While you can never anticipate every single problem that might come up, having a customer service policy can prevent an issue from escalating and becoming a bigger challenge than it had to be.
First and foremost, a customer service policy is a reference for your employees that allow them to handle situations in a similar fashion. Ideally, you want to be consistent and nonbiased and, of course, you want customers to feel like they are being treated fairly.
You do yourself a tremendous disservice, if you don't take the time to discuss potential problems you know are going to occur and have a plan.
At Bolt Printing, if we've done something wrong, we own that 100%. And we say to the customer, “We can replace this at no cost to you,” or “we can give you a discount, because you have to have the product and it's still acceptable.”
An example of a situation like that would be when the client wanted a medium pink and we ordered a light pink. It’s wrong, but still okay. So we'll replace it, or offer a discount. Generally, the discount will be anywhere between 25% and 50%.
When it's the customer's fault, that's when it can get ugly. And I'm talking about people who sent misspelled company names on their artwork and expect my staff to catch that.
Or they ordered royal and they wanted navy. We are not responsible for catching an error like that. I had one customer who told me that even though he ordered adult shirts, I substituted youth because I had extra ones when the error was his. And as a way to coerce you into redoing their order at no cost, they threaten you with a bad review.
When it’s the customer’s fault, their approach determines how we respond. If a person says, "I messed up; this is wrong," our response is completely different than when a customer says, “This is your fault.”
If they're open and honest, we will offer a discount to reprint, because in that situation it's not even about the money. It’s about trying to find a solution that works for us and the customer.
What shocks me is that people don't realize that by saying “I need your help," nine times out of 10, they will be in a better place than making believe it was the printer’s fault.
But regardless, if there are policies in place, they're going to help you and your staff. Even when the client will not admit their mistake and is trying to force it down your throat, you stick to the policy.
In a scenario where it was the customer’s fault, we offer to reprint at a discount. As long as we cover the cost of the goods, we are OK. I have printers working every minute of the day, so having them put up another job is not causing a significant increase in my overhead.
Of course, there's labor and that is overhead, but I'm not increasing labor to print another 50 shirts during the course of the week.
Other common issues will be the quality of the print, on-time delivery, and of course, pricing. Sometimes, it’s people simply making a mistake. For example, a client orders a one-color print on a white shirt online. When the artwork is opened, it’s a photograph.
Some people will accuse you of doing a bait and switch when you won’t honor the one-color print price for their photographic shirt. Fortunately, I am happy to say that most people lean toward being reasonable and fair. And whenever clients are within reason, I will do whatever it takes to satisfy them.
Another aspect to consider is it worth it to have a 20-minute conversation with someone over a $5 charge? You can't be the one who wants to win because it's right.
At Bolt Printing, when a problem escalates with our customer service staff, it then comes to me. I get the irate people, and I recommend every shop have a designated person like me.
This depends on the size of the order and your experience, but sometimes when you have an unreasonable customer; it’s OK to fire them. If you have completed three, four, or five jobs and they are never happy, it's okay to say, "I can't provide you with what you're looking for."
A more subtle way of firing clients is through pricing. When I worked at Anvil, we’d increase their price. If we were going to spend extra time working with them, we were going to make money from it, otherwise they needed to go. So if they were costing you 10% or 20% more in time, you are still making money.
One of the biggest advantages of a customer service policy is it usually helps quickly resolve an issue, and the faster something is resolved amicably between the two parties, the better off you are.
One policy we instituted at Bolt Printing was to tell our customer service team not to get me involved unless it’s going to cost us more than $100. And I don’t care if that happens as often as twice a day.
Another reason for customer dissatisfaction is poor communication; in fact, I’d be willing to guess that this is the case 50% of the time. From experience, we have learned to call out things in an order we know people ask about frequently.
In the past, we kept a log of what people were complaining about, and we kept a log of mistakes we were making. When we found our staff making the same mistake repeatedly, we’d call them together to have a discussion.
A good example of miscommunication is the difference between shipping and delivery.
Sometimes when you say “I'm shipping it in two weeks,” the client is thinking it will be delivered in two weeks. So it’s always best to confirm the estimated delivery date, quantity, and how it’s being printed. For example, maybe a previous order was digitally printed and a new order will be screen printed. The customer may assume the product will look the same, when it will not.
When we send people proofs, half of the page is a yellow box that warns them that whatever they approve will be printed exactly as it's shown on the sheet, and they don’t read it. When you have a second instance of any issue, you need to address it immediately, because you can’t force people to read.
If you don’t call these things out with customers, you'll be on the phone with everyone. And in a worse-case scenario, it will be an issue after the goods are printed, or an event has been missed.
Having customer service policies in place will go a long way toward reducing mistakes, increasing customer satisfaction, and helping your staff know how to deal with most situations. Like any written document, it needs to be updated over time as new situations come up or old policies no longer apply.
I encourage you to review your policies to make sure you are addressing everyday problems so your staff can speak with confidence and reduce the amount of time spent on dealing with issues.
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