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Paula Fargo

Every Sign Company Makes Mistakes

Just make sure you handle the aftermath properly.

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LET’S ALL FACE the cold, hard facts for a moment: We folks in the signmaking business are in a time-sensitive, custom-manufacturing industry. Adding one and one together gives you too many opportunities for errors to occur. How you handle these unfortunate situations is a great chance to make lemonade from lemons, setting yourself apart from your competitors.

First, how and why do these little errors end up costing us so much time, money, aggravation and trust? And aren’t they always the tiniest of tiny missteps that cause the most expensive mistakes? The proofreading that was rushed through because of the tight deadline. The quality-control check that was at best perfunctory since the employee was on their phone swiping left. The gloss lamination used instead of matte because someone didn’t read the work order or client’s email closely enough. The beautiful and costly mounted posters that were damaged in shipping because someone didn’t take the proper care in packaging them.

The list goes on and on, and often seems interminable. The myriad opportunities for Murphy (of Murphy’s Law) to rear his ugly head and deal out his unhappy justice are endless. If I had a nickel … oh, never mind.

The mistake happens — now what?

Venial and Mortal Errors

In our shop, there are two categories of errors, venial and mortal (I just made that up actually, but it sounds so good, I think I’ll start using them!)

The venial errors are ones in which our team catches the problem before the job is delivered to the client. We have a chance to correct the issue prior to getting egg all over our collective faces and possibly losing the customer. If we are not going to meet the deadline due to the redo, we communicate with the client to let them know of the new delivery date if that’s acceptable to them. Not ideal, but also not getting yelled at for giving them a bad product. We might even let them know that the project fell short of our high standards, and we want to redo it: a powerful message to the customer. If we can fix the issue without missing the deadline, that is the superior choice.

How about those mortal errors where the client has the opportunity to see our gross failure and call to complain and/or reject the job? That’s where you have the chance to either sink or swim.

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We have already established the millions of reasons for failures — some our fault, some the client’s fault, some a nasty combination of both. In my experience, here’s the best way to handle the situation when a client calls to let you know there’s a problem with their sign order:

  1. Apologize or empathize. At this point, we are not thinking in terms of fault – that comes later. Right now, we have an upset and dissatisfied client either in front of us or on the other end of the phone line that all of a sudden looks like a hissing snake. Simply start with an apology to diffuse the immediate situation: “I’m so sorry there was an issue, I’m sorry you have to deal with this, I’m sorry this is causing you stress.” While accepting blame for something not your fault could be costly or set a bad precedent with the customer, offering a straightforward “I’m sorry” will normally stop the customer in their tracks, allowing you time to get to the bottom on what actually happened. The most important effort right now should be letting the customer know you hear them, empathize with them, and will look into what happened.
  2. Investigate. Look at proofs, review emails, check any samples you kept, see what happened and why.
  3. Determine the solution. Does the sign have an incorrect date? Can it be fixed? Is there a slight quality issue that can possibly be smoothed over with future assurances and maybe a small discount on a future job? Is there enough time to make it right? Is it a complete redo? Often, if you simply ask the client what they are looking for, they come up with a solution that is less onerous than the one you are willing to offer. Just ask them, respectfully, “How can we make this right for you?”
  4. Fix it. If the customer wants something less than you were prepared to offer, then by all means, just do it right away! If the client is demanding more than you feel is fair, then try to negotiate a solution that can work for both of you.
  5. Capitalize on it. Once you have fixed the problem, deliver it back to the client with something nice, like a branded giveaway, a box of donuts, a dozen roses, whatever you want, just to reiterate how much you want to make things right.
  6. Learn from it. Whether it was a client error or an internal issue at your shop, figure out what went wrong and take steps in your procedures to account for this in the future and hopefully prevent it from happening again.

There is research showing that often clients are more loyal to businesses that make errors and do a good job handling them, than to businesses that never mess up in the first place. According to Salesforce, “… making mistakes creates authenticity, builds customer trust, helps identify areas of improvement, gives direct feedback, helps to meet customer expectations, and forces you to innovate.”

So try not to let mistakes at your signshop ruin your day. Look for the silver lining and set yourself and your team apart from your competitors by handling them the right way.

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