Decades of working in corporate politics can leave you scarred and scattered. There is no need for that. In a series for American Printer, I’m reviewing tips for a specific service provision to large corporations. Enjoy and apply to your endeavors. This particular service is multi-channel marketing as an ongoing service. Many print service providers are finding survival means adapting and becoming new. Whether you are internal to an organization or serving the larger engine of an organization, the rules are similar.
Take a read and ask a question. This is only one of a series of articles addressing this service. Others cover staffing, workflow, conceptualization, and will move on to business model for effectiveness.
A large retailer directed that every time the word “customer” appears in their marketing it was to be replaced with “people”. Dehumanizing people is a common characteristic of service organizations. Historical IT organizations like the term “user” for those that come to them for service. In Plant and other inside department service teams can get lax in how we view those that provide for our livelihood. Maybe over time the word “customer” has become too common. Smart organizations serve people. People need relationship.
Celebrations of 100%
The phone call was from the manager of one my largest customers. Usually that call meant some service glitch had occurred. This time it was different. She called to tell me that her group had been doing 100% of their business with us for the last six months. She had not told us. She had just done it. Her team loved it. They loved our people.
Could she come and have a surprise party and celebrate with the team? Her team and my team together? Of course. I love the pictures of that moment. The smiles had taken years of service and listening and adapting. But here they were. These moments are repeatable.
Organizations Are Different
In the university organization relationship development with Athletics, Admissions, Administration, Alumni, and Academics brings big results. A good friend with over twenty years of good success in a private university taught me that cultural specific. People have cultures and ways of grouping themselves. Be attentive. Both at the executive and ordering customer level, this is critical. Universities have their own culture that needs stroked and attended.
In corporate America relationship development can vary greatly. But every organization has the C Suite. CEO, COO, CIO, CTO, CSO, CRO, CMO, and CFO have some commonalities and some differences. Executives look for risk reduction, human resource optimization, cost containment, budget stability and predictability, and revenue growth. Those are common concerns. Yet, ever executive has a focus area. Marketing, finance, sales, information, security, risk, operations, technology, and the Executive Officer each have nuances of interest alongside the commonalities. A smart In Plant studies and meets the needs of the executive organization.
Family companies can differ from stock public owned companies. The dynamics are different. The people act differently and have different priorities. Get specific to your organization.
Industries can differ. An insurance or finance oriented company looks at minute details and tends to attract analytical managers. A retail organization is geared for change and adaptation. Smart departments adapt to the differences evident in the people in the organization.
So How Do You Humanize the Customer?
Working with a university in-plant, my estimate is that they can double and even triple effectiveness and “share of wallet” in existing relationships by tuning into the “voice of the customer”. Too often, we get focused on the differences we have with those that come to us for service. Why not look at the similarities? Why not find the connections we have and commonalities? Humanize your view of the people you serve.
They have a message to deliver to a group and a response they would like. Whether it is a course pack for a law professor or a direct personalized mailer for a sales organization, there is a reason for the communication going out on paper and a response that is wanted. Isn’t that what all of us do all day? We communicate in order to get a response. Focus on what that person is looking to accomplish.
The people you serve have demands and pressures. Sound familiar? The In-Plant is constantly pushed to deadlines. It is the last lap in a long race for any organization or company. The people who we serve are under similar pressures to perform. Relate.
The people you serve have families and lives outside of their work. When working with one marketing manager, it was joy to listen as she shared about her husband and children and community activities. They were different priorities than my life, but most similar in many ways. The relationship built understanding from family to the work place.
Gain Efficiencies on Trust
Steven Covey is known for his premier work on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. His son is known for his work on the Speed of Trust. Trust built through relationship can enable great communication between “customer” and “service team”. End to end high speed communication chains in a print service team and customer relationship ensures minimum loss of time and minimum waste in execution.
Enabled service that lives in a humanized relationship with those served provides a value to an organization that is inestimable. The value of those that serve with the maximum vested interest at heart of those they serve as people not “users” cannot be measured in dollars. The people served are empowered at a new level that just is hard to convey. Those people end up bringing double to quadruple the business to the service team. Maybe you can have a 100% party.
The fallacy still exists in the print services industry that you can get by without big feature online services. You can’t. Any executive or manager that is looking to improve performance must attend to this item.
A good online and pdf workflow system with right features for customers and production and administrative can drive significant costs out of reworks, job loss to competitors, and lag times on projects. It also can bring in a constant flow of repeat business and give you a competitive advantage. You can establish a clear differentiation from competition and integrate your production workflow with the customer workflow. When they order, you can be the only option on their mind.
Inside the shop, there is an amazing turnaround improvement as wasted hours of looking for information are reduced and the status of every job is known at every moment.
For the administrative team invoice and chargeback information accuracy improves and historical analysis of product mix performance by customer and product type becomes available.
Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt
Why would you not move into this world? Confusion over what you need leads the biggest fear factor. Fear of a long project implementation that fails is another uncertainty area. Doubt that your team can pull off the project correctly is another block to productive adaptation.
What online support is not.
Online support is not an ftp site with a little file information. That is primitive and is what most print providers call online ordering. If that is all you have, you need to move forward rapidly to find a more featured solution.
Online support is not job costing with file attachment. Again, some have moved a step up the chain and adapted to at least give customers some added information. However, most of those serving and most of those ordering are fully aware, the price at the delivery rarely matches in these type systems. Customers need accuracy.
