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What is reasonable to expect from your printer?

Anybody who knows just a little about commercial printing will tell you about the “mystique” it has. (And when I say mystique, it’s really a nice way of saying “lack of transparency and customer service.”) For such an old profession, the printing industry hasn’t evolved in the way it interacts with its customers.

Far be it from me to spout off platitudes. I’m not a highly paid customer service guru. But I know what I want when it comes to a service provider and I would venture to guess that most people do too. I want someone to be responsive to my needs, to treat me fairly, make my life easier, be an expert, and own up to their mistakes when they happen. That used to come with a handshake. Now we gird our loins for a fight as we dial the phone … that is if we get anyone on the phone at all.

So, what is reasonable to expect from your printer? I don’t think it’s at all outlandish to know, in advance, how much you’re going to pay for your project. I think it’s within expectations to know when you’re going to see a proof. I believe you should know when it’s going to arrive at your door and be able to change the production speed and shipping method if you need your finished product faster. And I believe you should receive exactly the kind of service you want from your printer. Online printer as vending machine? No problem. Need to have someone talk you through the entire process? You got it. In either case, you should expect to get someone on the phone immediately or to respond to your email within the same business day.

If all this sounds reasonable, then why doesn’t it happen regularly? Well, good service is not only hard to come by these days, it’s just plain hard. Giving good, thorough service is hard work. It takes vast amounts of dedication on the part of employees and careful training, clear values statements and trust from executives. It saves money to say no. It decreases staff expenses when humans don’t answer the phones. It’s easy to nickel and dime. What’s hard is developing a company culture in which employees—from front door to loading dock—genuinely care about their customers’ success.

I know a lot of people, including me, who have made it a point to buy from vendors who provide excellent customer service and high value while avoiding those that don’t. Personally, I just can’t be bothered. If you’re the same way and you’re still putting up with a printer who has that certain “mystique” … maybe you should ask yourself, why?