How NOT to Build Customer Loyalty…

Last year, I leased a postage meter from the company that shares my initials. Their introductory special offer became more understandable after seeing the bloated prices they charged for supplies. Some time back, I started getting regular “Low Ink!” warnings on the meter. Their cost to replace the slightly-bigger-than-a-pack-of-Tic-Tacs-sized cartridge? $47 + $8.50 shipping (UPS Ground). 56 bucks. On a whim, I called my neighborhood Cartridge World (, a low-cost, high-service, friendly cartridge refiller franchise (from Down Under, incidentally…). $28 refilled, drive-out price. But it gets better.

When I handed it over to the guy at CW, he started walking to the back of the store, then stopped, hefted it gently, and said, “This doesn’t feel empty.”? He knew exactly what it should weigh both full and empty, and a few moments later, he comes back: “It’s still about one-third to one-half full.” Nice. Thanks, guys.

Oh, and up yours, PB (them, PB, not me, PB), for hoping I’d just do as I was told and toss roughly $20-25 worth of ink and pony up another 56 clams. I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall at THAT meeting: “I know, we’ll set the machines to give premature low-ink warnings so we’ll increase ink sales by 37.56%! Wow, what a genius! Give him a raise!” Guess it never occurred to them that they’ve got competition on supplies, and even worse, honest folks who can bust them SO easily. Not smart. And now I’m writing about it. So they lose my supplies business along with that of probably a bunch of others, too.

P.S. I finally returned for a replacement cartridge nearly four months later.

P.P.S. When it came time to order mailing strips, THEY wanted over $80 for two boxes of double strips – delivered. Got the same thing from a competitor for $22 – to my door.

How do you make sure your copywriting clients keep coming back to you instead of going to the competition?

22 replies
  1. Barbara Payne
    Barbara Payne says:

    Had exactly the same experience with PB’s equipment several years ago when I first started my business. What is it about the situation that allows PB to keep recruiting enough new customers to stay in business? I was actually warned by my assistant who’d had the experience with another company earlier. So why did I feel I had to go for it anyway?

    Is it a human “need” to constantly reinvent the wheel?

  2. Tom
    Tom says:

    This is a fascinating insight. Since establishing my L.L.C. last year I have been inundated with ads for this product and haven’t made the commitment due to my low volume. I am now ‘aware’ and ‘warey’.


  3. peter
    peter says:


    Don’t be put off from getting a postage meter. It HAS dramatically simplified my life. I just think PB is totally missing the boat in building long-term relationships with their customers – which would put a LOT more money in their pockets. Why do they need to charge ridiculously high prices on supplies easily obtained elsewhere for far less? It’s almost as if they’re stuck in pre-Internet age thinking, which, given the fewer readily accessible alternatives for supplies, allowed companies to set the prices. Well, that world is LONG gone, but the mindset isn’t. They lose, and customers win (the smart ones anyway…).


  4. Steve
    Steve says:


    With regard to the leased postage meter folks, and your question, “How do you make sure your copywriting clients keep coming back to you instead of going to the competition?” — most importantly be honest.

    I hired a handyman to do some odd jobs around my house. Great young guy, young daughter to care for, and his work was so good and timely that it was a pleasure to hire him.

    Them, I started noticing the lies — how he said he was going to do something as part of a job and didn’t — and that bugged me. After that, not a phone call from me, for anything.

    I would rather take my licking and keep on ticking instead of lying to a client and being dishonest, whether it’s about a final fee or whatever. Because if I lie, IT’S ON ME, and that’s just something I mentally and (probably) emotionally can’t or won’t accept.

    The maxim here: Run an honest business. You’ll be more reputable — even if just to yourself.

  5. Michael Stelzner
    Michael Stelzner says:


    Sounds like my experience with HP.

    The low ink warning goes on about three months before the ink is really gone.

    AND everytime I print I am warned that I need ink!

