Adversity to Advantage

Glitch happens. How you handle a bump in the road can make all the difference in whether or not you have a happy client in the end.

Problems actually create an opportunity to build a relationship, according to Matthew Watkins, CEO, Logo Surfing Promotional Products (asi/246818).

“Problems are often beyond our control – we can’t control every part of the order process. But we have 100% control over how we react to the problem,”he says.“The client needs to feel confident the problem will be taken care of.”

Doing the right thing for the client when things go wrong can be good for the bottom line. Read how these industry reps turned potential disasters into delighted clients.

Botched Mug Order Turns Into Big Buisness

Summit Group (asi/339116) Director of Sales Michael Londe turned a problematic coffee mug order into incremental business totaling over $20 million simply by doing the right thing and standing behind his work.

The order was from a first-time client, and the mugs were to be used at an annual conference they were attending. Back then, the Pantone Matching System (PMS) was not as commonplace as today, and Londe was a rookie in the business. He provided a quote to the client and was cleared to proceed with the order. The initial factory said it could match the PMS colors, and produced the mugs.

“When the mugs were delivered, the client said the colors were way off,”says Londe. He promptly told the client he’d take care of it, and found a different factory to produce the mugs. The new factory, Worldwide Line (bought by Gold Bond in 2014), assured Londe it could hit the PMS colors, and ran a proof – but the mugs were more expensive than the initial round.

“The client informed us that she was a hero internally because the mugs were below budget, so she didn’t have room for the increase in cost. We absorbed the first coffee mugs and the difference in price for the nicer mug, which hit the color,”he explains.

Londe retained that annual mug order with the client and with Worldwide for another five years. Ultimately, contacts from that company left and brought Londe along with them to their new firms, accounting for millions of dollars in sales, which over time totaled over $20 million.

Lessons learned?“Physical proofs are important,”he says. Also, clear communication with the client about when, where and how the products are being used allow the distributor to work with the factory to produce what is needed in time.“Gather as much information as you can when taking on a project so that if a problem arises, you can pull a rabbit out of the hat,”says Londe.

Make sure to understand the whole project, and all the needs, in order to be able to present multiple options, he recommends.

Business Stays On Tracks Despite Derailment

A train derailment nearly derailed an order for Jon Borowka, account relationship manager at Motivators Promotional Products (asi/277780). The order was for 500 water bottles customized with the message“Refresh Your Finances”for a finance client’s trade show.

In tracking the order online, an odd warning came up, so Borowka called UPS to inquire.“They told me something had happened, but not what,”he says. He checked the news and there was coverage about a train derailment in the area. It was the day before the event, so Borowka knew time was of the essence.

He phoned the warehouse to see what, if anything, could be done, and worked out a plan for a different factory about an hour away to produce the bottles. Borowka enlisted a courier service to pick up and deliver the bottles the morning of the event. The original warehouse credited Motivators, and took it up with UPS.

He kept the customer in the loop as the situation unfolded and, ultimately, ended up with a happy client.“The customer was thrilled. They thanked me a million times, and have placed orders every three months when their new budgets come out,”he says.

“I think some adversity with customers helps you grow the relationship – depending on how it’s handled, of course. In our industry, mistakes happen whether it’s your fault or someone else’s. Facing the problem head-on is respected and appreciated by the customer.”

Not every problem order will have a happy ending, he notes.“You will get the irate customer who will never order from you again, in which case all you can do is learn and adjust.”

Make a Client Happy and The Money Follows

“Rush toward the fire, not away,”when problems crop up, advises Onyx Worldwide (asi/287743) President Matt David. A new client’s misunderstanding of an order presented a potential headache; Onyx had quoted a price for 3,000 tote bags and sent the paperwork, which the client signed.

The client received the paper proof and approved it, but upon receiving the sample, came back to Onyx saying they thought the logo would be on both sides, David explains.“They assumed it was a two-sided imprint, and also neglected to mention that was important,”he notes.

