What Your Employees Say About You

Your people say a lot about you.

I’m not implying that they gossip about you or that they say complimentary things about you (although they may). What I mean is this: the way your employees behave to customers — in person, over the phone, in writing — is a statement about you and your company.

Of course, courtesy and respect of customers should be a given; each person should know that it is his or her responsibility and that it is expected.

Sooner or later, however, most companies end up with some type of guidelines for customer relations. These companies recognize that it is not just the president or the salesperson or the estimator who needs to know how to interact with customers. For example, when a customer enters the pressroom to do a press check, everyone from the press operator to the custodian to the customer service rep to the ink room manager should know how to make a good impression.

And once the guidelines are in place, employees know that rude behavior is not sanctioned and will be dealt with if it is chronic.

However, there has developed a grey area where rudeness is expected, tolerated and even venerated. Consider the people in our companies who are our network administrators, our prepress gurus, our website masters, our techno prima donnas.

Some are great, don’t get me wrong: they’re true wizards and nice people as well.

Others fall into a category I see in every city, in every region. They are people who think they can operate outside the laws of decency. They don’t believe they should treat customers with respect, dignity and courtesy. In fact, many of these people verbally abuse your customers, intimidate them, tell them their work is garbage and unsalvageable, tell them they are too busy to worry about their petty problems, tell them that “that’s just the way the system’s set up,” tell them that they hate this stinking job and they’re just waiting for a job at Google. 

Furthermore, as technology evolves, these are the employees who end up spending the most time with your customers! What astounds me is that owners and managers who normally would not tolerate this type of behavior in other employees, can come up with a dozen excuses to justify it.

1. We paid a high price to get these folks.

2. We don’t understand anything they say.

3. We don’t understand their jobs.

4. They work odd hours, and we never get to see them so we can chastise them.

5. We’re afraid that if we reprimand them (or gently outline our standards of dealing with the public) they will leave.

6. We’re afraid that they’re just a temper tantrum away from quitting, since that’s how we got them in the first place.

7. They’re pioneers in the digital realm and should not have to be reined in by customer relations.

8. If they’re short term employees (hired guns and renegades) who are only in your face long enough to establish a system and then get out, their effect (and damage) on our customers supposedly will be insignificant. 

9. If our customers are afraid of them, they’ll think we’re cool and smart and technologically advanced.

10. They’re misfits who never learned social graces, so we should feel sorry for them.

11. If we try to hire someone else, the new person may be really obnoxious, and, worst of all,

12. Everyone does it.

In the end, however, it boils down to you, the employer. Because each and every person who deals with your customers needs to know what your ground rules are—whether you express them directly, in a meeting, in a memo, or in a handbook.

I have kept the following clipping for years because it echoes what I believe about customer service, and because it especially applies now that we have begun to make excuses for our techno-nerds.

It is written by Ned Thomson, president of Thomson-Shore*, a book printing firm in Dexter, Michigan. Thomson says: “Our belief has always been that a company’s success should rely on every employee’s individual contribution. Each employee . . . press operator, receptionist, president, janitor, etc. . . . each person has an opportunity to influence what the customer thinks about our company, and those collective impressions determine whether we succeed or fail. We believe quality is not just the appearance of the book we print but it also the way we respond to a customer. It is how fast we return quotes, how fast we answer the phone or return your calls, how we respond if there is a problem, how we respond if a customer asks a questions or seeks advice, how quickly we ship . . . all those things that we would like to have done for us if we were the customer.

“It may sound corny,” adds Thomson, “but the ‘Golden Rule’ can be a pretty good thing to keep in mind when you conduct business — because customers will respond to it.”

*Printer’s Ink, Volume 7, Issue 4, Winter 1992, published by Thomson-Shore, Dexter, Michigan.

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Eyeballing the E Scale

Right after I got out of college (with one major in Film Making and one in English), I moved near Los Angeles and took a job at a small printing franchise.

Every day I scanned the classifieds before I headed to work, looking for that elusive never-advertised film director’s job, never dreaming that the printing industry would end up to be more appealing than the bright lights of Hollywood.

Before the print shop owners hired me full-time, they sent me to a class to learn the basics of design, layout, typesetting, daylight camera work, plate burning, and printing on a duplicator.

Flash forward.

My husband and I are cleaning the basement. “Do you still want this?” he asks. Inside a musty box are two volumes and a notebook with dividers: my training manuals for the little print shop.

Needless to say, I wanted to keep them.

As I perused the notebooks, I came across a plastic organizer filled with my old supplies: a pica pole, a proportion wheel, a halftone exposure chart, my set of Exacto knives, non-repro blue pens, typesetter codes and commands, and my trusty E scale.

