Hey, You're Human

Everyone makes mistakes. Here’s how to learn from them.

“FedEx flubbed the shipping.”

The Problem: The client’s flight was due to depart, and the shirts weren’t going to make it.

That was the crux of the issue confronting Lisa Smith and her team at Republic Promos (asi/307316), a Texas-based distributorship. The order had started out straightforward enough. A high-tech company in California came to Republic in need of three dozen T-shirts for a couple of upcoming conferences. It was essential that some of the shirts be delivered in five business days because one of the client’s reps needed to take some of the shirts with her on a flight to the Netherlands (where a conference was scheduled).

While the timeframe was tight, Smith and her team pulled everything together and arranged to have the shirts three-day shipped so they would arrive on the due date. A check of the tracking number showed the shirts were in transit. Things seemed to be on schedule – until the Friday of the flight. That’s when a thorough review of the tracking information revealed that FedEx had failed to ship the items on the correct day. The delayed ship-out meant the client would not be receiving the shirts until Monday – long after the flight’s departure. “We got all hands on deck,” says Smith, “to fix this immediately.”

The Solution: Smith and the Republic crew quickly assessed options. Should they try to re-route the package? “We considered that, but in my experience, re-routing usually is not the best option,” she says. Nixing that idea, Republic considered other solutions. Soon enough, they hit on one that worked.

Republic found out the exact number of shirts needed for the Netherlands trip and then checked with their trusty screen-printer to see if the shirts could be produced that day. They were in luck: The printing partner had appropriate tees on hand. The shirts were swiftly printed. Republic then paid for the shirts to be shipped directly to the Netherlands. The tees arrived in the western European country on Monday. Most importantly, the client had the shirts in time for the conference.

In a nice twist, the shipping fiasco actually benefitted the technology company. The buyer initially neglected to specify the correct number of shirts for the Netherlands venture. But the subsequent last-second order Republic produced contained the right tally of shirts. “The experience made our relationship with the client stronger,” says Smith. “It showed that we stand behind what we say we’re going to do.” The Lessons:  The shipping slip-up emphasized that every order requires diligence. “One thing we could have done differently is to have checked the tracking information better earlier on,” says Smith. “We usually do, but we could have done a better job.”

Another Lesson: Keep a cool head, even if the discovery of a problem initially makes an order appear doomed. “It’s difficult when a customer is upset, but if you can stay calm and think it through, you usually find something that will work,” she says.

Also, when possible, it’s wise to build in extra days for shipping to account for unforeseen delays. Plus, it’s essential to partner with reliable screen printers and embroiderers. “Without our screen printer jumping through hoops, we couldn’t have made it happen,” Smith says.

While the order cost Republic cash in shipping, that is pennies compared to the lifetime value of the client. “In the end,” says Smith, “everything worked out.”

Advisory Board Weighs In

What front-end work can reps do to minimize  shipping issues?


“Pad the in-hands date by a couple of days from when the client actually needs the order. This way, if the goods ship as expected, you’ll look like a hero for getting everything to the client early. On other hand, if there is an issue, you now have a couple extra days to resolve it without putting the client in a panic.” – Tej Shah, VP of Marketing & E-Commerce, Overture Premiums & Promotions (asi/288473)

“On the front end of large-quantity orders, and most apparel orders, distributors should contact the supplier to check quantity availability. Distributors should also consider distance from the factory of origin to the buyer’s location on large or heavy items. With the increase in shipping costs in 2015, distributors should educate clients on shipping savings (or additional costs) when one supplier is used over another. Finally, distributors should look at the option of using a client’s shipper number where it makes sense.” – Dale Limes, Senior Vice of President Sales, HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000)

“Exceptional reps have a system in place for staying on top of expected ship dates and not assuming vendors will ship when they promise to ship. Build reminders into your calendar to follow up on time-sensitive jobs or ask someone in your office to assist with this critical task.” – Mark J. Resnick, Vice President of Sales/Promotional Branding, The Artcraft Company (asi/125023)

“It’s all about the details. Make sure you have the in-hands date on the order. Ensure, too, that you have the pricing correct. If you have a quote, include it in the order. And finally, the order is not complete if you don’t have art.  So make sure you turn in a real and complete order if you want to get it to the customer on time.” – Kirby Hasseman, Owner, Hasseman Marketing & Communications (asi/221824).

When we fall short, the important part is to learn where we went wrong and do better next time. That’s why Advantages is asking you to share your tales of trying sales scenarios and the lessons they taught you. Contact writer Christopher Ruvo with your story.