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Even Good Printers Make Mistakes

Even the best printers make mistakes once in a while. In fact, I would argue that this is a certainty rather than a red flag. If you can successfully resolve the printing problem without getting caught up in blame, you can actually strengthen your working relationship with your print provider as you fix the problem.

The Backstory: An Example

A client of mine is producing a high-profile book of poems for a first-time published author. It has French flaps, thick textured paper with a deckled edge and a cream tint, and dramatic cover art. The book is wonderful, and my client is happy.

However, when I received the delivery manifest from the printer's customer service representative, it didn't match the delivery information I had sent her. Instead of sending 200 copies of the book to one distributor, 800 to a second distributor, and 500 to my client's home, the CSR had sent 1300 copies plus overs to the second distributor. It was a done deal. By the time I had discovered the error, all books had already arrived at the second distributor's warehouse.

The solution was simple. Have the second vendor ship 500 books to my client. But there was money involved. Specifically, the freight cost for sending the books back from the second distributor's warehouse to my client's house exceeded the cost of sending the books correctly in the first place (from the printer's plant to my client's house). The cost difference was approximately $70.00. (That is, the second distributor's warehouse was actually farther away from my client's house than the printer's plant, hence the higher cost for shipping.)

So the logistics were simple, but my client would potentially be left paying a $70.00 premium for the printer's error.

Analyzing the Situation First

As with anything else in life, there are two sides to every dispute. The printer's customer service representative said she had never received the delivery information.

Granted, this should have prompted her to contact me and ask for the delivery manifest. Nevertheless, the CSR asked me for a copy of the email I had sent her. She said she would need it to make my case for compensating my client.

First of all, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find it. After all, things do get lost on computers. Although I always save any emails that convey specific information to clients or printers, I usually delete extraneous emails I think will not be useful. Fortunately, I was able to find the email in a short time. I had not deleted it.

I was also initially irritated by the implication that if I could not prove I had sent the delivery information, then in fact I had not sent it.

Stepping Back and Taking a Breath

After the initial irritation, I stepped back. I reminded myself that I had been working with this vendor for almost 25 years (and as a printing broker for about 17). Even though the printer had plants across the country (i.e., it was a huge conglomerate), I still always received immediate personal service. It was clear that I was a valued customer. Even more importantly, the books this printer regularly produced for my client (one or two collections of poetry or fiction each year) looked better than most of what I had seen in the best bookstores. Their quality was stellar.

So I paused, put my pride aside, and focused on resolution.

Crafting a Solution

First I contacted my client and assured the two principals of the firm (a husband and wife team of publishers) that I would resolve the issue and that they would not have to pay for what had not been their fault.

Then I called the printer's customer service representative. I wanted to make the interaction personal and positive, so I did not initially use email. When I reached the CSR, I described the course of events, noted the email I had found showing that I had sent the shipping information, and compared the shipping costs I had collected from both the printer and the distributor to make the argument that my client needed a $70.00 credit applied to her (and his) bill.

However, during the same phone call I mentioned to the CSR that I had just received the sample book she had sent me. I told her it was breathtaking (it really was). I also told her my client had been overjoyed with the book's quality. (I had actually seen both the husband and wife principals of the firm at an event a few nights prior to my call, and they had been extremely happy with the product.)

I think my praise for the book caught the customer service representative off guard, because she then responded very positively to my request for a credit. She agreed that my client should not have to pay a premium for retrieving the 500 personal copies of the book.

What had started as a confrontation had become an effort between two partners to resolve an unfortunate error. Mistakes happen. We had both moved on to resolution. I said that my only goal was to leave the client feeling good about the experience of doing business with the printer, especially since the publisher had developed a long-standing relationship with the firm. The customer service rep said she agreed completely.

What We Can Learn

The problem was minor and easily fixed. However, not all problems are. Printing is a process, not a commodity, and processes involve many people, all of whom can and do make mistakes. Therefore, it is prudent to expect this and have a plan.

1. Assume you will immediately feel anger and want to lay blame, but try to move on as soon as you can. Blame will not fix the problem.

2. Determine exactly what happened. Write down in detail exactly how the product, delivery, or whatever else did not meet your requirements and expectations.

3. Collect all documentation for what you had expected and required (emails, delivery manifests, specification sheets, and/or estimates).

4. As a corollary to the prior item, get in the habit of putting everything in writing. Email is fine, but make sure you save all relevant emails. Consider the specification sheet (and all other documents) a contract between you and the print supplier.

5. When a problem occurs, talk to the customer service rep or the sales rep before you put anything in writing. It's more personal. Focus on the problem (what the problem is and the extent of the problem). Tell the CSR or sales rep what you would like to happen to be made whole. This may be a discount. This may be a reprint.

6. If you don't know exactly what you need, ask the customer service rep for options. For instance, if the covers of a book have a glaring mistake (and it wasn't your fault), ask about the vendor's reprinting the covers and then stripping off the old covers and replacing them.

7. If you have chosen a good printer who is a partner, and if you have given the printer repeated work over the years, almost without question he will want to make you happy. It will just come down to working together to craft a solution. Sometimes it's a small fix, like the error in distribution on my client's recent job. Sometimes it's a bigger problem.

8. If you and the printer can work as allies to solve the problem, you will actually strengthen your working relationship, and this will benefit all future print jobs.

9. Most of all, this is the best reason not to choose a printer based on price alone. You can often get a good print job out of an inexpensive printer, but you have to ask yourself: What will you do when something goes wrong? And in one way or another, from time to time, something always does.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]

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