“We quoted a second run charge and sent new paperwork, but the client said it didn’t have the budget and would go with the one side,”says David.

Onyx made the decision to produce the order with the second-side run imprint at no additional charge.“We asked the client to keep us in mind for a future job, in order to recover the added expense, if they felt it was appropriate and possible. We did not ask for a guarantee of this,”says David.

The tote bags were the first item Onyx did for this client, and now Onyx has the opportunity to do four to five new items for them.“The client was thrilled with the final product, has reordered the bags, and has referred a new client to us. They also sent us four bottles of really nice wine as a thank-you,”David says.

“I feel good about the decision to make less money, but walk away with a happy client,”he says.“Our whole reason for existence is to do a great job, make the client happy and the money follows.”

Meet In The Middle

Logo Surfing met its supplier in the middle when a problem cropped up with an order of bags. The order was for green bags with a white print, but the bags came in the wrong colors of black and white.“The order had been submitted correctly, the details were correct, and the proof had been approved, but the proof was black and white,”says CEO Matthew Watkins.

“It looked like a black-and-white proof, but it was actually a proof of a black and white bag,”he explains.“I called the supplier and owned part of it. Even though the order was correct, we didn’t catch that the proof was wrong.”

Watkins suggested“meeting in the middle”and the supplier was willing to work with Logo Surfing to resolve the problem.“They gave me a discount, which I then passed along to the client.”

When problems arise, Watkins believes in personal interaction in order to give the client the sense that the problem is under control. He either meets with the client face-to-face (if local) or by phone.“The worst thing to do is to notify someone there is a problem by email,”he says.

“If you correctly identify the issue, you can correctly identify the solution,”he says.“If it’s your mistake, own it. Most people chase blame vs. solutions. We avoid placing blame in favor of finding solutions.”He adds,“ If you blame the supplier, the client will lose faith and not want to use you.”

Other tips?“Be tireless with the client and the supplier. Get the client issue resolved first, and then go to the supplier and see what they’ll do for you,”he says

He advises developing solid relationships with suppliers.“Make sure you understand how they operate, and who the decision-maker is. If you need to work your way up the ladder, do it respectfully,”he says.

Form Strong Partnerships

A recent experience with an order of customized watches“reinforced that Logomark (asi/67866) is a true supplier partner,”says Edventure Promotions (asi/186055) President, Ed Levy.

Levy had gotten an order for 120 watches from New York Police Department’s Correction Captains’ Association (CCA), to be given as retirement gifts.“We have a unique decoration technique, called photo process, that allows us to decorate the face of the watch in full color with great detail,”says Logomark’s VP of Sales Scott Edidin. The CCA wanted the face of the watch to replicate their police badge.

Logomark had photos sent of the badge and production artwork created. Since the police badge is metal, there is a sheen to it, which makes it difficult to reproduce with a full-color process decoration like the photo process, Edidin explains.

However, the proof looked very good and was approved, and the pre-production sample also was OK’d. Logomark produced the watches and delivered them to the NYPD.“When the watches arrived, the badge face was slightly lighter in color and some of the gradient diluted. Needless to say, the end-user was not satisfied with their watches,”Edidin says.

Logomark worked closely with its watch specialist and the factory to come up with options to resolve the issue. They chose a process called mirror etching to replicate the badge, and incurred the expense of making several samples of the process for the NYPD to review.

“The NYPD was extremely impressed with how the badge looked. We were able to deliver the sheen and metallic finish of an actual badge in the face of the watch,”says Edidin, adding,“ Since then, several reorders have taken place and this watch is planned on being used for years to come as a way to honor officers of the NYPD.”

Levy kept the client in the loop throughout the process. The watches were delivered in time for the event, and the final product“exceeded the NYPD’s expectations,”he says.

If you have a problem, identify it as quickly as possible and, ideally, have a solution when you inform the client of the issue.“Even if the first solution doesn’t work, try a different one. Never say, ‘we don’t know,’”Levy says.

