By Carro Ford September 2, 2003 -- Good decisions come from knowledge. Knowledge comes from experience. Experience comes from bad decisions. We’ve all made some bad decisions on the job. (That’s why we’re so good at what we do today.) Maybe yours was deciding to take on that new client, even though red flags were waving like the Fourth of July. Or maybe the project you thought would be a breeze turned out to be the customer from hell. It’s not always a fun to get the experience and knowledge we need to make good choices. Making good decisions is a lot easier if we can “cheat” and learn from the experiences of others. Take this opportunity to benefit from other industry professionals as they share their secrets for avoiding bad decisions. No Such Thing as Hellish Customers “ There are no ‘customers from hell’, only customers whose expectations were not matched by the delivered products or services,” says Joelle Inowlocki, diplomat and corporate marcom and customer relations manager for Scitex Vision. “Overselling a product can result in lots of problems when the euphoria of the acquisition is over, and the customer needs to work and produce with the system.” Although delivered from a vendor standpoint, her advice is valuable for any provider in the printing industry. “It is essential to know the customer thoroughly before selling him anything. These include the basics like needs, budget and applications, but you must also determine the customer’s digital knowledge and the ‘profile’ of the operators.” Bad experiences can happen when vendors don’t pay attention to customers and try to fit a square job into a round printer. “An increasing number of system providers are trying to adapt the application to the system instead of adapting the system to the requested application,” declares Inowlocki. “Consequently, we find in the market a number of unsatisfied customers who have not purchased the system answering their specific needs.” Setting Expectations Is Good Bidness “ Many of us who serve as publishers or commercial printers understand the importance of communicating terms and conditions in advance with clients,” says Gary Michael Smith, founder of Chatgris Press in New Orleans ( “The lack of such an understanding of what services we can and will provide, and at what cost, can result in a client getting a bad impression and having an overall negative experience, which in turn can be detrimental to our business.” Legwork can prevent headaches. For print vendors, this means a visit to the customer site to ascertain the technical conditions like humidity or temperature that are required by the sophisticated systems you are selling. There are other things that can be done in advance to avoid problems later. “Give the customer the list of approved media for the system and provide enough information on the kinds of applications that can be handled,” Inowlocki recommends. “Determine what it will take to provide the customer with the proper training once the system is delivered. Advise him on the best prepress and finishing equipment for the system.” Communicate Without a Contract Experienced document professionals agree: good communication is the key to a good experience. “Most important to avoiding escalation of problems is to communicate,” says Inowlocki. “At every moment the customer must be able to contact you and trust you are acting to solve his problem.” “My company is a small endeavor, focusing more on self-published works than publishing or printing others’ tomes,” says Smith. “Occasionally, however, there are works that I just can’t refuse because of my interest in the particular topic. But even when publishing books by others, I still don’t use a contract. I believe in simplicity, but I am cautious with regards to ensuring that my clients know what I’m doing and when.” Never Charge by the Job Smith offers some tips to avoid the consequences of bad decisions. “I never, ever charge by the job. This leaves too much opportunity for the client to return with revisions and changes for which I won’t get paid. I always charge by the hour, and estimate as closely as possible the anticipated duration of the project. But be sure the client understands that this is only as estimate—the job can run over or under the estimate. “Don’t miss deadlines—yours or your clients’. Besides appearing unprofessional, you need to adhere to requirements mandated by your client as this may affect their press releases, training, launches and other plans. “Keep good records. Nothing is more embarrassing than having your billing come into question, and you can’t show—in writing—your timekeeping,” Smith says. “By following these simple rules you should be able to stave off disputes and negative publicity.”