Q A DISTRIBUTOR ASKS: How do  you handle customers who discover—weeks or months after they receive an order—that there are missing pieces or other errors? Do you have a standard reminder that you send to customers upon delivery telling them to inspect the order within a certain period of time? It is stressful to receive a complaint months after delivery with the expectation that you will correct the order. 

A Complaints by a customer that are brought to your attention long after an order has been delivered can be very stressful and difficult to troubleshoot, but a little preparation and thinking ahead can go a long way.

It all starts with the relationship between you and the supplier. Accurate order counts should not be a customer issue, but a supplier/distributor issue. Our supplier agreements explicitly state that the supplier must agree to ship the exact order quantity. Over and under shipments are not allowed. Any stock issues or shortages must be addressed before the order ships, and in the event of a shortage, a comparable model should be offered as a replacement (for no upcharge). Generally, when you’re dealing with a reputable supplier, this rarely becomes an issue, but it helps to have procedures in place so you don’t have to go through the motions each time a complaint occurs.

Next, understand that no matter what your order agreement says, or how many bright yellow warning stickers you slap on the outside of the box, customers almost never inspect their goods, let alone count to confirm the quantity once the order arrives. In short, their problem is your problem, and if an issue arises, do the right thing—no matter how difficult or expensive. Most customers don’t understand the dynamics at play in our industry, and they shouldn’t have to, so make reasonable accommodations and fix the problem—even if it’s not your error and ends up costing you money.

Quality Logo Products
PPAI 304730


Keep in mind that sometimes the quantities ordered are not always what get delivered. Common problems include breakage or damage in transit, a miscount or an incorrectly-sized blank that is printed or embroidered. 

However, no matter what happens, or who is at fault, your client expects you to fix the problem. If the quantity is for a specific event, you may have to get the problem pieces replaced—even if it is only one piece.

If the delivery company damaged the goods, the vendor insured them. The vendor will typically want to give you a credit or a reduced invoice rather than re-running a small quantity.

If it is the vendor’s fault, they should fix it. If they balk at re-running one or a few pieces, you may have to pay for a less-than-minimum run. Do it. Your reputation is worth more than what it will cost to make the client happy. Then, find another vendor who will work with you. 

Harry A. Parrish & Associates
PPAI 107470


In my 14 years in this business, I’ve not had anyone come back to me weeks or months later. My clients receive shipping notifications via email when their items are on their way, but this column motivated me to be a little more proactive. Now when I receive a shipping notice, it reminds me to send a “thank you” email with a note asking them to please check their order when they receive it and let me know if there are any issues so we can take care of it quickly. Thank you for the good idea.

Branding Consultant
PPAI 105182


I have never put in place a policy that requires my customers to open the order and check everything in a specific time period. I feel that it is an imposition to ask clients to open every single piece, especially on a large order. 

In eight years in business, there have only been two times that I can remember where there were mistakes found by my customers when they ordered early but did not open the boxes until the event. Both times, I contacted the supplier and negotiated a discount. I replaced product for one customer and issued a credit to the other. In both cases, my customers were satisfied with the solution. 

A Creative Idea
PPAI 533430


When I send out invoices to my clients, I have a highlighted, boxed-in area toward the bottom that reads: “Please examine all merchandise upon receipt. Defective merchandise, shortages or questions must be submitted in writing with samples within three days after receipt of merchandise.”

I have had clients bring faulty merchandise to my attention within a reasonable amount of time (usually two to three weeks) if the product has flaws or stops working. At this point I get samples and contact suppliers who are normally very generous about replacing defective merchandise. I figure if something goes wrong within a month, it is a reasonable amount of time, and suppliers will work with you.

Taylor MacQuen Advertising
PPAI 226629


Though it can be frustrating to hear a complaint from a customer weeks or months after an order was delivered, our firm looks at this as an opportunity to show our customer that we have their back. We always try to turn a complaint around so the customer comes out on top, regardless of when the complaint is received relative to the order. Therefore, we do not ask our customers to inspect orders within a certain period time as we find that can come across as somewhat insulting.

Proforma PromoGraphix, Inc.
PPAI 196835


This can be an issue, but thankfully it is not common. I always make it a practice to share our policy with clients during the discussion phase, on quotes, on emails related to the project and on invoices. In addition, a caveat should be added to the invoice stating, “Any quality issues, counts, sizing issues etc., must be reported within five business days of receipt of the goods. We strongly urge you to review the products once they arrive on sight and report any and all discrepancies immediately.”

Doing this and covering yourself at every step will protect you if a conflict ends up in court, dispute resolution or arbitration.

Consultant and Acting Director of Marketing
PPAI 218870


I learned in a law class years ago that the UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) requires that deliveries be accepted within a “reasonable” amount of time in order to submit claims. While I don’t believe that a specific time limit was stipulated, it was generally accepted that inspections within one business day to one week are “reasonable.” 

When I get delivery notification of a shipment to a client, I send them an email within one business day that says: “UPS records show that your order was delivered on (date) at (time) and signed for by (name) at (location). Please check the order within one business day for accuracy. Occasionally, mistakes do happen and prompt notification of any issues with your order allows us to handle the situation in a timely manner. If you did not receive this package, please let me know immediately so that we may put a trace on it.”

That puts them on notice that I need notification sooner rather than later so that I can address any issues with defects, missing pieces or other problems that may have occurred.

Chief Solutions Specialist
Lev Promotions
PPAI 281331 


Do You Have An Answer?

A Distributor Asks:
I have a customer who places a large order of t-shirts every year (about 6,000). He is very particular—even to the point of using a ruler to measure consistency among shirts. In the most recent order, he has found some that are uneven, and he does not want his group to have to inspect every shirt for quality control. The shirt is printed with seven colors.

This happened a year ago with the same client and a different decorator, and at that time I did not see discrepancies outside of what would be considered an acceptable margin. Before this order, I counseled the client on acceptable margins, the weight of the shirt and the complexity of seven-color printing. What is a fair resolution to this problem?

What’s Your Answer?
Email answers along with your name, title and company name by June 29 to Question@ppai.org for possible inclusion in an upcoming issue of PPB magazine.

Terry Ramsay is associate editor of PPB.