Build Your Business:

Critical Customer Training

By Marshall Atkinson, Contributing Writer

The most commonly used method to define color in the graphic-arts world is the Pantone Matching System (PMS). To help customers understand what it means, spend some time with a PMS book to help narrow down color choices.

February 23, 2017

Do you want to prevent unnecessary customer friction or problems before they arise? If so, maybe your shop should instill a “customer-training program.”

While we all devote time to employee training, educating customers on how your shop operates can help mitigate problems later, possibly retaining their business.

A well-educated customer is easier to work with, makes better choices, understands limitations — and even places better orders.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Define the Expected Outcomes: This is the most important rule when building your customer-training program.  It involves aligning your customer’s idea of what he wants with what you can deliver.

This can involve any order detail, but let’s use ink color as an example. The most commonly used method to define color in the graphic-arts world is the Pantone Matching System (PMS). To help customers understand what it means, outline that this method is the de facto standard in the printing industry and spend some time with a PMS book to narrow down his choice of using “blue” ink in a design to “PMS 286” blue ink instead.

Training your customer on this subject tells him that you know what you are doing. Plus, it sets your shop up for future success by clearly defining the expectation regarding order specifics. Determining the PMS color gives you a measureable target, plus it’s repeatable for future orders.

2. Establish a Timeline for Results: Educate customers on how long each step takes. What happens if you’ve sent artwork for approval and it takes him a few days to review and reply? Will that throw off your production schedule?A delay can have a domino effect on the rest of the jobs slated for production.

Present your approval form with a note that states: “Please approve or suggest changes to this artwork by xx/xx/2017 in order to maintain your shipping date of xx/xx/2017.” By defining the date by which you need approval, you also are suggesting that any delay could alter the shipping date. This technique also can alleviate pressure from last-minute change requests.

3. Communicate Questions or Frustrations: Open dialogue is the key to success when discussing an order or when things go awry. Make adjustments and get back on track. We all wish customers would always send perfect, easy-to-print jobs with plenty of time allotted for production. In reality, we constantly are faced with supply-chain pressures, ambiguous instructions, missing information, unintended consequences and frustration.

Regardless of what happens, don’t let things linger or fester. Be accountable for your mistakes, but also point out what’s not working on the customer’s end. Be open and honest, and facilitate calm discussion.

For example, you could say, “I noticed this on the last order. Could we do it this way?” Such conversations shouldn’t become “complaint fests;” rather, use them to discuss why an alternative method may work better. Remember, pointing out a problem without suggesting a solution is called whining.

Most of your customers don’t understand what it takes to do everything in your shop. Explaining the processes and training your customer on these hidden facets of the industry can save you a lot of headaches.

4. Define Limitations: We all need boundaries to be able to work easily together. What are they for your shop?

Do you take orders with a text message? Can a customer send a Facebook question on a Saturday at 10:45 p.m. and expect an immediate response? What happens if he drops off three boxes of shirts at the back door and expects them printed by Wednesday?

Customer training also includes business details. When is payment due? What happens if there is a defect or misprint? If something is misspelled on customer-supplied artwork, who is at fault?

Include a branded shop package that outlines these items in detail, with clear examples of what they mean. Put this on your website in an FAQ section and make it downloadable. Print handouts and place them on the front counter. Leverage your rules and procedures to build better workflow.

5. All Actions Matter: Your actions determine your customer’s expectations. If you are slow to respond to an email or present a quote, that standard will be ingrained. If you print and ship a flawed sample, then he will assume the rest of the order will look that way.

If one of your staff members is rude to a customer, then he will perceive that as how the entire company operates. That’s why it is critical that you make a positive impression on every customer.

Think of your company as a duck gliding across a lake. It looks effortless, but there’s some furious paddling happening underwater and out of view. That’s your shop.

Is your process easy and effortless for customers? What do you require to make it so?

6. Show Examples:
One of the most effective ways to train any customer is with a simple shop tour. Guide him around the building and point out how you take care of customers in each department. Be especially detailed with any process that the customer previously has asked about.

If this is a scheduled tour, make sure that one or two of the customer’s jobs are running while he is there. It’s always a hit if he sees his shirts flowing down the dryer belt.

Training your customer on as many aspects of the production process as possible is vital to your shop’s continued success. With open communication and established expectations, you can enjoy profitable and repeat orders every time.

Marshall Atkinson is the owner of Atkinson Consulting LLC, a service firm focused on the decorated apparel industry for process improvement and efficiency, sustainability, employee training, social media marketing and long-term strategic planning. For more information or to comment on this article, email Marshall at, or follow his blog at