Have you ever considered how you train your customer? No, I don’t mean how you can get them to be at your beck and call 24/7, although that would be nice.

What I want to point out today is in two areas.

The first is actually setting up a “training program” for your customers to learn to buy from you. But you don’t have to call it that. It can simply be part of your marketing program. We’ll get into that in a bit.

The second idea is how your policies and procedures train your customers to interact with your company. Good or bad. What you set up, is generally how things occur.

Let’s get to it.

How to Set Up a Customer Education Training Program

In the decorated apparel industry there are eight gazillion terms for things that may or may not make sense to our customer base.

Truly, how many of your customers know what the term flash means? How about a placket or modal? Maybe fibrillation? Dye migration? How about the real difference between plastisol and waterbase inks?

Or even something simple like how to send in the correct art file to work with your shop?

As any long-term business person knows, a well-educated customer base is easier to handle. When your customer and your shop agree on the expectations for the order when it is placed, that’s a thing of beauty.

When your customer expects one thing, and you deliver another. That’s potentially awkward and ugly. Nobody wants that.

You can set your shop up for greater success by incorporating more educational ideas into your marketing.  Yep.  You can train your customer as you advertise.

Engagement Drives More Sales

Your customers want more information from you. It’s a fact. When you create content that illustrates how your shop handles a challenge, that creates the trust that you know what you are doing.

For example, let’s say you want more sales with bars and restaurants in your area.

However, in the past, you might not have ever featured anything with a branded apron. You don’t market all of the company stores that you’ve set up online for other businesses. Nothing on your website links anything to any bar or restaurant.

Is it any wonder when you don’t get that sales traffic from bars and restaurants?

As a comparison, what if you filmed staff at a local eatery wearing workwear you produced in a short video? The video illustrates how food stains don’t stick to the garment because of the non-stick surface of the fabric. It’s captioned because not everyone turns up the volume. It’s branded with your shop’s logo and there’s a call to action at the end for more information.

That’s one example.

Education Through Stories

As people, we identify with stories.

It is easy to make the connection between something that happened to a real person and yourself. That’s why it is more authentic to show the apron being used, not just the apron flat on a table.

If you appeal to the music scene you need to pump up the volume and fun. Film the rock band or their fans wearing the merch you’ve printed. For a philanthropy, you have to show twenty thousand people walking to raise money for the fundraiser, all wearing the pink shirts you printed.

Tell the story of how those orders happened. Better yet, get your customers to do it. That’s more influential.

Talk about the process. What was involved? How did the fundraiser work? Fully explain the top three or four questions new customers always ask about the process.

When you educate your customers with these details, it makes the sales process easier as your customer has already done most of the work for you before they even call.

Answers = Control

When you are providing the answers to the questions before they are asked you are in control of the situation better.

Customers are looking to solve their problems. They want it easy and frictionless.

When you provide that for them with education, you can control the process better. Think about it. If I go to your website at 2:15 in the morning, can I find out if I can get 300 purple t-shirts produced and shipped to me by this Friday?

On your website in the middle of the night, how easy is it to find the answer to that question, and tons more?

“Oh, I Didn’t Know You Did That?”

Has anyone ever said that to you?

They aren’t only commenting on that type of work. This phrase says to you that your customer education and marketing program needs a facelift.

A few years ago a customer said that to me when they were touring the shop and noticed a job we were printing that used metallic gold ink. He thought that it required a special process, so he gave that order to another printer that he knew that used that ink before.


If you think about it, educating customers is basically Show and Tell.

How is anyone going to know your shop can do something unless you develop the mechanism to show them?  What is mundane and simple to us is overly complex and difficult to others.

Customer Training Step 1

On a whiteboard or a yellow legal pad, I want you to write down your top twenty most profitable orders from last year. These are the ones that fattened your bank account the most. They are the ones you would clone if you could.

Because that’s what we are going to do.

Got them? Good.

Customer Training Step 2

Now, let’s examine that list. Are all the orders the same type of job? Or, are they different?

Were they for the same type of industries or markets?

Did they have anything in common? Does anything leap out at you? Shirt style? The number of colors? Decoration method? Where were they shipped?

Customer Training Step 3

Next, I want to you look at your marketing for the past year. What have you been posting on social media? Dial up your Facebook page or Instagram. Check it out.

Are you educating your customers constantly by telling stories about the number one most profitable type of work in your shop?

Or is someone else getting that metallic gold ink order because they don’t know that you have that capability?

You have to demonstrate your awesomeness.

Your Customer Training Defines You

This industry is set up to make people happy. Of all the things in the world you can sell, t-shirts have to be one of the top things that bring smiles to people’s faces.

They are memories of that incredible concert. Or playing on that team.

Because of that, we’re eager to make our customers happy as much as we can too. That sometimes paints us into a corner that is nearly impossible to escape from. Don’t think so?

Here are some examples I think you’ve seen before:

  • “Sure, we’ll go ahead and get that rush order out for you by Friday. No problem.” Three years later, every job from the client is a three-day turn, without a rush fee.
  • Every single marketing post you push out lists a new type of sale. Now, nothing you sell can be listed at full price.
  • You never charge for art, and when you do it’s only $50 at most. For some customers, you’ll work up two or three designs and let them pick. Triple the work, for zero money. Bonus frustration is when you do all of that and they go somewhere else to get a “similar” design printed.
  • One of your oldest customers is now over 100 days past due on your A/R list. They just called with an emergency order for a big event. They need an art proof by tomorrow.
  • A customer backs up their car to your loading dock and walks in several dozen assorted shirts they bought at closeout from somewhere. They need exact quantities with their company logo on each for an open house next week. No problem in taking this, right?

The Plan

We all love our customers. But give some of them an inch, and they take two thousand six hundred and eighty miles.

Here’s where having policies and procedures in place can help you. For each situation, write the policy that will work the best and stick to your guns. What happens when these things slide is that the “problem child” order can severely affect all of the other orders in your system already.

For example, let’s take that non-rush order on for size. By accepting this type of work, the other jobs that have to go normally get pushed out the way. There can be a lot more hand-holding to try to get it out. Costs go up.

Your customer may not even need it then, it’s just what you’ve trained them to do.

To help this situation, don’t say you can’t take that type of order. But now you have some new procedures to help streamline your business so you can stay on schedule.

Explain the new rules and turn times. Talk about any fees. Certainly, discuss how valuable their business is to you.

But at the end of the day, you want them working like all of the other customers in your system. Outliers are hard to control sometimes.

Rinse and Repeat

Like anything new, consistency is the key to success. Lasting change only happens when it is enforced. Also, everyone in the shop needs to be doing it the same way.

This includes business owners. (Yes, that means you!)

Remember, if you don’t like the way a customer is working with your shop it is your responsibility to train them in the correct way. There may be some pushback, so ease into it.

Having data and facts available will help you make your point. Most people are reasonable.

You can do it!


“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” – Peter Drucker

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” – Peter Drucker

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” – Peter Drucker


Production Manager Tool

From day one, we’ve been devoted to making InkSoft the most useful tool for printing and customization professionals across the industry. While thousands of users are growing their businesses with InkSoft Stores and the Design Studio, we know we still have a lot of work to do to help print shops run more efficiently.

The next big step is a production management tool. We want to bring InkSoft full circle by providing a powerful way for you to streamline production and communication, ultimately boosting profitability and reducing costly mistakes. Not to mention, solving the challenges outlined in this article.