There are occasions during the workday when you need to deploy critical communication skills. What you say and how you say it can be the difference between resolving a potential problem and kicking up to the next level in disaster.
Last week I spoke to a shop owner that completed a rush contract screen-printing order. It was a simulated process, two location job for a repeat customer. They do work for them constantly, and this particular job had to go out in a hurry. The client’s artist sent them the art, with each of the colors for the files already separated.
Because of the rush, and the fact that the client sent separated art, the shop neglected to send an art approval confirming the image. The art department didn’t think to verify the separations matched the provided mock-up. The problem the shop faced was that an item in the design separations was the wrong color. Nobody caught the mistake until it was out the door and already on a UPS truck. Ut oh.
So what do you do now, my client asked?
In my view, you have to get ahead of this problem. There wasn’t anything wrong with the technical aspects of the print. It shipped out on time, with the same fantastic print quality that the shop always produces. The initial issue was that they skipped their own internal review steps in order to “save time.” They just assumed it was ok because someone else did the work.
As professionals, this is our mistake when we let that happen. I’m sure plenty of shops would just say to keep quiet or sweep the circumstance under the rug. After all, the customer provided the separated art files. What’s the big deal?
My take, however, is that the shop should have known better. There were several chances along the way to catch the mistake. In the art department, as the seps obviously didn’t match the mock-up. On the production floor, as they should have reviewed the mock-up to the first strike off for manager approval. And even on the catcher’s table, as the mock-up was available to review as the shirts were rolling down the dryer belt.
This is why the shop has to own up to the mistake and let the customer know. Sending an email or calling them with a “Please let me know your thoughts” type conversation builds trust. It’s the honest and professional way to handle the situation.
It’s always difficult to say you made a mistake. Those words never taste good. But trust me, these problems get noticed sooner or later. Especially with orders like this one that are destined to become repeat orders for a program.
Also, I like the “Please let me know your thoughts” sentence as it isn’t introducing to the customer anything about a reprint, a discount or any financial band-aid. Maybe the art was changed and the printer wasn’t in on the loop. Maybe it isn’t a big deal. Maybe their world will come to an end and their head will explode like in the movie Scanners. Ka-plow!
But when you use the phrase “Please let me know your thoughts”, you are placing the question at the feet of the customer to decide how important the problem is to them. How much responsibility are they going to take? Is it a minor inconvenience or a major disaster? The client will decide if they need any sort of concession or reprint. Then you can negotiate what makes sense to your shop. Don’t just immediately go to “We’ll give you 50% off the order for the mistake.”
As it turned out, my client took my advice and used the magic phrase. In this case, the customer actually sold out of the shirt quickly and already placed a reorder. No discount was needed or given, and the client took full responsibility for the challenge. Some trust was earned with the heads up alert. Everyone vowed to be more careful in the future. No harm, no foul.
They dodged a bullet though.
Stick to your guns for procedures when you are rushed. Yes, it may be quicker to skip a step because you don’t have time. However, what would happen if that order listed above would have had to be reprinted with the correct color scheme? What if it was for an event? Time can be your enemy too. That’s when the cost of correction multiplies quickly.
Doing something twice is never faster. Slow down.
- When taking the order, know exactly what the customer expects and clearly communicate that on all work order instructions. Yes, it’s your job in customer service or sales to be an art expert. This industry deals with images. Know how many colors it takes to do the job. Ask for help or training. Learn the industry vocabulary.
- The art department needed to review the mock-up against the separated file and double check it matched. If you are provided art files, it’s your job to preflight them and make sure they will work as intended. Let’s face it, we work in a specialized industry. Choking an underbase plate in screen-printing or tweaking a digitized embroidery file for performance garments so they won’t pucker is an art unto itself. Your job is to make what the client hands you work for the production in your shop.
- While an art approval may not have prevented this problem, as the challenge was in the separated file, the shop could have sent one off. Usually, this step ferrets out challenges as the creative team would have been more attentive. By the way, for rush art approvals use action language such as “Your job is slated to print tomorrow, please approve this file by 2:30 today so we can burn the screens and your order can ship on time.”
- They could also have sent a digital pic of the first shirt printed. Especially with simulated process work, what the artist designs, and what is pulled off the press may be different. Not everyone has great separation skills. If something looks odd, is critical, or is a high-dollar print run, getting another set of eyeballs on the print can be a good thing. Know your production schedule and let the client know that they will be receiving a digital picture at 10:30 am or whatever. Be ready. Get good lighting and snap a photo. Zero in on key areas that maybe are a concern.
- The production manager could have compared the shirt to the customer provided mock-up. Step one in starting any production needs to be quality. Have a quality control review. Check for print quality, registration, image location, “is it straight?”, moiré patterns in halftones, or any other challenges. This is your last chance to catch spelling errors. Absolutely compare the print to the art approval or a mock-up. I like to use my finger and just go one item at a time back and forth. This to this. That to that. Make sure you break out that PMS book and check color hues too. If anything is off, fix it.
Remember the old carpenter rule: “Measure twice, cut once.”
That adage applies to our industry too. Double check. In order entry. With the artwork. With the screens or digitizing. With the registration. With production quality. With color matching. With the shipping address and labels.
Sometimes another review on something prevents your shop from having a difficult conversation later.
Got a similar example?
“Please let me know your thoughts on this.”
“You can’t fix stupid.” – Ron White
“Change is the end result of all true learning.” – Leo Buscaglia
“If you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree.” – Jim Rohn
Need some help measuring a challenge in your shop?
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