The Safety of Paint Vehicles
Shopping and Caring for Your Watercolors
In the Garden of Hesperides
A Tale of Two ChancesMovie Review
by Ellen Million
Last year, I had lamentable experiences with two printing companies. And when I say lamentable, I mean god-awful, hair-tearing, frustrating, and expensive problems. This year, for various reasons, I went back to these companies and gave them a second chance. Let's see how they responded....
Case Study 1: Ken Whitman's RapidPOD
The first company I dealt with was Ken Whitman's RapidPOD (Print On Demand), found at rapidpod.com. Ken Whitman is Larry Elmore's agent, and you'd expect some kind of respectability from the connection. My initial feeling for the service was utterly glorious - his prices were good, I was communicating directly with Ken, his e-mails were coherent and friendly ... this was a goldmine, I was sure. I told him my deadlines, received assurances, uploaded files, and ... silence. I prodded. Nothing. Then he spammed me. Seriously, spam through the contact form at my Web site. I wrote back, and he finally replied. The project moved forward again. I got - weeks after they were supposed to arrive, but barely, barely in time for the deadline I'd set - 2/3 of my order: books 2, 3, and 4 of Wish3. There were a few minor problems - a few lumpy spines, and a color page that was in black and white. I wrote back to let him know that they'd arrived, and that I was anxious to get book 1. What resulted was a full year of silence. I had extreme difficulty selling the books without a first volume, and was terribly frustrated. I called, and I wrote very firm e-mails with no results. I finally went with another service, and ended up having to buy 100 volumes at once.
I saw Ken plugging his services on a Yahoo! list I belong to this spring, and wrote to him again, expressing my displeasure with his previous service, but extending a second chance. It was partly a test - I was sorely tempted to warn people on the list to avoid his services, and I wanted to see if he would ignore me, or try to make good. He still had great prices, and his e-mails really come across well. He offered sincere apologies and a hefty discount on my next order, so I gave him files to reprint book 4 and the files for book 5, along with a page count and my tentative estimate for the charges. Our exchange was promising - he seemed genuinely sorry about the previous mess-ups, and anxious to please. Then, an ominous silence followed my e-mails requesting information about shipping, and several days later, I got spammed by him! Utterly impersonal notice about his great services in my inbox! Do we see a pattern here? I replied, asking about my invoice. He replied the following day, claiming the books shipped the day before. I never did get an invoice, though I prompted for it several times, but I did get my books (not sent the method I'd asked for, but for more than twice the price). Or at least, I got most of my books. Book 4 looked lovely, even nicer than the first time he'd printed them. Book 5 ... what I got was quite nice, but I only received half of the volume! Each printing was only half of what I'd uploaded, only one of the two issues that was supposed to be in it! An e-mail received a prompt, apologetic reply, and we discussed the reprints. After a few back and forths, asking where my reprints were, I received this answer:
So sorry about not getting back with you soon. We are making changes around here to make printing easier for the clients. We will print your books and ship them on Friday of this week. Sorry for the delay, won't happen again.
That was almost four months ago and I still have no books, despite numerous e-mails. I was never charged for the faulty order, but I think I got what I paid for. Certainly I've spent plenty of hours of my life on him that I won't be getting back.
Conclusion: Do not do business with this man. He seems sweet and well-meaning, but his follow-through is seriously lacking. You may get an order out of him. You may get two! But if you're looking for reliability, look elsewhere. The hassle is not worth the price, even when it's free.
Case Study 2: Print Pelican
The second company I dealt with was Print Pelican, an offset printer that does brochures, magazines, and calendars, which can be found at printpelican.com. I had three sets of calendars to have printed here, and they were having a 20 percent off sale for the month of August. I hussled to secure that price and ordered 100 of each. Ironically, they extended this sale for the month of September. And then October. And then November. "Ending soon" sales that never end are nothing but annoying.
The first calendar went off well, no major problems. However, I got bounced around between three service reps as I worked on the second, and each one was increasingly unfriendly. When I uploaded the files for the second calendar, I cancelled the third and asked for a refund. They quoted me the wrong amount for said refund, though they agreed to the larger amount when I called them on it. Then they deleted the files for the second calendar and claimed they'd never received them, and told me chidingly that I should name my files with my job number. (Which I had, and could provide proof of.) This second calendar they then shipped to California instead of Alaska, since that was where the first order had gone. This happened despite several e-mails discussing the new shipping location and even how much extra this might cost. I told them on the phone that they needed to be sent to my billing address. It ended up costing me $52 extra dollars, and three full weeks - in December, for a time-sensitive calendar! - and I hadn't seen hide-nor-hair of my refund for the calendar I decided not to print, though I'd cancelled in October.
I wrote them a polite-nasty e-mail, which I have entirely too much practice with, and got their upper management. The apology was immediate, my refund - including the extra shipping I'd had to pay! - was prompt, and the manager assured me that they would be sending their service reps back to training.
When it came time to do calendars again, I went shopping. Print Pelican still had some of the best prices. And they had 25 percent off this time! I hussled to secure two calendars by the end of July (when the sale "ended"). I see that they are again playing the "ending soon" game - the sale was extended through August and again through September. I will be surprised if it doesn't go through November again....
But, the customer service experience was worlds different. Because I had two calendars, I got two job numbers. I was initially given two customer reps, which made me clutch my chest and wonder if I had just set myself up for failure again. However, that was remedied in about an hour, and I had one rep for both jobs, politely introduced via e-mail with a direct extension to phone her personally.
The difference in service was remarkable. Everytime there was a change in status of my job, no matter how minor, I received an e-mail with a lovely, accurate timeline of my job, including every communication between myself and my rep. What's more, I was running behind and had a looming deadline. "Is there anyway to get these calendars by this date?" I begged. I was willing to pay more for fast shipping. It turns out I didn't need to - instead of the advertised seven business day turnaround, they rushed my job at no extra charge, turning it out in two days instead, and I ended up being able to use the cheap shipping and still get them on time. The second calendar I had done, they upgraded me from ground to 2nd day air without any extra charge! The calendars look great, and folks seem to like them.
Conclusion: Their perpetual "ending soon" sale still feels like a bit of a scam to me, and is unprofessional at best. Come on, just change your prices, if that's what you want to do, or don't advertise an ending date just so you can extend it 5 months in a row. They get full points in customer service and value for the price. Whether I "scared them" into behaving or not, they truly delivered in courtesy and professionalism. I am quite pleased that I gave them a second chance.
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