Who is Crazier…Our Clients…Or Us?

Anyone who has been in our industry a while has a few client horror stories to tell. I am no different. I do like to think, however,  that in every business situation, there are lessons that can be learned.

This column isn't just an opportunity to gripe, but to commiserate together and think about what it is that makes us successful. In the end, I'm happy to play Dr. Jeff and give you the
opportunity to vent.

Here are a couple of my horror stories:


We were called on to provide client appreciation gifts for an event. Typically these products are a bit higher end, but this time the client decided they wanted to give away an inexpensive grocery tote bag. The budget was to low to do something nice, but we proceeded within their parameters. (Warning sign # 1.) All the samples we provided were determined to be too "cheap". Really? How much can you expect from a bag that's a dollar and change? Could four different quality suppliers all have provided inferior products? (Warning sign # 2! Trouble ahead!)

Ultimately they settled on a laminated bag from one of our favorite suppliers, American Ad Bag. The order was delivered in plenty of time for the event and I was a bit surprised when the client called and said the bags were "defective." They initially said they weren't happy with the way the bags were folded (we found out that is the way they come from the factory). Next, they complained that the bags fell apart when something was put in them. I went to see the bags for myself and tried to explain that their expectation for this product were perhaps a bit unrealistic.

They told me these bags were unacceptable as client appreciation gifts. I was taught in business school that the customer is always right (maybe not?). Here is where supplier relationships come into play. American Ad Bag agreed to issue a call tag for the rejected bags. Keeping in mind that now this is a rush order, they went on to overnight another sample bag, which the client accepted. This left only two days for production to meet the "in hands" event date. Ultimately, this all worked out. I'm SO thankful to work with a quality supplier that went above and beyond the call of duty to help us take care of this client and make us look like heroes! Thanks American Ad Bag!

In another out-of-hand situation, a client we occasionally do business with asked us to sponsor a branded product for a high school youth tournament. We don't do any business with the school, but in consideration of wanting to help the kids and our client, we offered to do the agreed upon product at a greatly reduced cost.

Having been in this industry for MANY years, I knew that collecting sponsors' logos for these types of events is problematic. They usually come in the form of JPEG images you can't do anything with, or the classic "yes, I have my logo... here it is on this napkin".

To meet the "in hands" date, and prepare for what was probably coming, I padded the date I needed artwork accordingly. That day passed. With the event date looming, in came the bad logos. Since nothing was production ready, I called my good friend Brad Cairns from Promo-Cast to prepare the artwork. At this last-minute deadline, and with no direction from the client, we did the best we could "guessing" what they wanted.

With only a single day to approve and move the order ahead, the client requested two more large changes, one involving a lousy, bad clip art image they sent over to add and then later the image of an embroidery job to be redrawn and included. Brad's skill and commitment to giving the client what they wanted is to be commended.

At 5:20 p.m. that day, the client emailed requesting we change some things around AGAIN. At that point, my answer was NO, we needed to go with what we had. Thankfully we were able to move forward. With such a short deadline, again I was glad the order was going to our trusted supplier to get this job done in the short time we had. Kudos to our friends at Pro Towels for making their part happen without incident also. 

An old movie came to mind as I was going through these situations. From the classic 1976 movie Network..."I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." 

While working through all this, Brad and I asked ourselves why we care so much to bend over backward to help crazy clients. We complain the whole time, but in the end it's about serving them and hoping all the extra effort is appreciated. I think it may be about our faith as Christians and our values. We just accept that sometimes you need to go the extra mile to meet the client's needs. We can always say NO, but we try our hardest not to have to. And at the end of the day, I think that is what makes each of us successful, going the extra mile.

OK... I'm done with my rant. Dr. Jeff invites you to lay down on my counseling couch and share your horror stories. What lessons have you learned dealing with the "problem orders" in your career?

 © 2012 Jeff Solomon, MAS

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