“Never be afraid to tell the truth. The way you handle the situation when it goes wrong determines your ability to strengthen the relationship,”he says.“The more professionally you handle problems, the more likely you are to hold them as a client.”

“Logomark was tireless in coming up with a solution. Having a creative supplier is great when you want to try new, unique things that aren’t in the catalog to make the client happy. This was a whole new decorating method I knew little to nothing about, and it has increased the breadth of types of clients to pursue,”he says.“Anyone that wears a badge is a potential opportunity.”

Supplier’s Quick Turn Around Time In Demand

The West Coast shipping strikes are boosting demand for Polyconcept NA’s (Leed’s/TPL asi/66887, Bullet asi/42424) SureShip services, says account development manager Pete Catone.

“We get a lot of last-minute calls from distributors saying an item was supposed to be there next week, and now it’s somewhere on the West Coast, but no one knows where,”he explains.

Polyconcept offers 24-hour SureShip at all five of its companies, and the amount of SureShip orders has been rapidly increasing over the last few months as a direct result of the strike, he says. Polyconcept can accept orders until midnight ET for next-day decorated shipment.

“Because of the strike, many customers have placed orders with other suppliers, and then when the products get held up at the West Coast port, they come to us,”Catone says.“These types of orders have been going gangbusters for us. We are getting business we may not have had.”

"When people are frantic, it’s best to stay calm in order to provide the best solutions.”

While he doesn’t have specific numbers on how much business has come in as a result of the strike, he says,“I bet we’ve gotten double-digit percentage growth in my territory (which is the Central region) the last six to nine months.

“In panic situations, everyone remembers when you pull them out of a fix. We are absolutely getting repeat business, as well as referrals, from those we help,”says Catone.“Yesterday, I talked to someone who told me we had pulled his company out of a jam. He said, ‘I don’t even know if you’re my rep, but they said go to you, you can make it happen.’”

Catone recommends getting all the information possible when things go wrong. Polyconcept offers different brands and shipping points, and where the items are shipping from is often important in order to save on freight costs.
“Having all the information handy helps us offer better solutions, which in turn, helps make the end-user happy,”he says.

When people are frantic, it’s best to stay calm in order to provide the best solutions. Focus on fixing the problem. After that, go back internally and address what went wrong. Determine if it was an order-processing problem or something else and fix it.

Innovative Solution Fosters Goodwill

Kerrie Hoffner, owner, of EmbroidMe of Decatur (asi/384562), and her team came up with a unique solution when a vendor botched the order and would not make good on it.

“We contracted hoodies to a new vendor who did not center the customer logo on the back,”Hoffner says.“The vendor made excuses and wouldn’t work with me to resolve the problem.”

The customer didn’t want EmbroidMe to suffer, but also did not want to take the hoodies. The solution?“We asked the client if they would consider letting us donate the hoodies to our local Salvation Army for the homeless.”Temperatures in the region were running below freezing at the time.

“I contacted the newspaper and they graciously entered a picture and brief description with our customers’ name and printed it,”Hoffner says. The client then decided to reorder the full order.

“He also graciously paid us cost for the original messed-up order,”she says.“It turned out OK, and we have a vibrant relationship with that company.”

Top Tips

When problems arise, how you stand up to it and behind it sets you apart, says Londe.“If you discover there is a problem, be up-front and share that information, but try and have a solution when you present the problem to the client,”he says.

Spell out the solutions, and don’t be afraid to say,“I goofed.”If the client calls and says there’s a problem, Londe recommends the following:

  1. Listen
  2. Acknowledge.
  3. Tell them you’ll take care of it.
  4. Give a timeframe for when you’ll get back to them.“Even if you don’t have a solution yet, tell them the steps you’ve taken to rectify the situation so they know you’re working toward solving it,”he offers.

Jean Erickson is a NJ-based contributor to Advantages.