Seeing the E scale took me back instantly (oh no, now we’re having a flashback within a flashback!) to memories of my neighbor at the time, a bubbly actress who spent a lot of time at auditions and little time on screen. I won’t say she was ditzy, but you get the idea.

One day she picked up my E scale and held it at arms length. “What are you doing?” I asked. She squinted at the scale.

“This eye chart is easy,” she announced. “E . . . e . . . e . . . e . . . ”

I tell that to younger people in the industry, and they don’t see the humor. I guess I should explain that an E scale is a transparent sheet with a whole bunch of letters on it — all being the letter E — ranging from very big to very little. It helps you gauge what size type you need to match. An anachronism now, for sure.

When I look back at everything that little shop did to take a customer’s job from idea to printed piece, there were definitely some steps that we don’t have to worry about today. Camera work has evolved into customer-provided files; typesetting is a breeze these days; fonts issues are (almost) a thing of the past; and options for plateless printing are many.

Yet most of the concepts I learned in that course still serve me.

I still use a proportion wheel and a pica pole. I still use design principals for determining leading, headlines and white space. I still know how to copy fit, so when a writer submits hard copy for a story, I can quickly calculate how much room I need to allocate on the page.

As far as the E scale . . . I haven’t used one in years. But, then, I already know I’m nearsighted.

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Letterpress & Book Art Supply Company opens Sept. 15

Bartleby’s Letterpress Emporium opens Tuesday, Sept. 15 with a grand opening at 1236 SE Oak St. (corner of SE 13th and Oak, one block north of Stark) in Portland, Oregon. Phone is 503/922-2310. Let me know if you’re going — I’d like to visit when other friends will be there.

If you’ve never visited Oblation Papers’ Pearl District Store, you’re in for a treat. On-site letterpress printing and papermaking. Gorgeous cards and wrapping papers. Great gifts. Totally fun place to do your Christmas shopping. Put your favorite publisher on your shopping list!

Mr. Robert Basel – thanks always for your help in promoting Printer’s NW Trader magazine and www.printerstrader.com.

Welcome to Chapel Printing, who is advertising their letterpress services and expertise in our upcoming print and online edition.

Let me know your Portland area Letterpress news, classes and events, and I will spread the word!

— SANDY

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When OSHA Puts on the White Gloves

“Housekeeping” is one of many operating practices that OSHA officers take note of during an inspection. 

While they are poring over your hazard communication program, their peripheral vision is focused on a door that opens into a walkway. As they quiz you about lockout-tagout, they have noticed tools that you’ve stored in a dangerous manner. Before they examine your Personal Protective Equipment, they point like a hunting dog to a fire extinguisher that is stored over the potential source of flame.

“Housekeeping” doesn’t mean how well your floors are scrubbed or how sparkly your windows are. True, a clean and orderly shop makes a good impression. And, if nothing else, it’s an indication of how detail-oriented you are—and how likely you are to have your ducks in a row, compliance-wise.

Instead, “housekeeping” applies to the safety and orderliness of the processes or environments that might cause harm to the people (both employees and unsuspecting visitors) in your shop.

To boil it down to its simplest terms, housekeeping is like toddler-proofing your home.

Suppose that, hidden behind a workbench, there’s an electrical outlet without the coverplate on it. You and you employees know perfectly well that you don’t stick fingers, screwdrivers or butter knives into the opening. Most likely, it’s been years since anyone noticed the problem.

That, however, is precisely the kind of thing OSHA inspectors are trained to notice.

Along those lines, it might not be a bad idea to have a friend (someone not involved in the printing industry) walk through your shop and point out items or situations that seem questionable. If a visitor wonders what is in the unlabeled bottle next to the press, or why a storage drum has a wet spot under it, an OSHA  inspector will be even fussier. 

What are some areas of housekeeping we tend to overlook?

•  Extension cords, floor outlets and phone cords in or across walkways; collision-prone traffic patterns; machines and furniture that impede exit from a room or from the building.

•  Constantly wet or slimy floors in work areas; shop towels strewn about; containers that aren’t correctly labeled. 

•  Doors and drawers that stick or won’t stay closed; heavy items stored precariously on upper shelves; cabinets that should have locks but don’t.

•  Eyewash stations that are placed under or near obstacles; MSDS binders that are stored where employees don’t have instant access; tools or materials being used for purposes they weren’t designed for.

Because each inspector has his or her own pet areas of concern and expertise, poor housekeeping may garner you nothing more than a warning. On the other hand, those nickel and dime violations can add up pretty fast.

If nothing else, good housekeeping is a good operating practice. After all, the “S” and the “H” in OSHA stand for “safety” and “health”—and just having your paperwork in order and offering the inspector a cup of coffee won’t be enough to deter him from his mission to protect people.

