Years ago, the only way to purchase imprinted promotional products was through select distributors like Jeanie Communications. The Internet has changed that, and many distributors were/are fearful of the impact on their business. I have always said that companies that sell exclusively online are not my competitors.
I built my company on the foundation of impeccable customer service and high quality products at fair, competitive prices. Yes, sometimes the prices of online companies are lower, though the people who care only about price are not generally my customers.
Recently I fulfilled orders for a cooler bag and multiple items to put in it for a long-time customer’s annual golf event.
The first step of the process was to talk about some general ideas. Next, I emailed him proposals with specific items and prices. Then I ordered samples of the things he liked so he could see the actual pieces.
Whenever possible, I provide samples before placing the order because I want to see the quality myself, and I want my customer to be sure it’s exactly what they want. Sure, I spend more time on the front end, before “closing the deal.” That’s because my mantra is that I never want to hear someone say, “this isn’t what I expected.”
This year, I worked directly with Callico’s marketing manager, who has been with the company a couple of year. Unbeknownst to me, Jim was (emphasis on “was”) someone who always bought online.
This is what he wrote following the golf event:
Our gift bags for our annual golf event really accentuate our brand and were a hit with our customers. Once again, you’ve provided reliable service and you’ve saved us money in the process. I used to purchase promotional items online thinking I was saving money but often something would go wrong with my order or the quality didn’t always meet expectations. You’ve saved me so much time and mitigated the problems. You’ve become our favorite visitor here at Callico. Thank you for exceptional service and for making me look good! I look forward to working with you soon.
Jim Wagner, Marketing Manager
The “problems” he referred to is that the day before the bottle cozies were to ship, the vendor said they only had 100 pieces for my 200-piece order. My first response was, “Why am I’m just hearing about this now?” The rep read off the litany of other colors available for the balance of the order. This was a waste of time, because Callico’s colors are black and white. End of story. And I told her that.
The rep checked with production, and turns out, had enough stock after all. The next day, the day they were supposed to ship, I got a voice mail message after hours saying, “Oops! They used some of your stock to complete the order before yours.” Then repeated the litany of colors available—apparently thinking my customer’s logo colors may have changed overnight.
First thing Monday morning I contacted another supplier that could fulfill the order in time for the event. I called the “Oops” people and said I can get the rest of them done elsewhere, and don’t need the ones they printed.
To which she replied, “Well, you’ll have to pay a cancellation fee.” I was astounded. They goofed, and were expecting me (or worse, my customer) pay for it. The fact that they printed 100 then ran out of stock is not my problem, and most definitely is not my customer’s problem. She kept saying she’d have to check with her supervisor, to which I said, “Fine, though there’s no way I’m paying for your mistake.”
The second company fulfilled the order, a day earlier than promised.
The irony is that the original company is a large, multi-line supplier that bills itself as one of the best in the industry. I’ve not been “wowed” by them in the past, and now will use them only as a last resort.
If this seems like a long drawn out process, imagine if you were my customer dealing with this issue with some nameless, faceless company.
A colleague once said that the true test of a company is not how they handle things when they go well, but rather what they do when things go wrong. Although I hate having things go wrong, when something does go wrong it is affirming that I am true to my mission of providing the best possible quality and service to my customers. My job is to make their job easier and to make them look good.
I have built excellent working relationships with my favorite suppliers, and continue to work with them because I have faith and confidence that they will complete the orders accurately and on time. When I search for products, I restrict my search to companies that have high ratings. I cannot possibly provide the quality and service my customers deserve if I’m dealing with poorly-rated suppliers. Sure, there may be times I could get a similar product for a bit less money. It is not worth the hassle to take a chance and hope that the order goes smoothly. Because even though my customers’ logos are on the products I deliver, my reputation is riding on the line with them.