In Good Repair
We learned a lot from “The Breakfast Club.” People are not defined by their cliques (or their reasons for being in detention); always bring a lunch big enough to share; and this cold, hard truth: The world is an imperfect place—screws fall loose all the time.
John Bender’s assessment of the world is true. The proverbial screw will fall loose. Problems will occur.
In the print and promo industry, these problems can take many forms: a quality or damage issue, unmet delivery requirements, factories running out of stock, improperly shipped orders, a failure to follow up.
Issues like these are inevitable. It’s how distributors handle these problems, how they minimize the damage, that determine how successful they’ll be in the industry.
Some may be tempted to avoid the issues, but avoidance isn’t a solution. “Like a small leak in your roof, if you ignore it, it only gets worse,” explained Randall C. “Euby” Eubanks, vice president of sales, owner and partner of Suncoast Marketing, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The strongest companies tackle the issues head on. They recognize the screw has fallen loose, pick it up and fasten it back into position. They acknowledge the problem happened, address the issue and find a solution.
Does your company have standard operating procedures in place to minimize the loss when a problem arises? Here’s a three-step approach for damage control to implement now—before the next issue comes to light.
1. Be Ready for the Inevitable
Distributors can’t always be ready for every situation. But if they know—and accept—that problems will occur, they can set up practices ahead of time. A key to preparation practices is information collection. “The frustration comes into play when you are trying to piece everything together without facts, that certainly makes the situation more complicated and frustrating,” said Cliff Quicksell, MAS+, sales and marketing consultant for iPROMOTEu, Wayland, Mass.
“It is critical to have all of the facts before jumping to any conclusions,” he continued. “In this way, you have a clearer sense of the issue and, furthermore, can take steps to ensure it does not reoccur.”
The more information distributors have, the easier it will be to understand the issue, see where things went wrong and determine the best solution for all parties. For iPROMOTEu, that means taking notes throughout the entire order process. “Our software program allows both our affiliates and their respective [customer service representatives] to place notes into the system,” Quicksell explained, noting the importance of having a paper trail of all conversations, emails and changes when it comes to analyzing an issue.
2. Focus on the Solution, Not the Blame
Ultimately, each issue should be treated as if it were an internal issue. “If we sold it, it is our baby to take care of, regardless of where the error or the issue took place,” Eubanks said.
One of the biggest mistakes a distributor can make in damage control, according to Eubanks, is to say, “That is not my fault” or “That is not my job.” He or she needs to take ownership of the issue in order to find the best solution.
Quicksell agreed on the importance of accepting responsibility. “Be accountable and own it if you were in error,” he noted. “We cannot expect a supplier to eat our mistakes, and suppliers should not expect us to do the same. There are enough issues dealing with clients that we should bring those issues internally; ultimately, it is our end-client that we want to satisfy.”
It does no good to point fingers. The problem has happened. It needs to be fixed. Focus on the solution. “We concentrate on ‘fixing the problem’ long before attempting to ‘fix the blame,’” Eubanks said.
3. Turn Problem Areas Into Bright Spots
No one likes to admit they have problems—the same goes for companies. But when a solution that appeals to all parties is found, it becomes something worth sharing. “Most of these unfortunate situations can actually become glowing examples of how different and pleasing working with [the company] can be,” Eubanks said. With a workable solution, he noted, “suddenly the negative becomes a positive.”
As Eubanks explained, when a distributor arrives at a solution through prompt attention, professional courtesy, calm demeanor and personal care, these one-time problems become “selling opportunities.” “Suddenly, others there take notice,” he noted. “Your reputation is not only spared, but promoted.”
In fact, Eubanks goes so far as to intentionally bring these resolutions to the attention of clients. “When I prepare an annual review for a client, I list any and all errors or mistakes we encountered during the year—and how we fixed them,” he said. “Clients remember, and they remember it more positively when we remind them.”