Dog poopSometimes, no matter what you do to serve your customers, clients, donors, etc., sh*t happens and it’s just bad luck. I get really frustrated when that happens because my company works hard to delight our clients. But, like many of you, you can’t win 100% of the time.

I am now managing a client relationship that I value. The nonprofit client hired us to copywrite, design, and print a corporate-style brochure. The process took over a year and we worked with two staff liaisons who have since left the organization. We made more copy revisions and design layout changes than stated in the client agreement, but we never asked for an additional penny.

Why not? We believe in the organization’s mission very much and have made donations to support it. Everything went well with the copywriting and graphic design, and if I say so myself, I am proud of my work on that. Where we ran into trouble was with the printing process.

The Problem

One of our main trade printing suppliers got bought out by another supplier and we weren’t aware of it until we had problems with this offset brochure print project. The supplier acknowledged the errors and indicated that it would re-print the brochures, which it did.

We apologized to our client profusely and took the initiative to send the organization some complimentary digital brochures, from a different supplier, to tie them over while we waited for the offset re-print. Unfortunately, our client was displeased with both the digital brochures and the re-printed offset brochures. So, we are waiting to see samples of the re-printed brochures before taking the next step.

Of course, I feel awful about the situation. I’d like to continue the client relationship and win back the organization’s confidence. We simply ran into a supplier snafoo and it has affected the client’s perception of us. We care about the client and want to help the organization with its subsequent marketing collateral, but, have no idea whether we are toast now or not.

Why am I sharing this story with you?

Because no matter how good we may be at what we do, sometimes s**t happens and we are at a loss. We are often dependent on others to fulfill our responsibilities to customers. So, even when we go above and beyond for our customers and vet suppliers thoroughly, we cannot account for things going south on occasion. Yet, it is our company’s brand reputation on the line.

Has this happened to your company or organization? How did you handle it to retain the customer (client, donor)?
Have you ever had problems with a vendor? Were you satisfied with the outcome of their efforts? Any advice?

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8 Responses to Sometimes, Sh*t Happens with Customer Satisfaction

  • Elaine,

    At the risk of sounding smug there is a very easy way to handle this type of situation going forward. Long ago I forgave the markup on printing services since the prices have dropped significantly over the years. (The markup also dropped along with it).

    What works for me is I connect the client (for a small fee) with a list of print vendors that are qualified to do the work. The client ultimately chooses the print vendor and is billed directly for the printing. The client chooses the vendor source and assumes the responsibility for such. The agency (you) is perceived as passing along a cost savings to the client.

    Since your client does not fault you for the service you provide and the work is done to the client’s spec (with sign-off/approvals). Your liability and involvement is distanced from the print production aspects of the job.

    Unless the client (and print source) can demonstrate a fault with your work (have dated color proofs handy) then you are in the clear. Print services is problematic since the industry has undergone and profound change in recent years. Many reliable and quality print sources have decided to fold or sell.

    Our job is to decide which side of the bread we need to butter and stay with what is good for our client and our own business. That sounds like common sense and it is.

    Thanks for another great topic!

    • Kevin, you’re smart! When I worked on the “inside,” we had a few print vendors from which to choose. Our outsourced designers provided us with the necessary files and we asked for three quotes. That was the organization’s policy.

      Now, as a boutique agency owner, part of our service mix is print brokering. It helps round out our ability to serve our clients from start to finish. Plus, we have clients for whom we do printing and nothing else. We mark up our trade prices reasonably so clients can take advantage of multichannel marketing, including traditional channels.

      Yes, you’re right – there’s an inherent risk to it. And, in fact, this is the first time we’ve experienced a snafoo. In all fairness, I need to take some responsibility for the screw up, too. There was a misunderstanding about some of the coloring, so even though the client signed off on the printer proof, the end result was not to his satisfaction.

      I appreciate your two cents, Kevin, and will keep your suggestion in mind. I hope this was an isolated incident.

  • That’s always the hard part about working with vendors. One of them could make a mistake that is totally out of your hands and definitely not your fault but your the one facing the client. Hopefully you have a good enough rapport with that client that everyone can get through it with minimal anger issues!

  • Elaine, let me add that I applaud your willingness to share this issue and appear vulnerable. If we are capable of truly achieving some expertise and thought leadership, our learning occurs as a result of our real-world experiences. I am sure that people are more interested in our processes in that journey than just the destination. Yes, we are in the same boat, and some days the seas are rough. Thank-you.

    • Thanks, Robert. If we didn’t have rough seas, we wouldn’t appreciate the blue skies and calm waters. OK, enough with the metaphors already! :)

  • Of course, this happens to us all.

    In reading your account, I see some blind spots where some important detail seems to be missing.

    I am certainly hearing what happened with your relationship with your client, and the relationship with the printer. I’d like to begin saying that your efforts that you discribe as ‘above and beyond’ are not special, that should be normal. Nowadays it is not enough to meet peoples’ expections, those expectation must be exceeded.

    What I am not hearing is how all this is being processed by your client now. I read that the people you began with on this project have left the client’s organization. I don’t know that the new people even want this job completed. Never mind the written agreement, what do the new people want now? Do they just want to get out of this obligation with as little cost as possible? After all this time, is the job useful for their vision of what is needed? Completing this job and securing new work depends on your relationship with the new people.

    At this point I would recommend lots of active listening to find out your client’s current needs (and be in no hurry to explain your situation and the history). “Active listening” is also called ‘mirroring’ by therapists, and ‘completing the communication’ by human potential groups. You have to care about more than that org’s mission, you have to care about the problems that those people think they are facing. Only when you truly understand that can you begin to negotiate becoming part of their solution.

    • Robert, thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree with your observation that we must go beyond expectations in serving our customers. It’s what I believe and what I emphasize in my presentations on customer orientation.

      We have always had a wonderful relationship with this client. We have delighted our staff contacts in the past, who have had more of a communications background. We are now working directly with the longtime executive director (ED) who has expressed his appreciation before this situation.

      The ED is looking forward to using the new brochure, so that is not the issue. There’s no doubt that the printing error and subsequent delay has caused some disappointment and perhaps tested his patience as well.

      What I think may have caused this situation is communication misunderstanding. Because of the ED’s busy schedule, he has preferred to communicate by e-mail. Being a visual learner, I actually prefer it, too. In retrospect, I should have picked up the phone to discuss the situation to “actively listen” (as you suggest) and clarify his e-mails.

      I realize that sharing this issue with my blog readers has placed me in somewhat of a vulnerable position. Bloggers generally write to share their expertise and thought leadership.

      But, I also wanted to demonstrate that we are all in the same boat at different times in our business lives. We learn something every day, no matter what our experiences and backgrounds.

      Thanks for weighing in!

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