August 2001
Who you gonna call?
When a dry spell hits, and it will, you have to hone in on the right customer
Two phrases are guaranteed to create havoc within print shops: “Our company cannot pay your bill,” and “We just found a mistake in our last printing job.” And while both of these situations can be disastrous to the financial health of your company, damage control must begin immediately.
In this issue, we’ll look at how to minimize the damage that results when a mistake does happen. Like everyone else who has spent years in this business, I have experienced being part of a team that made the mistake as well as being on the team whose customer did not check the original documentation correctly.

While you inevitably emit a huge sigh of relief when you find out the mistake was clearly made by your customer, I believe that the actions of the sales rep and the production staff should be the same regardless of who made the error. Most importantly, decisions to correct a problem must be made quickly and decisively since wrong information can inflict great harm on your customer.

Missing signature
The worst mistake that I have ever been involved with occurred with Norcen Energy’s annual report. In our plant we had a rule that on annual report production we would not make supers—in other words, we would go to final one-piece film for every colour. For some reason this procedure was not followed and, as a result, Conrad Black’s signature was left off the balance sheet. This error was discovered at about 4:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon when samples were delivered to our customer. The shareholders’ copies were to be mailed before midnight the same day.

With an error of this magnitude, there was a great fear that the missing signature might be only a small part of the problem. Our production staff formed two groups: one to identify the extent of the problem and how it occurred; the other to figure out how to imprint bound books with the missing signature and still meet the midnight deadline.
One employee called our supplier of letterpress printing and asked that enough staff stay on to run three machines. We also dispatched two other people, one to have rubber stamps made of the missing signature and the other to have letterpress cuts made that could be used for imprinting.

After some investigation, we found that the mistake was limited to the missing signature. However, the deadline was less than four hours away and we still had not delivered one book.

Some of our sales reps and production staff gathered at our supplier and formed a very crude production line with some people opening the reports at the page to be imprinted, others helping to hand feed them to the press operator, and still others repacking the books into cartons.
This process went on even after we had completed enough reports for the shareholders because we were also committed to making bulk shipments to Norcen’s offices throughout Canada and the United States, and to its financial advisors in Europe. To say that it was 48 hours of hell would be a gross understatement.

Obviously, this was a very expensive error compounded by emotional trauma for everyone. When we discovered the mistake we informed our client, and kept her abreast of our plans and progress throughout the night and during the post mortem. She, however, never seemed to become too panicky about the situation. Afterwards, she explained to us that she had confidence in our firm and knew that we “would solve the problem.” This woman continues to be a customer of Arthurs-Jones Clarke today.

Third strike
Another mistake occurred while we were printing the annual report of a major Canadian oil company. Handbound copies were delivered and one of the executives discovered an error in one of the charts. We were contacted about making this correction and, after putting a hold on the bindery, printed a new two-page sheet. Two days later we received another call. There were mistakes on other pages and a four-page signature would have to be reprinted.
All of this was taking place in the middle of March and finding press time for an additional run of over 100,000 sheets, let alone getting our hands on the right paper, was not easy. However, everything came together, and the form was reprinted. The bindery had bound about one third of the reports when we received a third call with the news that the chairman did not like the tone of his message and wanted it changed. This would require printing another eight-page signature.

Again, we scrambled for paper and press time and informed our customer that we could make the changes by the deadline if they could compress their mailing process to two days instead of three. At this point, the client would not change the mailing schedule and we were unable to proceed to the third reprint. In the end, despite all we had done, this client came away feeling that we had not fulfilled his expectations.

In both of these instances the mistakes cost thousands of dollars to correct though the cost was more significant to us than to the multinational oil firm. The important point of these stories is that no one spent time looking for scapegoats. Problems were recognized and enormous amounts of energy and resources were allocated to fixing the mistakes. While I believe that our reputation should have been enhanced by our efforts, I am afraid that this was accomplished only in one instance. No matter how much you try, you will inevitably fall short of pleasing some customers.

Regardless of the outcome, the understanding at Arthurs-Jones was that maitaining our reputation and nurturing the relationship with customers was our greatest concern and money could, somehow, always be replaced.
Duncan McGregor was president of the former Arthurs-Jones Inc., a Toronto-based, award-winning commercial printer. He led the $5 million-a-year firm to a five-fold increase in sales. He is now a consultant to the printing industry and can be reached at (416) 487-7666.
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