Business cards, pants, and customer service

After nearly ten years doing without real business cards, I finally ordered a new set along with some stationery. I learned a lot and thought I would share my research along with some thoughts on customer service.

Hoban Cards of Centralia, Washington seems to have a neat business going for letterpress – one or two products, some nice variations, and a clear, affordable pricing scheme. I ordered some samples and quickly received them.

Letterpress can be beautiful, but I decided it wasn't the right fit for this project, so I kept looking. I like the intricate detail and saturated colors that the engraving process can provide but have found prices at Crane's or Dempsey & Carroll to greatly exceed my budget.

I kept searching and found Werner Printing, a family-owned business in Chicago since 1921. Over the years, I've walked past their West Loop building almost weekly without really noticing it (and I bet locals have seen their sign and clock, as well). They engrave, and their prices are competitive.

I emailed them and quickly heard back from Bob Werner, the current head whose grandfather founded the company. They've designed materials for local businesses, United States presidents, and many people and organizations in between. I thought my order might be a little small for them, but they gave my project significant attention.

A digression: some of the best service I've ever received is from a Chicago tailor who is often backlogged for a month or two. He's good, and his customers generally don't mind waiting.

This tailor gives terrific advice but also once said, "Look, they're your pants. It's not my business to tell you what to do. You're the one that is going to have to wear them, so they better be right by you – no one else."

I've been thinking about this idea lately while considering some poorer customer experiences I've encountered. I've seen vendors – unsolicited, and without asking many questions – purport to know a customer's business better than the customer himself. This might make one sale, but I doubt that it builds trust. So, the short-term result seems to benefit the vendor, but longer-term opportunities and any doses of helpfulness and goodwill are abandoned.

Back to the business cards: Werner fortunately seems to follow the former approach. Like my tailor, Bob educated me on the engraving process and standards but said, "Look, they're your cards. You're the one who is going to use them, so we better make sure you're happy with them." He provided significant expertise but ultimately let me decide.

Indeed, I am very happy with my order, which includes business cards, a few sizes of letterhead, and envelopes. We did encounter a couple of issues (one of which was my fault), but Bob promptly addressed them both, highlighting his company's commitment to quality.

It's no surprise to me that Werner Printing's customer-serving approach has served them so well for nearly one hundred years. I'm certainly already looking forward to the next project I might have with them.