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Continuous communication

Feb 22, 2011 12:00 AM


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Educate your customers when you miss their deadline. Often it is not your fault, but the customer is always right. A little humor goes a long way in a stressful situation. Both customer and printer are responsible for hitting deadlines and keeping in sync with each other. Communicating, giving updates and getting back to each other quickly to meet production schedules is critical to stay in front of the eight ball.

Each month we capture feedback from over 2,000 print buyers. Over 95% of the comments are very positive, where the buyer praises the printer for doing a fantastic job. But 5% are complaints, typically about missing deadlines.

When speaking with printing executives, they share that sometimes a missed deadline is for internal reasons such as down machinery or a missed handoff, but many times the customer contributed to the problem yet blames the printer. You may have heard these reasons why a missed deadline was critical:

1. Mailer got out too late to make a time-sensitive promotion effective.

2. Had to use outdated literature at trade shows.

3. Training class went without key information.

The list goes on. It is a shame to waste marketing dollars, but everyone has a responsibility to meet the deadline. Businesses engrain in our people that the customer is always right, making these post-mortem conversations very touchy. Also, large organizations might have employees clinging to their jobs who need to serve up someone for a botched marketing effort. The printer just might become the fall guy. Politics and job preservation within large corporations are impossible to manage, but here are a few things to consider to minimize missed deadlines and to put in effect a damage control process for when the inevitable happens.

Educate customers

Educate customers on your timelines for different types of projects. Explain what needs to happen and when. When artwork is needed, approvals are needed, mailing lists delivered. Create a mini project plan spreadsheet. They will appreciate it, and if one of the dates slips, everyone knows they need to make up time.

Many times you are put behind right out of the gate. The project gets approved late by your customer’s executives and then everyone races to get it done on time. Most customers appreciate the plan and what is expected of them because everyone is running with the same playbook. They might need to approve something within an hour to hit the deadline, and knowing that up front is critical.

A printer I worked with last year spelled out the dimensions, requirements and bleeds needed for a direct mail piece. It was clear what needed to happen, and we appreciated the education so there were no surprises.

Communicate proactively

All production software has the ability to view work in process (WIP). If something looks strange, the customer should be notified immediately of a possible missed deadline and what needs to happen to get back on track. Leverage technology. We have worked with several printers who have done this extremely well. They notify us if artwork needs adjusting, the mailing list is needed by [X], or how fast we need to approve final artwork. Customers appreciate their little nudges even if they aren’t necessary at times. It is a process to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

Document everything

There are several reasons to track a project through the system. It helps you understand where you may have weaknesses, and it helps you if a customer is blaming you for a missed deadline. We need to be sensitive to customer needs, always make it easy to work with us, and bend over backwards to make things happen, but certain things are beyond our control. A three-day delay in getting the file from the customer might be enough to put you in a no-win situation.

Give solid advice

A couple years ago, we started doing more direct mail campaigns. It was amazing how each printer approached the quote, but one printer was unique and special. They asked us what role we wanted to play in the design and layout process, what other mailers might be coming downstream, what standardization was possible on the piece for future campaigns, etc. They had a great “Discovery Matrix” of questions to make sure we were communicating up front on expectations, roles and responsibilities. They created a grid with standard pricing and explained the mailing options and where we could save money. We benefited from knowledge they used from day to day. We went with them on the standard piece and have done several mailings with them since. We hit the deadlines every time because we were in sync and had clear expectations from the first. It is cookie-cutter work, today.

Recently, a company did a business-to-business direct mail piece and was advised by the printer to drop January 3rd or right after the holiday, so the piece would not get buried in holiday mail. Think of that dreaded first week back in the office after being out for a week or two. It made sense, but what the business did not know was that it would take until January 19 to hit prospect mailboxes. When they did not receive their piece on January 15, and no inquires from prospects, either, they got worried and called the printer. The printer explained the piece was done in mid-December and dropped off January 3 as planned. The promotion ended January 31, providing about 12 days for prospects to take advantage of the promotion. Some prospects did not have sufficient time to evaluate and get the necessary internal approvals to take advantage of the promotion. You never want to put a prospect in that situation. The mailer was about 50% as effective as other direct mail promotions because of the lag.

We know that the customer isn’t always right, but it is our responsibility to position customers for success, track progress along the way and educate them when a problem happens. Do you have technology and processes in place to communicate continuously on all projects hitting production, from start to finish?


Michael Casey is president & founder of Survey Advantage, a strategic partner with several associations and franchises. Through partnership with MIS providers, Survey Advantage offers automated customer survey services. Contact him at (401) 560-0311 ext. 103 or mcasey@surveyadvantage.com.