Does a T shirt printing/embroidery company really need a customer service element?
So….you did your Google search for T shirt printing companies and Google decided to present you with page 1 of your search results with 3 companies that had paid for positioning then one or two national companies and then the local options.
Google tries to be clever with its algorithms that determine how good a company is and whether it deserves ranking but it is not as clever as it would like to be and its technology has its limitations. It uses over 200 assessment criteria in its calculations and some human input but it is a flawed model.
All Google can see is a website and there is a whole lot of the business that it cannot see. Almost all of it in fact.
It is assessing a business in the way that you might look at a book cover and then decide without opening the book whether or not the contents are any good , worth reading and then worth recommending. It is flawed and often unfair.
In the old days, Google used to rank websites heavily on the number of inbound links to your site, regardless of where they came from, and the number of times certain keywords appeared in your content and code.
Website managers or Search Engine Optimisation companies would purchase links from ‘link farms’ that specialised in setting up fake websites with tenuous relevance to your sector and link them to your site to fool Google. These sites were anywhere in the world but often in the Far East where links could be purchased cheaply.
This meant that the worst T-shirt printing company in England could invested heavily in link building which boosted their credibility with Google, improved their ranking and drove traffic to their site which turned into poorly processed orders and a poor customer experience.
‘Keywords’ that were stuffed into these websites were the search words or phrases you put into your browser search bar to find businesses or websites that you were looking for.
Websites were built to exploit these rules and gain search engine prominence by having these keywords stuffed into the visible content and also hidden in plain sight in the content by making the text the same colour as the background and then stuffed again in the ‘meta data’ which is the code that sits behind the visible pages.
This, as well as other activities, was known as ‘black hat’ SEO and everyone was at it. Some of the ‘key players’ in the T shirt printing industry were terrible companies who managed to grow through a heavily invested web marketing plan rather than on the back of their expertise and customer satisfaction which in fact was terrible. We can name no names.
Google got wise and in Feb 2003 it released its first algorithm update to combat the cheats. It was called ‘Panda’ and it had a long list of bad habits/practices that it was going after and it upset a lot of people and it affected and killed off some businesses around the world almost overnight as they saw their web traffic plummet, along with their revenues. In the long run it was a good thing but it was indiscriminate because all businesses were cheating, the good ones and the bad ones and it resulted in layoffs and redundancies in many good companies that had to survive while wounds were licked and websites cleaned up.
Successive algorithmic updates such as ‘Penguin’, ‘Caffeine’ and ‘Hummingbird’ have refined the assessment criteria that drives the ranking so the results you get in your organic searches are now ‘possibly’ more relevant than they ever have been, but the analogy of a book cover I made earlier is still relevant and therefore Googles ranking is still flawed.
What has this got to do with you?
Well, Google has made its best attempt at providing you with relevant search results but you have to do your own research a little and you need reassurance. You need to look beyond the website and work out what is important to you.
If price is your primary driver then beware.
In order for a business to win on price, it needs to be able to survive on lower costs than its competitors. This usually means bad news for you if you want ‘service’.
Service costs money…. and businesses are looking to reduce these costs by implementing better technology and by trying to create business models that are Customer Self Servicing (CSS).
You have all seen the self-servicing checkouts in your supermarket, checked yourself onto a flight and you have all lugged heavy furniture from a storage shelf in the belly of Ikea. This concept is being adopted by every business that can possible make it work because it increases profitability or allows them to be more price competitive as they reduce their costs and therefore their prices.
For simple orders, this concept can work for you when buying printed or embroidered clothing.
It will not work all the time.
The reassurance you will most likely need is going to come best from a human being. Some sectors can operate a business model where there is no requirement for human contact and these are usually for low value, fast moving consumables or products straight of the shelf.
T-shirt printing is different as there can be many moving parts, and the process of buying decorated clothing is often a creative one, or comes attached with some risk to you if it goes wrong.
If your idea is creative then you have a lot invested in the decisions. You have an idea in your head, which needs help to be realised, and the buying process has to be a collaborative exercise between you and your supplier. This means that the human on the end of the phone needs to know what they are talking about and needs to understand that your project is precious to you.
Your first encounter.
Your first encounter with a company will probably be with their online quoting mechanism but your first contact with the human element of a T-shirt printing business will probably be the email you receive along with your quotation.
If the printing or embroidery company you get your quote from is any good they will assign you an account manager. This is vital for you and the continuity you will want through the buying process.
Your account manager should make contact with you to introduce themselves soon after you have received your quote so that you know whom you are talking to and so that it can be ascertained that you have been quoted correctly. It is possible for customers to misquote themselves while using the online quoting system by selecting the wrong decorative process or simply making user errors during the quote process.
Once that introduction has been made you will probably want a period to reflect, get alternative quotes from other suppliers and then make your choice.
This decision period is where you can evaluate the business against those criteria that are important to you.
If you are smart, you will not buy purely on price, you will buy on ‘value’.
If you are smart you will talk to your account manager and figure out whether they have understood you and what is important to you.
If you have spoken to two or three companies then which one of them stayed in touch? Which account manager called you or left a message or emailed to see if you needed further help?
A decent company knows that you are busy and that sometimes you need a little help. They become your temporary PA for the project and call you to help you move things along. If you are what’s known as a B2B buyer (business to business) then it is probably true that you are juggling a number of work related problems and that buying T shirts is just one of them. That call your account manager made to you has been invaluable to help you keep on track of your deadlines and get those T-shirts in for your event. They have added value.
The best account managers have been printers or embroiderers themselves but very few companies can offer you frontline expertise in this form. Most account managers have been recruited for their ‘sales’ or ‘administrative’ experience as it is these skills which are the most readily deployed in an account managers role but the truth is that they are just shifting numbers and hitting targets. They do not know a plastisol from a nylobag or how your 6-colour design needs a white underabase and two spot cures to really bring it to life. They know how to take your money and move on.
Talking to your account manager about how the decorative process works will soon provide you with the reassurance you need or the cue to move on.
This ‘added value’ during your evaluation process is why you might pay a little more for your garments. It is money well spent.
The ‘added value’ does not just concern the decorative processes. The other significant factor in your buying decision is the garments. The big problem nowadays is the scale of offering. Look at any Tee shirt printing company’s catalogue and you will see the choice can bewildering. If your screen printer has road-tested the products in their catalogue, you know that they can offer a truly informed opinion.
Look at their ‘samples’ policy but be realistic. Garments are not cheap and neither is carriage. Expect to pay for samples but also expect a majority refund for those samples if you return them.
Look for videos on the website that have been shot in-house. These are authentic and verifiable proof that the garments have been thoroughly researched and although this does not count as customer service, it shows a commitment to product knowledge and added value.
Added value makes all the difference between a company who cares and one that does not.
So………something hopefully is starting to emerge from this meander through the intricacies of T shirt buying.
Who could have thought that it could be so complex and who could have predicted the invaluable input of that human being on the end of the phone; But remember, we are not all built the same, people are variable and your requirements can be complex and individual. You will be looking to balance a number of important decisions when making the decision on which company you will chose.
You have to ask yourself whether you need a customer service element when you need screen-printed or embroidered clothing or whether you want to chance it.
We think that you do and we invest heavily in that principle.
Hands up if you agree!!
Author: Arron Harnden