Question: Customers Are Always Right— Or Are They?

A DISTRIBUTOR ASKS: A customer sent me an email with the wording for her product imprint; the date was written with slashes, as in 4/24/2019. I sent a confirmation email showing the date as I had received it but I did not send an actual virtual image of the product with the imprint. I received an approval on the imprint. After the product was printed and shipped, the customer said it was unacceptable. She expected the date would be written out as April 24, 2019, and asked me to redo the order. Does anyone have advice as to how I should handle this situation? It’s a small order with not much profit.


This is why it’s important to provide a virtual proof. Some might suggest that you should offer a discount, but the problem is that the client will still have what they perceive as a “bad” product. If it is small, I would redo the order and, at the same time, see if the supplier will help with the cost.

Allan Clair
A&A Specialty Advertising

Fort Myers, Florida


It is very unfortunate that your customer is not taking responsibility for her signature. If you choose to work with her in the future, be aware of her irresponsibility. If you redo it without any recourse or information for her to understand how she has contributed, it will be an admission of guilt for you, and I don’t see that you have done anything wrong. If it’s small and you simply want to get this off your plate, redo it, then decide whether she’s a customer who you want to engage with further.

Jae M. Rang, MAS
JAE Associates, Ltd.
Oakville, Ontario


It depends on how good of a client this is for you. If there is potential for larger future orders, then just redo it as a courtesy. I would reinforce how important it is for them to double-check the order information for accuracy, and that it is the reason for getting their approval before production to avoid any inaccuracies. It shouldn’t be a big deal to redo it if it is a small order.

If they are not that great of a client, you can always tell them they approved it as is and they received what they approved. Maybe offer a redo at a 50 percent discount and again reinforce the approval process. They may decide to go elsewhere, but sometimes it is better to cut your losses on a bad client than to have to deal with this issue again from them.

Either way, we always require a factory proof to be approved by our client before production. It really saves a lot of headaches if you have the time to do so. I hope this helps.

Renee Flewwellin
Brand Fuel, Inc.

Morrisville, North Carolina


I’m sorry to hear this. We have all gone through this at one time or another. It is for this exact reason that we have our customers sign off on everything before it goes to print, and then we have their signature approval. Oftentimes, I have to create our own virtual proof based on our communication with the vendor, and we send that out on an official company form. We have found that SignRequest is a great tool to take care of this electronically. The customer is not required to scan and fax or email back the electronic form.

Jean Bruckert (Shellie)
Winter Springs, Florida


If you want to keep the customer, redo it. They are not going to pay you anything otherwise. Call the supplier and talk to your sales rep. If you explain the situation, they may give you a break on the cost of the item.

Dave LaRusso
DVL Enterprises, Inc./MPG Tandem
Fenton, Missouri


There is a great deal to learn from this order. I would suggest that you “eat” the order and redo it just to show you are the better person. Once this order is in your rearview mirror, decide whether the customer is worth keeping. I was once told very early in my business career that you are allowed to fire your customers. I nearly fell off my chair when I heard this statement. I have since come to realize that not all customers are good people. Granted, if it was an honest oversight and the customer was not just trying to make you pay for their error, then the way you handle the challenge will build a better relationship.

I once had a rather large job ($1,500 cost) running on the machines, and as I walked past, I noticed the two colors in the design were reversed. I asked the operator how many pieces she had done this way and she said that was the final set. Needless to say, I just saw the rent payment for that month vanish before my eyes. I called the customer and explained the situation, reordered replacements and finished the job as specified. We had to delay delivery by two days, but it was communicated to my customer that we would not let them down.

Mike Miller
Prolmage Apparel, LLC
Clifton, New Jersey


This is why proofs are so important. I like to say that we only make one mistake—it’s just repeated hundreds or thousands of times. We do custom, imprinted products. You have to have a proof approved prior to production. I don’t understand a supplier who doesn’t do a proof as part of the production process. That’s crazy. It’s been well stated here. If you want to keep this client, make it right.

Jeff Solomon, MAS
HALO Branded Solutions –
Santa Clarita, California


We always provide digital layout proofs with a proof disclaimer. It is the customer’s responsibility to verify that the layout format and art details are correct. However, try to work with customers if they miss a detail when reviewing their proof and the artwork is printed incorrectly. Because we have written ‘approval’ on proofs, we will not redo the order for free, but we may offer a discount either on the order they received or on a new order, especially if they are an established customer. In your situation, you may wish to offer a discount to redo the order as a good will effort. For future orders, I recommend sending a digital layout plus a proof disclaimer to your customers and require the customer to approve the layout in writing.

On a similar note, we had a situation with a vendor who sent us a proof that we approved without realizing they had omitted an art detail that was in the .ai file we submitted. Their graphics department removed a very small, thin line in the art, which we did not notice was missing in the proof. That thin line was part of the customer’s logo. The vendor offered us a discount to redo the order, which was acceptable. Since we had not noticed the artwork change, they acknowledged and accepted responsibility for removing the line. We accepted responsibility for approving an incorrect layout. We appreciated the discount from the vendor. The vendor could have easily stood their ground and not offered any compensation since we approved the layout with the mistake. Mistakes happen; it is how we resolve them that matters. Each situation is different but working out compromises when possible is often the best solution.

Susan Cutting
Hi-Tex Flags & Advertising Specialties
San Antonio, Texas


This is always a difficult situation. The client approved the art as you sent it, which puts the responsibility on them, but you could have brought their attention to the date and the way it was written and asked for clarification, or at least made them understand that what they see is what they get. We did a banner for a customer and had his approval on the art, but when he got the banner he wasn’t happy with one of the colors. We offered, since he had approved the art, to replace it at our cost. He didn’t like that option and we didn’t feel we were responsible either, so we did not replace the banner and we haven’t heard from him since. The risk is that you may have an unhappy customer and they will likely spread the word about their unhappy experience. Lessons learned.

Mary DeWald
Ink Nutz
Monroe, Washington


Sometimes you have to draw a line. As you probably know, it is a small order, and 90 percent of it is most likely to be a pain in the “asset.” Per your facts, the client approved it. You do not want this kind of a client in the future. I would write the client, stating:

Dear XXX,

Thank you for your email. We pride ourselves on accuracy and great client communications. Part of that process is a typeset proof that is approved by the client so there are no errors and no assumptions that may be incorrect. In this case, we followed the established industry and our company policies by having you sign off on the typeset proof. We have no way of knowing that you meant something else when you supplied us with your written request in that format, and when you approved the typeset proof. If we had made an error, we would immediately take ownership of it and correct it. Here, we followed your written instructions in the letter. We appreciate your business. Thank you very much.

Zigmund Sepanski
Rancho Santa Margarita, California



Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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Comments (1)
John Lavelle
June 11, 2019
Seriously, this is an easy one. Redo it for free. Unfortunately you put yourself in this situation by taking a shortcut, and one of the best an honorable ways to take care of this is is to redo it for free. I am betting that the cost of a bad reputation is way more expensive than redoing the order. Plus the experience you learned from this hiccup is worth more than the order as well. This isn't and never was on the customer, many customers can not picture what their products will look like in real life, they aren't as creative as you. Live and definitely learn.
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