and the order is placed with the thermography company.
Did I mention that there’s a new marketing manager in the corporate office? My client doesn’t know this either. He’s working with an assistant. When the cards are delivered, the phone rings at the printing company. Corporate folks aren’t happy – the stock is too thin, the logo looks funny, and there’s some sort of white powder on the cards.
Different printing company, but a similarly honest and customer-focused owner. My client checks the samples he’s pulled for the file. The paper matches spec and the logo looks like raised ink looks. He calls the customer, discusses the problems, and in the end offers to reprint the job, reasoning that it’s always better to keep a customer than to lose one. The assistant can’t make the decision. She’ll call back.
A couple of days later, my client receives art for new letterhead with no instructions attached. He notices that the logo has changed again – along the lines of the advice he had given the assistant after the business card debacle. He calls to check on instructions for the letterhead and on the decision to reprint the business cards. The assistant responds, “Oh, I’m sorry. You weren’t supposed to get that file. We’re going with another printer after the business card problem. It’s someone that the new marketing manager knows.”
Was it a mistake to try to satisfy the customer?
You can’t tell these stories
Mark Twain called honesty “the best of all the lost arts,” but I don’t think this applies at all in the printing industry. Most of the printing company owners that I know are highly ethical. They bend over backwards to help their customers, occasionally in situations that incur real losses – the kind of frustrating waste of money and time that wrenches the gut. Are the decisions wrong? No, they’re unavoidable. The decisions and the stories illustrate the character of the owners, their businesses, and most of the printing industry. The problem is that we can’t really talk about these kinds of situations.
Printers can’t tell the dark cloud stories. They open up a can of worms and they can potentially set wrong expectations. Plus, telling a story about your own decisions sounds self-serving and pretentious.
So where’s the silver lining? Maybe there are a few takeaways that are worth considering:
- Reputation counts – Your actions and the actions of your employees build your reputation. Stories your customers tell about your business can enhance it. Asking customers to share good stories can create a sense of confidence that helps you weather the storms when problems occur.
- Relationships matter – It can be very tough to go up the chain when print has been relegated to an assistant. You need to be engaged with key accounts, and focused on developing relationships with growing ones. If you can’t penetrate the organization and begin to understand and respond to their needs, you’ll never go beyond project work. And, you’ll always be treated as a disposable commodity supplier.
- The character of your communication is important – It’s good to talk about how you handle mistakes. How you communicate – in person, online, and in print – can help to set expectations. The rigid proof policies of yesteryear assumed the presence of educated print buyers who are now all but extinct. Today’s buyer doesn’t understand how responsibilities are shared. It’s necessary to provide clear explanations that reinforce the relationship and even more important to be proactive with customer support.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished?
It’s an ironic statement that we’d all prefer to disbelieve. Yet, the gut-wrenching problems occur despite your best efforts to obey the golden rule. You deal with them in an open way that may do damage to your business that isn’t really fair. You can’t tell the stories. There’s no way to cast them in a good light.
This wasn’t an article about marketing, but there is a connection. Most printers are honest and ethical and those characteristics should carry into the way they communicate. Part of this might mean that we tell true stories about problems and solutions. Telling an occasional disaster story with a positive outcome can demonstrate how your company reacts and the lengths to which you will go to make things right. Even if the story starts with a mistake, a “problem solved” tale can go a long way to help build confidence among customers and potential customers.
It’s even better if your customers tell the stories. Silver lining tales can go a long way towards establishing your company’s brand, your reputation, and your credibility. They might even help when the dark clouds hover.
Practical Marketing Help
Make an honest assessment. What’s your company’s reputation? Do potential customers know who you are and what you do? Building awareness about your business isn’t as simple as it once was. Buyers are busy, print isn’t always top of mind, and the old sales approaches don’t work any more. A consistent, goal-oriented marketing program can work to increase leads and build profitable business. Ready to get started? Just get in touch.