Channel Letters: Addressing difficult client expectations


Images courtesy Direct Sign Wholesale

By John Baylis
How does one define the term ‘problem client’ in the sign industry? There are many potential issues and irritations a customer can cause for—by way of example—an electrical sign project involving channel letters. The following are some of the warning signs:

The customer takes up an excessive amount of the sign shop’s time and attention; more than the project actually requires.
During the project, the customer causes an unusual amount of stress for the shop’s owner and staff.
The customer is inflexible regarding the appearance of his/her artwork and logo, demanding that the sign must look “exactly like it does on the page.”
The project provides little chance of any future work; i.e. the location is probably the only one for which the sign will be produced.

It is important to note, by the way, there is nothing inherently wrong with clients not understanding the realities of signmaking. A client’s lack of sign knowledge is not, in itself, a negative factor. Many complaints can be resolved by educating the customer.

Clients who insist on projecting their own lack of understanding on to a sign shop’s team, on the other hand, can quickly become a negative issue. The difference is these problematic customers (a) do not respect signmakers’ competence and (b) will not leave them alone to conduct their work professionally.

Such situations are emblematic of the types of clients with whom signmakers would certainly not be eager to do business. Nevertheless, some sign companies work with them anyway, going through a negative and time-consuming experience.

Sometimes, they do not recognize the problem until it is too late. An alternative business practice would be to implement procedures to spot problem clients in advance and avoid the entire ordeal. The following are a few ideas to consider within this context.


Internally illuminated channel letters rely on minimum stroke widths to accommodate light-emitting diodes (LEDs)

Prior signage experience
Any customer who has previously commissioned the fabrication and installation of an outdoor electrical sign has at least some experience that will be beneficial to his/her working relationship with other signmakers. While this level of experience is not the same as working within the sign industry, the customer will nevertheless have an idea of what is involved in a sign project.

Inexperienced customers, on the other hand, may have no idea how much time and work will be involved when fabricating and installing a set of illuminated channel letters. Some are not even aware of the typical requirement for a sign permit. This lack of experience should be a red flag to signmakers, who may in turn need to explain the realities of the business.

Worse yet are clients whose experience with other types of signs leads them to lump them all together in terms of expectations of how long a project will take. When a client complains, “Our window graphics didn’t take this long,” he/she is wearing rose-coloured glasses with regard to the work involved in a professional outdoor electrical sign installation.

So, it is important to be wary of clients ordering their first-ever outdoor sign, as they may make unrealistic demands regarding the cost, timeframe and materials involved with such a project.

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