A Valuable Lesson in Customer Service & Cultural Alignment: Avoid Making this Mistake

My experience started out with a vision and a great idea! I decided to print unique, plastic business cards because I wanted to make a powerful statement. I needed something unique that would reinforce what my business stands for (imbedding unique DNA in all aspects of a company’s business). So, I started a Google search, like 90% of Internet users today. Going through the first three pages, I was shocked to learn that 1) too many online print companies don’t provide telephone numbers and 2) how incredibly expensive plastic business cards are. A minimum order of 500 plastic cards averaged $550. Yikes! I couldn’t afford that kind of money for business cards, as a small business. Disappointed, I looked for options and I stumbled upon Alltime Print. They provided an option to print 250 cards for $226.00 (the clear option I chose cost a little extra) AND they listed a telephone number to call.

Immediately concerned about setting up the artwork correctly ($226 was a lot of money for me to spend and I needed to make sure they would be exactly what I ordered), I placed a call to Alltime Print and got a nice gentleman in the graphics department. Fred answered all of my questions and even offered to handle the files himself, without making me fill out the online order form.

Summarize experience so far: 1) I found what I was looking for online fairly easily, 2) I was able to talk to a live person to answer my questions, and 3) The art department made it easy for me to submit my artwork files. So far so good.

Here’s where the lesson in customer service comes in…

After 12 days, the business cards came to my door. And, much to my dismay, they were printed wrong. Instead of being clear, they were opaque and couldn’t be salvaged. I called Fred right away and told him what had happened. He asked me to take a photo of the card and he immediately forwarded the artwork to his manager and the owner of the company (cc’ing me) asking for a reprint due to their internal error.

Eight days later, I did not hear from anyone. I had to send a follow up email to the owner and manager. She replied saying, and I quote, “sorry for the mistake and sorry for the delay. We will do our best to ship them to you asap.” When I asked for a specific delivery date, none was provided. In fact, she never returned another email or phone call. After another 12 days went by,  I sent another email notifying them that the replacement cards still hadn’t been received. No return phone call. No return email.

On the following day, the package arrives, and the cards are printed wrong again. This time, I’m furious. The manager is avoiding contact with me and I still don’t have the cards that I asked for.

So, where was the breakdown? Whether Fred knew it or not, he was the only one providing me with great customer service. It wasn’t until the resolution of the issue was outside his scope of his work that there was a breakdown. He escalated the problem to his manager and the owner of the company and she never returned a phone call or sent a reply email. She never tried to resolve my issue, permanently damaging the image of the company and leaving a trail of bad publicity behind.  I was left with a $226 hit to my credit card for an end product I couldn’t use.

Needless to say, I disputed the charges on my credit card and I’m never using Alltime Print again.

I struggled to mention this experience because it is uncomfortable for me to create bad publicity for companies. I would much rather celebrate companies with unique DNA who are doing incredible things—putting them in the spotlight for being extraordinary. However, I couldn’t miss this opportunity to use this as an example for all of us. When we’re working hard to build our businesses, it’s difficult to see our companies through our customers’ eyes. But, it’s that introspective look that will reap rewards.

Alltime Print failed to see how their processes, or lack of processes (and standards), impacted their customer. One “touch point” was good, but the failure to communicate and resolve customer issues overshadowed any good that was created with the initial “touch point”.  Avoid making this same mistake by imbedding your unique DNA in all aspects of your business.