How do I tell a printer that its quality is poor?

Answered by Suzanne Morgan, founder, Print Buyers

As a print buyer, I receive a lot of calls from print reps. Recently I was contacted by a rep from a printer that did a large volume of work for my company in the past. We discontinued our relationship with his shop a few years ago, before I came to the company, because of substandard quality and service levels.

I have a stack of very detailed documentation describing all of the problems we had with their work. These notes display a frightening lack of attention to detail and lackadaisical attitude toward reprints and missed delivery dates.

When he called recently, I hinted about my knowledge of his company’s past performance and indicated that there weren’t many opportunities for him to work with our firm. Unfortunately, he didn't take the hint and dropped off samples for me to review. Six out of ten pieces were scuffed and cracked.

My question is, how do I let him down gently but honestly? I don't want to anger him, but I think he should know why I won't let his company bid on projects.


First, let me commend you on your willingness to take the time to help this printer and for your compassion in wanting to handle this situation in a way that is helpful, not hurtful.

I believe that a firm "no," followed by a clear explanation, is more helpful and carries more integrity than the confusion created by avoidance or mixed messages. By sharing the details of your company's evaluation of their work, you will offer a great service to this printer. Most printers never get this insight and, therefore, don't have the opportunity to improve and become more successful.

I would suggest that you ask this rep to visit, then show him the samples he sent in comparison to samples that make evident the quality of work you/your company expects. (The same applies to the comparison of service expectations, etc.)

If you don't want to work with the company in the future, make it clear that you cannot, based on past problems. But by offering some constructive criticism, you hope to help them achieve success with other clients. The key to offering constructive criticism is not to make it personal. Keep the "you" and "he’s" out of it. Don't blame. Focus on communicating what your company and you expect. Try to be as specific as possible.

If you are open to trying this company again, pay attention to the response. The rep should not be defensive. Instead, he or she should offer specific ways to improve and meet your company's expectations. Based on what you've said, I would be unwilling to give this printer another chance unless the company detailed in writing how it would ensure meeting my expectations.

If you don't want to take the time to meet with the rep in person -- or if you are concerned that a face-to-face meeting will be too confrontational -- an alternative is to send a letter offering your advice while returning the bad samples as examples. You may also consider talking with the owner or the sales manager, particularly if you sense the sales rep won't be open to the feedback.

If the printer doesn't agree with your assessment or your conclusions, respect their right to disagree. But make it clear that they will not be able to bid on future projects.

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