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Cagle 12-03

December 2003
Bad Promos, Unexpected Surprises

By Erik Cagle

The flooor supervisor sat directly across from me, looked me straight in the eye and uttered, "We're no different than any other printer."

This response to a stock question, "What sets your company apart from its competitors?" confirmed two things: one, this is the last friggin' time I'm taking a road trip to do an onsite interview.

Two, in his wise-ass manner, this goof was at least half correct. Printers can have FTP sites to accept PDF files into sophisticated front-end systems that feed state-of-the-art presses with all the in-line accoutrements you can think of, finally fed into binding and various other finishing machines and stacked neatly into palleted piles that are carted off the docks.

If I can convince Harris DeWese to spot me $10 million or so up front from his bottomless coffers, I could purchase new and second-hand equipment in order to open my own print shop. Am I a printer?

Face facts fellas: You all use the same printing equipment, for the most part. Take all of that away and all that remains is...people. Not to mention a really large and empty factory floor.

People are what enable printers to stand apart from one another. Even more so, it is that ability to relate to those other people, the customers, that is the true differentiator. The people who don't get it, however, are far more fascinating (and entertaining). Read on:

DISPARAGEMENT: At the last service meeting, can you remember specific conversations as to how belittling and insulting were effective tools for keeping standing customers happy?

Take the case of a letter from the good people at a relatively well-known credit card company for a well-known chain of gasoline and gasoline accessory products retailer. Let's say that they once fancied themselves the "Star of the American Road," until a recent buyout by another well-known gas chain.

The letter was blunt and awkward, not to mention confusing. It noted that there had been a recent rash of activity on my account, yet I had only paid $25 toward the balance. The minimum payment was $10, and this was not an American Express card or any other company that discourages carrying a balance from one cycle to another. At the time, the balance was somewhere in the neighborhood of $225.

Given this, I was puzzled by the tone of the letter. I hadn't exceeded the limit, nor had any payments lapsed. The other shoe dropped toward the end of the query: "Seeing as you may have trouble making the payments, we are extending an offer of a $75 credit if you make a $50 payment."

Pay Up!

Excuse me? Seeing that I'm a poor simp who misuses his credit, can I pony up a little more next time instead of buying a case of Schlitz and lottery cards?

I'm guessing that this was a special promotion, but it came off sounding like a slap in the face. It should go without saying, but apparently it doesn't. Should you want to call an audible regarding credit terms and extend an offer that reduces debt in exchange for a slightly higher payment, do not make the customer sound as if he/she is downtrodden and irresponsible. Take care of your customers, or someone else will.

BOZ MISSED THE BOAT: My co-worker buddy, Pat, found himself with an extra ticket to a Boz Scaggs concert. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Scaggs, he is a former guitarist with the Steve Miller Band who set out as a solo artist with a string of pop/rock hits, including "Lido Shuffle" and "Lowdown." Pat offered me his spare ticket and, being a huge fan of "Lido Shuffle" and a few other tunes, I decided to tag along.

During the preshow setup for Boz, Pat noticed the stage was a little lacking in instruments. The drum trap was minimal and a floor base was set up. When the lights went down, Scaggs and a quintet eased into a standard refrain. Pat's eyes were filled with horror. For those of you who love Tony Bennett, this was a masterpiece. But for those of us who prefer Scaggs' catalog, it was a most unpleasant surprise.

After the first song, Scaggs informed the audience: "This is a different show than you're probably used to seeing. We won't be playing 'Lido Shuffle' tonight."

A gentle groan went across the audience, and Scaggs launched into a set of the standards. Pat was thoroughly disappointed. He wasn't the only one; as the show progressed, people quietly left their seats and didn't return.

Scaggs had released a standards album, but there was no forewarning in his advertisements that his tour would support only those tunes. We were a test audience.

Customers don't like unexpected changes. You already knew that. Someone, obviously does not.

Before you go for the last time, I'd like to thank everyone who took time out to send along letters of encouragement in reponse to some of my columns, as well as those who occasionally took issue with subjects and provided a little food for thought. No single person has all the answers, or even most of them, but sharing ideas is the most productive way to discover the better ones.
 

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