The most important job a customer service representative performs is the critical training of customers. Well-trained customers are a delight to work with and profitable for your company. They are also typically happy customers who bear loyalty to you and your company. But the customers are always right. They may not appreciate our attempts at training them. Just like Pavlov's dog, they don't need to know you're training them; they just need to be conditioned to respond in the desired ways. Conditioned response is a by-product of gentle leading and effective communication. Here are a few things I have found useful in my years of working with customers.


Customer Bootcamp

Training begins at the initial contact. Of course, all the prospect is asking for at this point is a price but he really wants to know the rest of the story as well. Be sure to tell them during the initial quoting stages what your turnaround times are, whether they will need to pay in advance, the postage policies on paying in advance and overage disposition policies. We even fax a copy of the Industry Trade Customs along with every quote.


Ask to see copies of their mailpiece before quoting whenever possible. Offer suggestions that could lower costs (letter size vs. flat size, orientation of piece affecting automation discounts, paper thickness, etc. or improve response rates. Be sure they understand this is part of the service you provide and that it costs them nothing extra. I even offer to look at the specs for mailpieces even if they want to have someone else mail it for them.


Question unclear instructions. Does the customer really want you to do something that you know is silly or does he just not know what the alternatives are. A good example would be, does he really want to print an "Address Services Requested" endorsement on a piece that is mailing to a purchased list? Does he know the post office will charge him for each of the pieces returned? If the customer insists this is what he wants to do, at least you can privately congratulate yourself that you warned him.


At What Point Do We Communicate With the Customer?

Communicate from initial contact at the time of the quote, during your follow-up on the quote, again when the order is placed, during the job process and after the job is completed.


Give your customers the information they need about your normal lead times, overage disposition, material receiving policies and data transfers. Then, tell them what you need to complete their project (purchase orders, advance postage, advance payment if applicable, etc.).


Offer help and expertise. Once they have identified you as an expert in direct mail, most of your customers will "run things past you" before they do anything. This has the enviable effect of lessening the number of times you go "begging" at the post office for printer's error waivers and it creates customers who are dependent on you and your company for their direct mail needs. Give their materials more than a cursory glance and look for the things the post office will look for. Identify potential problems the post office may not reject a mailing because the envelope has the return address in the lower left corner but that won't stop them from delivering a high percentage of the mailing back to your customer.


Offer additional services. If the customer wants pricing for mailing a self-mailer with their supplied labels, show them a quote with estimated postage for that and for you handling the data processing and label generation. Many times the savings in postage is thousands of dollars, and you've garnered a little of that savings for your company.


Always follow through on promises. If your customer is going to be trained to depend on you, then they need to be able to depend on you. Also, when you follow-up with them, make sure they know what you did for them. If you jumped through hoops at the post office to get them to accept that piece with the out of state permit printed on it, make sure they know you did that and strongly encourage them to correct their art now, while they're thinking about it, for the next time.


Now I don't have to worry about unrealistic expectations and firehouse deadlines. Yeah right, dream on.


Greg McMahon is vice president of Operations with The Lloyd Schuh Company in Little Rock, Arkansas. He has worked in various capacities in the printing and mailing industry since 1977, including machine operator, pressman, supervisor, customer service representative, production manager and customer service manager.


The Lloyd Schuh Company is the oldest direct mail production and promotional product sales company in Arkansas. Their motto: To provide our customers with the best value in promotional products and direct mail services and to treat them honestly and ethically while doing so. For additional information, call 501-374-2332.