Two days ago this blog post would have had a different title. Something along the lines of:
Oh FFS Kill, Kill, KILL!
Stupid Bloody Buggering Bastard Couriers
That was all because of couriers, if you hadn't guessed. However this is a blog post that I can add to a (now) series of blog posts. The first post, if you read it, was about The Insurance Frauds and I posted it earlier this week.
I'm going to focus this time on customer service, in fact I am going to focus on great customer service and how that is linked to the notion of caring. Specifically it is about how some people care, and how some people care so much they go the extra mile. It is a pride, a honour and a part of them that makes them feel they cannot let people down.
I produce a number of promotional items for both my own company and for a number of voluntary/not for profits that I work with or belong to. These are people like FLOSSUK, Lancaster and Morecambe Makers, Perl Foundation, Enlightened Perl Organisation and the London Perl Workshop. These items are infrequent, often connected to events and are needed at the lowest budget available as the organisations rely on donations/membership.
This year I was producing some die-cut stickers (6 designs for three different groups) and some A4 trifold pamphlets. I wanted them in time for FOSDEM, which is where I currently am and writing this post in my hotel room.
I use a couple of local, to me in Lancaster, print buyers/marketeers to work with to buy print. So why don't I just go to a printers? Well let me cover that? Print buying is fraught with variables:
- You have to know what the print options are - types of:
- processes (types of) for printing;
- You have to buy high volumes to get low prices, or have printers you send lots of work to;
- You have to be prepared to bid, bargain, wrangle and hassle;
- You have to know a wide number to get fast quotes and compare them;
- You have to be able to proof dubious client supplied material and either fix it or get it resupplied without annoying supplier or client;
- You have to be able to smile when everyone is shouting at the person in the middle - that's you.
So I use a middle person, someone I can trust, who can get those better prices and who knows the industry and area.
I had a fairly rush job for my stickers. I needed die cut on vinyl, I needed them cheap and I needed them quickly. My marketing guy, and at this point I am going to name him as Wayne from @blinkpreston, was involved in a three-way print buying round that I set up. I always do a little cost research and then offer it to a couple of people to see if they can help/do better.
As always Wayne got me the best quotes and worked the hardest to get the best deal possible by ringing around his contacts. So the job went out to him. The pamphlets arrived and looked great, the stickers were due the next day. I needed them by the Wednesday evening as I was leaving early Thursday for FOSDEM. The next day was Tuesday:
Tuesday: Stickers did not arrive. I contacted Wayne Tuesday evening and he was very surprised and like me concerned.
Wednesday: Wayne got onto the printers early. The stickers had left to the courier in time to be delivered by express delivery on Tuesday. Wayne contacted the courier (and now our heart sinks) the courier hadn't put them on an express delivery they were in France and due for delivery on Friday to the UK.
Wednesday: Wayne tried to re-arrange delivery to Belgium, get the stickers to my hotel. This was impossible. The stickers had gone through customs. They had to be shipped to the UK.
Wednesday: Mild panic and worry. I feel like I have let down Open Source people and I am getting similar noises from Wayne. He, at this point, sounds devastated as he takes all his work very personally and relies on not just his prices but his reputation to deliver and provide - trust me that delays in the print industry are commonplace so this is a hard act to achieve.
Thursday: I travel to FOSDEM early.
Thursday: Wayne comes up with a solution. We can't have the vinyl stickers for FOSDEM. However after consulting with me for acceptance, he redoes the designs onto rectangular stickers. Wayne then organises to have 200 of each sticker design printed in Belgium and delivered to my hotel at his cost, and begs forgiveness for letting me down.
It is at this point that I am stunned at how much work has gone into this. This was not a large profit job, so at this point the sheer amount of wrangling and phone calls must have killed any value for @blinkpreston. We are in strange territory. This is pure Customer Service, Service Quality and Caring.
They care so much about making sure I get the best possible service that they are into loss, and for a sole-trader that's a big deal. This is all about going the extra mile, in fact right now we are approaching measuring customer service distances using light.
Friday: As promised, delivered to my hotel, 1200 stickers (6 designs x 200) printed at no cost to me or the organisations involved. The 6,000 stickers we also had printed are being safely delivered in the UK to be used at other events.
The Cost of Doing Business
Sometimes the cost is to ourselves and from ourselves. What this entire incident proves is it isn't just about keeping your reputation up. At any point I could have been offered a partial refund, a free service next time, money off, vouchers, apologies on bended knee, the usual plethora of available options that we in business can give.
I would have expected the communication with the courier. I would have expected apologies and explanations. I would have liked some kind of discount. What I didn't expect, and I feel sure most of us wouldn't, is for someone to blow their profits on the work in trying to get it resolved and then go further and get a solution. I didn't just get customer care. I didn't just get friendly service.
I didn't just get a ‘proportional response’.
I got so far greater than that. We were both let down by the courier, I was not let down by my marketeer. @blinkpreston, at their own expense, gave me a solution. They made me feel satisfied and glad to have spent money with them.
I wasn't joking in Note 2 below. Follow this man. Send him work. Send him money. We need more people in business like this.
[Don't forget that you can join in this conversation by using the comments form or by tweeting at @shadowcat_mdk]
 Someone I can talk to and know they are working for me. is always a bonus as well.
 Find him on Twitter, follow him, if you can, send him work we need people like this.
 I may like using intermediaries, but I worked in publishing for 10 years so I always like to do some leg work and research first.
 It feels unprofessional to state which courier is involved since I am not in direct relationship with them. Wayne and the printer are their contracted client and customer. However there is something explosive about this particular group.