Wednesday, May 7, 2008

‘Commerce with a cause’ and divine customer service

Reviewed: “LaserMonks: The Business Story Nine Hundred Years in the Making,” by Sarah Caniglia and Cindy Griffith, McGraw Hill, 2008, $21.95, 180 pages.

When your printer runs out of ink, wouldn’t you feel better buying a replacement cartridge from a business that gives part of your purchase price to good works?

That’s the story behind “LaserMonks: The Business Story Nine Hundred Years in the Making,” by Sarah Caniglia and Cindy Griffith.

It’s about a group of Cistercian monks in Wisconsin who run a mail-order ink- and-toner business so their abbey can be self-sustaining. They also believe in going the extra mile when it comes to customer service and donating to charities.

“In the next 10 years, the trend toward purchasing with a purpose will continue to grow. Consumers will demand that the goods and services they purchase come from companies that are actively involved in doing good works in the community,” write the authors.

The monks choose a “charity of the month” each month and announce it on their Web site. They also allow customers to choose additional charities to receive funds.

That quirky little premise was enough for me to give the book a read. That and the fact that they call their employees “MonkHelpers.” Weird, but cute.

Caniglia and Griffith are these two marketing geniuses who moved to Wisconsin to live with the monks to try to help make the business a success. They run MonkHelper Marketing, Inc., the company that manages on the monks’ behalf.

The two women developed a customer-service philosophy, along with their monk friends, that follows the Rule of St. Benedict: “kindness, hospitality, and charity above all.”

Treating customers well and continually seeking to improve the customers’ experience kept them coming back.

“We realized that rather than pat ourselves on the back for satisfying 98 percent of our customers, we needed to dig deeper into the two percent who had a less-than-stellar experience,” Caniglia and Griffith write.

The company now surveys customers quarterly to find ways to improve customer service.

“The more we do to care for our customers, the more they care for LaserMonks, which enables us to do more for the community at large,” the authors write.

Since the concept was developed in 2001, the LaserMonks’ business has grown to a $10 million per year venture, all the while keeping charity at the heart of everything they do.

This kind of story — monks in middle America running a successful online business and sharing their marketing secrets — isn’t published every day. Though it was a little dull and longwinded in parts, the core philosophy is unique and interesting.

The next time my printer needs ink, I’ll look to Not just for the competitive prices and mission of charity, but for the knowledge that if I need customer service, I will be taken care of. That’s a rarity in today’s world, and especially in e-commerce.

Enter to win a gently used copy of “LaserMonks” by emailing your mailing address to

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