  6. peter
    peter says:

    Yeah, Mike, I was thinking about the HP folks. AND all the others who basically give away ink-jet printers just to get the ongoing (and FAR more lucrative) cartridge business. And then they blow it by not only charging too much but resorting to cheesy strategies like these. That’s the great thing about free enterprise (and especially free enterprise in the Internet Age): keeping screwing people and someone’ll come along who doesn’t and they’ll win big. And overnight, just by being honest, they’ll earn that customer loyalty that the other company took for granted and hence, lost – just as quickly. People are so starved for honesty these days that they’ll embrace anyone who gives it to them. Talk about an EASY-to-do market differentiator… 😉


  7. Ray Claxton
    Ray Claxton says:

    Good point Peter, it has long been suspected that purveyors of printers etc make their money with ink and all the extras. Take Cannon for example, who put out an inexpensive all-in-one printer A while back I purchased the MP 370 which within a year began show a message something like: ‘Excess Ink Reservoir Almost Full’ and was threatening to stop working. Since this ‘reservoir’ is apparently inaccessible to the user, it entails taking the printer to a Cannon service centre. I live on Vancouver Island and the nearest centre is Vancouver, a ferry trip and $100 away. When I called Cannon explaining that it would be cheaper to simply junk this machine and buy another one, they agreed. They had simply manufactured a high tech piece of land fill. When I did eventually go to the mainland on business, the techie at the service centre simply reset the timer in the printer and I was good for another couple of years of printing.

    As you pointed out, the warnings light up when the cartridges are still half full on mine, too. I complained to the Canadian president of Cannon, and they sent me a reduced price deal on their latest model (at the time) the 450. They have become smarter by now integrating the cartridges into the electronics of the printer with a circuit so that it cannot be reproduced as a far cheaper generic cartridge. This is how important the ink sales are to them. They are still giving away their printers at fire sale prices. I had an Epson for year and never experienced these problems. The lesson is, avoid Cannon who seem to get us by the short and curlies every time.

  8. ink stain
    ink stain says:

    Peter, Michael Fortin lists you as an excellent resource for the subject at hand in the title above. I didn’t know if you had seen this post or not, but it’s a fantastic post about disillusion and the need for business imagination. Michael’s post is a reply to a letter from a disgruntled copywriter who albeit professionally, admonishes the all too common ‘billion-million-dollar copywriting’ culture. His letter to Michael poses some seriously compelling questions that are in the back of virtually most ever copywriter’s mind. Michael’s answers are very heartfelt and tell a narrative of a man who has suffered and who has exploded with opportunity. Not everyone is cut out to be in business like Michael Fortin, but it’s an engaging story and he mentions your efforts Peter as a contributor to the right way to think of copy—especially when you’re first starting your business.
    Best Always,
    Joseph Coplans, Ink stain in Denver

  9. ali manson
    ali manson says:

    Hey Pete,

    There are a thousand cliches rattling round in my head concerning this particular part of working life, but when prospective clients ask me how I’m different to other copywriters, my stock reply is this:

    “The only thing different I can offer is myself. There are others who may be able to do the work to a similar standard than me, but they can never hope to bring my unique personality to the table.”

    Most clients appreciate that I am honest with them and react well to my statement. Lying has never stuck with me (I’m a rubbish liar, and learned from a young age that I was my own worst enemy when attempting to lie my way out of trouble) and I refuse to even attempt to lie to a potential client in the vain hope of enticing them to work with me.

    If you can’t secure business honestly, then you shouldn’t be in business. That’s my opinion, anyway…

  10. peter
    peter says:

    Thanks Joseph,

    Appreciate your forwarding the link to Michael Fortin’s post! Gotten a lot of subscribes to the ezine and a few sales out of it. One thing so many budding copywriters DON’T get is that the world of the $5-10K direct response letter is one infinitesimal sliver of the overall “copywriting” universe. Because of entities like AWAI and all the other…how can I put this delicately… copywriting-guru-wannabes – all selling THE program for major riches, via their OWN direct response letter – many people think that that’s all “copywriting” means because it’s through all these folks that they get their only exposure to the term “copywriting.” And it often isn’t a very attractive one. It seems like a world populated by hucksters, carnival barkers, and quick-buck artists.