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Good Help

When you were seven or eight years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A fire fighter? A jet pilot? A cowboy?

Whatever it was, it probably was exciting, filled with motion and loud noises.

What could be more appealing to a little kid than the sights, sounds and smells of printing: big machines, noisy moving parts, fun tools, pungent smelling inks.

I visited my first newspaper print shop when I was three years old. Did it make me want to become a printer? Who knows? But the impressions of that visit have stayed with me my whole life.

Marketing the printing industry is like marketing anything else. We have to show young people the benefits of joining our industry. We have to appeal to their emotions. We have to make ourselves attractive.

These days, students are urged to explore career possibilities in middle school. By the time they are in high school, students are deciding whether they will be heading to college or looking for work after graduation.

We cannot wait until students are that far along to begin to recruit. We have to plant the seed early . . .  and often.

There are a number of organizations, ranging from printing program advisors to industry clubs and councils, that are working to promote our industry to students. Without the support of the industry as a whole, however, these groups cannot succeed in building a bridge between our industry and educators.

What can you, one person, do to help bring new people into our industry?

1. It’s our responsibility to promote our industry as one that is vital and growing. Young people will not pursue a career in an industry they think is dying (or boring). You may be thinking, “Well, I can’t control the whole industry’s future.” What you can do is become knowledgeable about all aspects of the communications industry. As new communications-related products and niches spring into existence, let’s claim them as part of our big industry. The more we understand about the various processes (look at the Trader’s Northwest Trade Directory, for example) that comprise our industry, the more we can communicate our potential to recruits—young or old.

2. Let’s market our industry in a dynamic and interesting way. There’s no reason to try to recruit with outdated materials. We’re promoting printing, for goodness sake! Let’s see some printed materials that are colorful and attention-grabbing. Look at paper companies, for example. They don’t send out black ink on white paper to highlight their products. Instead, they produce some of the best graphics on some of the most unusual substrates you’ll see anywhere. Take a look at the winning pieces in the Galleries of Superb Printing competitions hosted by Craftsmen clubs in the region. When you attend trade shows, pay attention to the printed pieces that press manufacturers use to highlight their equipment. This is the side of printing that students should see.

3. Volunteer at career fairs and career days. If your company can’t spare you for a few hours to man a booth, at least provide some high-quality printed samples (not your rejects!) or help get things organized ahead of time. Career fairs would benefit from representatives from large commercial print operations, walk-in retail print firms, finishing companies, specialty trade firms and more. All it takes is for a student to ask, “Hey, how’d you print that?” and you’ve made an impression.

4. Offer to host a tour of your shop for students or teachers. There’s nothing like seeing a business in action to get  students thinking about their own future.

5. Visit a school as part of an industry team. Coming into a school as a group and making a presentation is powerful, and students will remember it.

6.  Make sure schools have the proper tools and machines to teach students the useful, up-to-date skills to be employable. Donate unused — but usable — equipment to a printing program.

7. Support educational events such as VICA and educational programs such as PrintED.

8. Take a minute to talk to students or recent graduates who want to do an informational interview with you. You may see this as a thinly veiled way of trying to get a foot in your door. Well, why not? You may end up with a talented, motivated new employee. At the very least, you’ll have the chance to educate them about your sector of the industry. If you ask most students what kinds of jobs they think are exciting in our industry, they think of high-profile, high-paying jobs like print sales or prepress manager for a large commercial firm. By taking time to talk to them, you give them a different perspective on what types of jobs our industry can offer.

It boils down to this: our industry needs computer-literate, cross-trained personnel. We’re competing with a lot of other interesting careers for the same skill set in young people. If we want the cream of the crop, we have to position ourselves as the best.

Let’s each do something tangible make sure we continue to supply our industry with “good help.”

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Looking Back to Appreciate a New Frontier

I recall a time when we would be deluged with so many exciting product announcements, it was fun to pick and choose which lucky manufacturers would be allowed onto the pages of Printer’s NW Trader.

These days I continue to be impressed with the ability of press and equipment manufacturers to refine their products, make them more automated and increase the number of impressions per hour.

But, it’s not quite like the technology revolution of 1993.

Do you remember that year? There was an IPEX show in England. By October’s Seybold show, the industry was abuzz.

What were the new products on the industry’s radar?

The most radical were the digital presses and the traditional presses that were using on-demand or “direct-to” technology. The three top newsmakers — each using different technologies and serving unique markets — were the Heidelberg GTO-DI direct imaging press, the Indigo digital sheetfed press, and the Xeikon DCP-1 four-color mini-web press.

There was an uproar. “Ohmigosh,” printers moaned,  “if my customers find out, they’ll want their jobs sooner, but my prepress department won’t be able to keep up!” (Sound familiar?)

