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Noel Ward

Real World Digital

By Noel Ward

About Noel

Noel Ward is Managing Director of Brimstone Hill Associates, which specializes in marketing communications in the printing industry, including video production. He can be reached at 603-672-3635 or via email at His website is, and he has a YouTube channel.

We've Got a Volcano to Beat

This isn't a story about printing, but it is one about business and taking care of customers. And those are issues every bit as important as delivering great print quality.

Going over to Ipex in May was a bit of an adventure, thanks to that volcano in Iceland that just kept on keeping on. I was enjoying a cappuccino in the U.S. Airways Envoy lounge in Philadelphia when the announcement was made that flights to several cities in the U.K. and Europe were cancelled. I immediately called the Gold Preferred line at the airline, picturing the milling hordes in the concourse queuing up at the customer service counters. About a dozen plane loads of people just learned that their vacation or business trip was not going to start quite as planned. I didn't want to be down there.

On the phone I talked with a fellow named Jason and learned that nearly every airport in western Europe was closed, or would be 7 hours hence when my plane was scheduled to arrive in Manchester, U.K. Jason was solicitous, caring, trying options for flights on U.S. and other carriers. However, with so many flights cancelled and others packed to the luggage bins, getting across the pond did not look good.

But when you have to cross an ocean, any plane headed in the right direction is a good one. So we went through the list of airports. Nothing in the U.K. worked. Neither did Paris, Brussels, A-dam, Frankfurt, Berlin or Zurich. So I'm working my way east across central Europe. How about Munich? Vienna? Yes, there were still a few seats to Munich. I'd have to sit there for 7 hours, then get a Luthansa flight to London, which was likely to be open the next afternoon. Then a train to Birmingham. Not great, but what's travel without a little adventure?

"Your boarding pass will be at the gate," Jason said, so I finished my cappuccino and bolted. Nothing like 30 minutes on the phone with someone who understands the problem and knows how to solve it. I was never put on hold while he talked to a supervisor. No disparaging remarks about my cheap fare. He just got me on another plane.

On the way to the gate I called Pete, a colleague who was still enroute to Philly while all this was happening. I knew he was going to be stuck. Six tries and I get him. He was on hold with a travel agent (always a waste of time when time is tight). With the plane to Munich due to flap its wings in about 40 minutes, he was going to be looking for a hotel or a flight back home. Get to the gate, I tell him.

At the gate I et Monika, a lovely young woman from the Czech Republic. I got my boarding pass and asked if there were still three seats left, as Jason had told me. Yes, there were, and she quickly plugged my friend into one of them, and gave me a better seat than Jason had been able to do. Pete showed up a few minutes later and we were ready to fly. I thanked Monika for her great efforts and she smiled and said, "No big deal. Besides. We've got a volcano to beat."

The point here is that Jason and Monika were just doing their jobs, but doing them in an exceptional way. On a day when they were having to deal with a barrage of angry, unhappy people, some of whom who almost certainly took their frustrations out on the Jasons and Monikas of the world, they were pleasant, charming and didn't miss a beat.

Every business has peak periods and times when things don't go right. And in so many cases, addressing challenges and taking care of customers under stress comes down to the people on the front line. In printing, these are often salespeople and CSRs, the ones whose job it is to get the work done and keep the customer happy. They all need the same "We've got a volcano to beat!" attitude Jason and Monika had, and the commitment to just do their jobs really well. Some of this is training, but it also comes from having the right kind of people in those customer-facing roles.

On a similar note, I recently bought a new MFP for my office. The previous machine from the same company was up and running in about 30 minutes. But not this one. It wouldn't recognize the network, and when it did it would it wouldn't print. The service tech showed up and ran all the diagnostics and couldn't figure it out. A long call to two levels of tech support diagnosed it as bad memory. A new card arrives overnight and things began to improve. But there were still issues. Two levels up another tech support tree, we worked through another set of issues and suddenly all was well. About 10 ten hours of total time between the onsite guy and ones he called, but everyone was always polite, positive, cheerful and just working flat out to beat that particular volcano.

This is how it should be, but so often isn't. We all have volcanoes to beat, and one of the real measures of our businesses is how the folks on the front lines do when the volcano blows.

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