    What they don’t get is that there’s another whole world of copywriting – more respectable, in my way of thinking, but also one that’s flying under the radar for the most part. It’s one that covers all the OTHER projects that a company might need done: marketing brochures, ad copy, newsletters, web sites, some direct mail, case studies, speeches, and a zillion other categories. And the sheer volume of work in that arena positively dwarfs the direct-response copywriting arena. As such, I assert, it’s a far more feasible path to financial self-sufficiency than going the DRC route. Is it easy? No, as any experienced pro on this board can attest. But, there’s just so much more of it. I’ve made a very good living as a “copywriter” for years, and I’ve NEVER done a DRC letter. Not one. This could be worthy of a post right there… or at the very least, putting THIS comment as a comment on Michael’s post. Thanks again for sending the link my way.


  11. Deborah Savadra
    Deborah Savadra says:

    Oh, it gets worse …

    I noticed once that, when I sent out metered items via Certified Mail (few and far between) and took them to the post office to get the date stamped receipt, I didn’t get the same online tracking benefits from that I did when I actually bought the postage there. When I called the local Business Customer Service rep to ask why, he told me the counter clerks were instructed NOT to scan the bar codes into the system for tracking when the postage was pre-affixed. In other words, I was being penalized service-wise for not buying postage directly from USPS.

    I tried to explain that I pay the same $2.40 (or whatever it was at the time) regardless of whether I bought the postage from one of their APPROVED VENDORS or directly from them, and I deserved the same level of service. That argument didn’t land with him AT ALL … and we’re talking about one flick of the wrist, not costing them a dime in labor. It left a bad taste.

    That little extra effort costs nothing and pays big dividends. Golden Rule Relationships are the way to go … in business and in life.

  12. Jemille Williams
    Jemille Williams says:

    Hi, Peter!

    I have another log to lay on the fire of the company whose initials are in my salutation. I take my cartridge out and tap it whenever it says it’s empty and always get a little more mileage out of it.

    I REALLY hate, resent, and loathe the way they make a page print out IN LIVING COLOR to make sure the damn thing is adjusted or whatever they call it. Does anyone know any way around that?

    Also, next time I’m going to get one that has separate color cartridges. I once had a business with a red logo, and would find the cartridge still pregnant with blue and yellow when the red was gone, so I would print drafts and other lesser internal things in blue. Now I’ve got a green logo, so I print everything in magenta.

    I’ve been a-scared to use the cartridge refillers. Is everyone having good success with them?

    Thanks for the forum!

  13. Jeff Colburn
    Jeff Colburn says:

    Hi Peter,

    Most printers work that way too. I’ve been working with personal computers for about 25 years, and been employed by various companies as a computer tech for about 10 years. I suggest that people not replace printer ink cartridges until pages come out blank, or the printer won’t print until you put in a new cartridge (Epson printers do this).

    On more than one occasion my printer has had a flashing light saying it’s out of ink, and the on-screen ink gauge says the cartridge is empty, but I’ve printed another 50 perfect pages.

    Have Fun,

  14. peter
    peter says:

    Hi Jemille,

    I’ve been using Cartridge World for several years and am totally happy with them. Same exact thing (as far as I can tell) for about 1/2 to 2/3 the price. And I’ve noticed a lot of the office supply stores – the ones selling the pricey brand-name cartridges – getting into the refilling game as well. I even noticed a sign at the door of a local Walgreen’s of all places advertising cartridge refilling. What’s next? McDonalds? “Want a toner cartridge with that?” And it all stands to reason: charge far more for something than it really costs, and it’s only a matter of time until you have competition. Heck, it’s the same principle the black market operates on…


  15. Heather Cook, The Writing Mother
    Heather Cook, The Writing Mother says:

    I’m curious, how do you know it was something that the machine was meant to do? You said it started doing that after you had it a while… so did are you saying it was programmed to wait a few months before starting to give a “low ink” signal?