What other news made headlines that year?

Remember the hoopla about hi-fi color, seven-color printing and stochastic screening?

I remember looking at some spectacular samples, with bright green and vivid orange added to the CMYK lay-down sequence, to add depth and brilliance. We had fun examining the stochastic print samples under our loupes, with experts taking one side or the other on whether the process had merit.

How about advances in color management that were announced that year?

Up to that point, color had been input, handled, manipulated, output and proofed on proprietary systems with their own internal standards for color. Suddenly, people were lobbying for open systems and industry-wide color standards. Scientists described a three-dimensional color space, rather than the color wheels and swatch books we had all used for so many years. Designers wanted more control up front, and they wanted more reliable and accurate color projections for how a job would look on specific papers and on specific presses.

Software and guidelines for calibration of monitors and presses became available. Calibration led to a better understanding of additive and subtractive color, and the difference between RGB and CMYK. The light went on for designers: the job they designed on the computer screen would never look exactly the same when printed on paper.

What else took off that year?

There were endless debates about the viability and timeline of computer-to-plate. (In fact, they laughed when I said we’d see huge process improvements that would make CTP a reality rather than a concept by the end of the century.) By October that year, the Trader reported improvements in plate quality, dot clarity, and the imaging process.

And then there was Adobe Acrobat.

Adobe’s Paul Brainerd described portable file formats, the future of fonts, and the ability to print any document in the original format and font. I was in awe. It put our industry that much closer to our customer . . . for better or worse.

It was glorious.

The industry was in transition in 1993, and each new product sent the mind reeling with possibilities.

I recall sitting in a coffee shop with my husband that summer. We were discussing laptop computers. Only hardware junkies and yuppies who had to have everything were sporting clunky laptops then. We fantasized about a pocket computer. My husband picked up the plastic coated placemat (yeah, I hang out in some pretty fancy dives, don’t I?) and said, “What if you could construct a small keyboard out of material like this, that could be folded or rolled to fit in your pocket.”

And here we are today with pocket size mobile devices that we never could have envisioned.

As we ride the wave of new technologies and possibilities more than 15 years later, we are again in a new frontier. It will be amazing to see where the printing and publishing industries find their compass points — and how we will look back on this time period in another 15 years.

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Taking the Plunge

Whether you jump, dive or venture toe first, take a good look before you leap

Someone out there is stirring up a lot of anxiety about social networking for businesses.

The implication is, if you’re not doing it now, you’ll never catch up. It’s the old “start today because tomorrow will be too late” tactic.

I think it’s sliced baloney.

Granted, there are issues — mostly about how you spend your time and whether there is money to be made along the way. But it’s not a footrace. No one is going to leave you in the dirt because you want to take an extra minute or two to make a sensible decision.

There always will be new runners coming along, so you’ll always be “ahead” of someone else.

So if you want to take the plunge, fine. If you’re still want time to think about it, don’t panic.

You can be thoughtful and figure out what works best for you and your company and then do some homework before deciding. Or you can jump right in.

My college friend Cal, a certified computer nerd, sees it like this: You’re standing on a bluff overlooking a very fast moving river. You look down and see all your friends playing in the water. You think you’d like to jump into that river, but you have some doubts. Will you be swept away by the quick current? Will you leap onto a submerged tree limb and impale yourself? Will you jump in over your head and drown? Or will you dive head first into a rock and break your neck? You watch others taking the plunge. One person impales himself. Another is swept away. Yet for the most part, everyone gets in okay and has a great time. What do you do? Many social networkers — the people who are the do-or-die, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may kind of people — have already taken the plunge. And even those cautious, do-lots-and-lots-of-homework kind of people have put on their protective gear and jumped in. Still others have walked away from the river and found other forms of recreation.

That leaves you. Undecided. Standing on the bluff staring at the water.

Friends and acquaintances will beckon you: “Come in, the water’s fine.”

Others will tell you to stay away from the edge, don’t get wet, be home before the street lights come on, eat your peas.

So here’s what I think, speaking as a naturally cautious human being. Watch other people jump in for a little while. Find out where those impaling sticks are, and figure out where it’s too deep. See how the successful people do it. Watch and listen for what works best, and think about what works best for you. Can you execute a perfect dive or should you consider plummeting feet first?

My pal Cal attests that there’s nothing more exhilarating than taking the plunge—and going past that big impaling stick on the way down. She adds: “Without risk, there is no reward.” Another college buddy, Sue, says, “Go big or stay home.” For me, the sentiment is more like: “Live by social networking, die by social networking.”

In the end, it really boils down to this: “to each his own.” Make your own choices in your own sweet time so you can say, “I did it my way.”

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