In 2020, I decided to finally fulfill my dream of starting a business. The venture is called Dreamwriters, a self-publishing platform for young creative writers and artists. One component of the business is that it allows authors to print beautiful softcover editions of their stories. As such, I needed to find a reliable printer willing to partner with me.
I didn’t really know anyone in the printing industry. Most people in my network were loosely connected to printers, and so, I turned to Google to help me find one. I met and/or spoke to a dozen or so customer service reps on the phone. To my dismay, most of them weren’t too interested in working with me. This was mainly because I would only be printing low quantities of customized books vs. high volumes of the same book (a business model that they were more accustomed to).
Some of the printers I spoke with unenthusiastically introduced their services to me (giving me a “why are you even here look?”). Others didn’t get back to me with quotes for a few weeks (obviously I wasn’t a priority). One of them even went as far as to saying that no printer in their right mind would take on a business with such low profits and even told me to reconsider moving forward!
I felt discouraged for several days but decided to snap out of it and continue my search. Why? 1) These printers made a judgement about the product or service because it was new to them and they hadn’t seen a prototype; 2) Money is not my motivating factor for starting this business; 3) With the world moving towards more personalization and customization — maybe it’s not me that needs to make a change?
Later, I came across C&C Printing Co., whose main office is based in Shenzhen. In addition to their traditional business, they also established a department specializing in digital printing for custom products (the others advertised this as well, but they were more like traditional printers masquerading as digital printers). I was hopeful but didn’t want to get ahead of myself. I decided to meet them in person and visit their factory in Shenzhen. This experience was an amazing lesson in customer service, and I share my takeaways below:
Treat Your Customers Like Human-Beings
The HK-China border was extremely busy on the day of my scheduled visit. I ended up arriving 3 hours later than expected. The rep at C&C, Wei, was worried about me. She kept in touch with me over WeChat, but after some time, she and her colleague decided to pick me up from the train station. Unfortunately, due to the delay, their factory ended up closing for the day. So instead, they took me to a nearby mall for the meeting. I felt a bit anxious since I didn’t know the name of the mall or where it was located, but my faith in the good of humankind motivated me to get into the car. We ended up settling down in a nice café to discuss my business idea over tea and snacks. After the meeting, Wei rode the subway back to the border with me and walked me straight to the immigration counter so that I wouldn’t get lost. It was already late and this journey tacked on another 30 minutes to her one hour ride home to her family. I was truly touched.
Find Ways to Add Value Beyond What Was Requested
To my surprise, Wei invited one of C&C’s other clients to the meeting. He was an entrepreneur from China who had studied in Canada and was in the business of creating customized photobooks — a similar business to mine. He operated with one platform geared towards Chinese consumers and another geared towards the US market. Wei invited him to the meeting because she thought he could offer me some business advice as well as facilitate our conversation as I wasn’t fluent in Mandarin and she wasn’t fluent in English. He turned out to be an amazing resource. He talked about his journey and the mistakes he made, shared insights about the differences in online behavior between his Chinese and American customers, discussed how he works with C&C, and brought some photo album samples to share. The meeting was immensely helpful.
Be Patient with Your Customers
After this initial meeting, it would take me another two years to move forward. Besides overcoming my own fears about starting a business (which I discuss more in this post), I still needed to build the platform which would take some time. While I was slightly embarrassed, Wei was completely fine, letting me know to reach out whenever I was ready, and checking-in with me every few months or so. I was amazed that she cared enough to follow-up, especially since I would be such a small customer (at least at first)! And guess what? Now that I’m ready to start, I went directly back to Wei and C&C as my printer of choice.
To me, this is the definition of going above and beyond for your customers. She didn’t need to pick-me up or take me back to the train station, she didn’t need to invite the other start-up founder to speak with me, and she didn’t get upset when I needed her to wait. While this one meeting was some time ago, I still remember it fondly for how it made me feel, and hope that I can treat my eventual customers in the same way. I think it starts with just being kind.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.