    It seems like a pretty dismal view! I’d be more likely to check with the company first and give them the benefit of the doubt at least ONCE before I started insisting that it was a purposeful act of deciet.

    I find that any piece of equipment has quirks. Just like others mentioned, I chose a printer with separate ink cartridges so if I run out of black I only have to buy black. That’s just common sense.

    Now with regards to your question:

    I cannot “make sure” that my clients keep coming back because I cannot control what they do. I can only give them consistently high quality work, treat them with fairness and respect, and treat them as I would like to be treated. Some stay. Some leave. Some leave and come back saying “wow, did I have a bad experience out there… I’m back to you!”


  16. peter
    peter says:

    Thanks Heather,

    Appreciate the comments. As for your take, I think your faith in humanity is admirable, and I, too, have it most of the time. That said, on this count, I have no doubt that this was intentional. Read some of the other ones here – this practice is VERY standard in the printer industry. The machine knows when ink is low, and I’m saying it’s programmed to go off prematurely.

    As for your take on customer loyalty, you’re right and wrong. You don’t have control over what a client will do, but clients are pretty predictable in that, if you DO all those things you mentioned, few will run off and hire someone else. Clients don’t want to make their lives any more challenging than they already are, and when they find someone who simplifies their lives, they’ll want to go back again and again. So, in that sense, you DO have control over over what your clients will do. Think a cat who finds a soft touch who rubs his belly just the right way when few others will. Who do you think HE’S going to keep coming back to? 😉


  17. Cori Smelker
    Cori Smelker says:

    I have been a freelance writer now for over 10 years and I have built some terrific customer loyalty. Being honest is definitely number 1 on the list. When I first started out I had little, little ones at home – 4 kids under the age of 3, and an older one in elementary school. My hours were erratic to say the least, but I always told my clients that I had to work around my family’s schedule. They seemed to understand that, and continued to use me. However, I remained professional at all times with the clients, and never used my family an excuse.

    Being true to your word is important too. If I tell my client I will have a rough draft for them by Tuesday morning at 8:00am – then I have a rough draft ready for them by that time. Through experience I have learnt to give myself extra time for those unforeseen emergencies, like a sick child who needs to go to the doctor, or something like that. If I can even get the work done earlier than projected, I will.

    I have also learnt to listen to the client, not jump in with my own opinions and thoughts, until I have heard them out. People will be less receptive to your ideas, as great as they may be, until they’ve had the chance to voice, and validate, theirs.

    Finally, the personal touch helps. I try to send a thank you card once a project is done, and once a month or so just a ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ card. I’m not trying to drum up business, but I am trying to keep my name in front of clients, so that the next time a project comes across their desk, I will be the first person they think of to complete it.

  18. Nancy Nally
    Nancy Nally says:

    I use the low ink light on my HP printer as the signal that I need to monitor the print quality but it always goes on well before the cartridge actually needs replacing. I can often print for weeks or a month or more with that light on.

    I don’t use cartridge refilling because it is my understanding from my husband, who has worked for a long time in digital imaging, that refilled cartridges can damage machines and lower print quality.

  19. Eileen Coale
    Eileen Coale says:

    Being honest and offering excellent work, and never missing a deadline, of course. Beyond that, I also do little extras that I wasn’t specifically contracted for – like offering to look over a press release that was written by their staff at no extra charge, or writing an extra chunk of copy for an additional web page that wasn’t in our original agreement. On a 10 or 20-hour project, an extra half hour is no big deal on my end, and clients feel they’re not being nickel-and-dimed to death. Sometimes I’ll also mail them an article I’ve clipped from an industry magazine that may interest them, or send them an online link to something pertinent.

  20. peter
    peter says:

    Thanks Eileen (and Nancy, Cori, Deborah),

    I’m the same way. If I’m working on a big project, I won’t watch every minute. And clients DO appreciate the extras and they contribute to that overall feeling of an enjoyable experience – one that they would like to repeat… 😉


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