Online support is not an order system that resists integration with the other major processes of a production shop. This can be frustrating.
What is going on in most shops?
In many shops those three represent the extent of online ordering support for the customer and the staff running the shop. Every executive and manager can improve services for the organization and for the customers by going into a big feature online ordering support.
What does real online ordering and pdf workflow look like?
Okay, get your pencil out and begin to go over the checklist. In the next ten years, you will be converted to this way of thinking or you might just not be in the business anymore. It amazes me how much we resist the power of good ideas. You need to demand your online software vendor support what you are getting ready to read and you need to demand your in-plant find a cost effective implementation for you.
Online ordering requires acceptance of file upload of supported standard file types.
A good system will archive prior files ordered and allow reorder without reupload.
Catalogue collection and customization by client group.
Variable customization of certain orders for dynamic build of post, brochure, business cards.
Look and feel by client group ordering. Make it personal for the client.
Tight security and separation of file storage.
Dynamic status of order reflecting whether the order has been moved to press, finishing, or shipped.
Content lockdown with marketing, legal, compliance, and any other customer required approvals.
Great systems have fulfillment for non-print items and high demand print items.
Great systems are integrated into automatic invoicing.
Great systems are integrated into shippers like Fedex and UPS for single reference from order point to receipt by the customer.
Great systems have production integration for the shop so internal service can monitor all orders from a single console.
So, what is keeping the industry from running forward? Automation leaders like VistaPrint and Shutterfly have proven value of powerful online systems. Of course, an in-plant is not purposed to serve the world with such product, but they can certainly improve the purpose they serve. There are some tremendous in-plants that have brought incredible value to their customers and owners through adopting online.
Get with it. Find a way to implement and milk the value out of online and interactive custom ordering services.
Yes, you do need to deal with the fear, uncertainty and doubt.
Develop a list of criteria.
Talk to key stakeholders in the customer areas.
Build a shortlist of acceptable vendors with an RFI (request for information).
Produce a product list that would be supported with expected sales growth by product.
Calculate waste reductions with a LEAN DOWNTIME approach. That is another article.
Product Optimization: Six Core Area For In-Plant Cost Optimization for Executives
Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. Steve Jobs
Love the Product. Love the Customer. Love Each Other. Phil Larson
That mantra has served me well for decades. Loving your products and services builds professionalism and excellence into all you and your team produce. Loving your customer causes you to find inventive ways to serve. You listen and adapt to their needs. Loving the other members of your production team causes you to believe in them and work to see them grow. It works together.
Ingenuity inside a performing enterprise takes dedication to the voice of the customer in product optimization.
One shop had worked for years on shifting priorities of several companies. A particular product needed in a particular manner eluded their capabilities. Both the people in the company needing service and the people in production were stumped. Eventually, a bright-minded setup tech invented a plan. With some modifications in production and some workflow adaptation in order intake and online systems, the product was brought successfully into plant production. The department saved thousands of dollars a month and reduced lag times on orders. They also moved from a static mode to a dynamic mode. They also eliminated the need for a complete position and the person in that position moved up into a higher contributing spot. What a win-win-win-win! The production team loved servicing the product line and it filled in for a dropped product line.
Product Optimization is getting the right product mix that is profitable and fit to the location, equipment, and people. Make it important. Pricing has to be right. Prioritization has to be right. Process has to be right. Effective turnaround on the products that are bread and butter and keep the shop running day to day has to be protected.
Let’s look at those components of product optimization.
Props: Tools and Technologies
Adding a new product or service can entail huge shifts in people skill base. There has to be time to build the new skills and knowledge. Plan it in. Make sure your budget planning includes expanding tools and technologies and integrating training across teams ahead of product launch.
When implementing UV coating, it became apparent it was not as simple as we thought. Finishing techs were excellent at folding, perfing, bookmaking and other areas. UV is almost an art of temperature, paper type, speed , thickness, machine, and coating. It is certainly a craft where skill, expertise, and art combine. There were many trials and errors before we could brag about capability. However, once launched, the demand was continual.
Custom work means custom pricing. Many in-plants are not set up for custom anything. People who have used the service are used to pay per piece or pay per page or pay for nothing just make the budget work. That can be limiting when products and services need to be customized for one area though not all need them. Budgeted hourly rates, production turns, machine setups, people time in workflow, and supplies all have to be put into pricing calculators to then match to market bearing numbers. This is tough work and necessary. No one can operate on cost alone. A fully loaded cost contains many factors including profit. Profit for an in-plant means allocated dollars for increasing equipment and skill training to always improve for the people you serve.
Pricing reflects value. Value reflects dignity. Dignity reflects ownership. Ownership makes for great results.
A client was ready for custom one-off book production. Anyone who has ordered a photo book online understands the high dollars charged. This client balked at even a low charge. Entitlement thinking had prepped them for simply not having to pay any extra for custom, labor intensive work. Negotiation and clear-headed thinking prevailed and a new product was co-invented for the client that revolutionized sales results for one company. The sales teams received access to custom proposals in high quality book form that set them in much higher esteem with prospects. A simple pricing negotiation between the in-plant and the creative released power for an entire sales team.
Every shop has a mix of people served. Every business unit served and every department has different business demands and workflows that have to be met and matched. This balance keeps the symbiotic excellence for a performing enterprise that is so necessary for complete productivity. New product and altered product requires prioritization changes communicated at every step of the process.
Blow out of your mind the thought of levels of the process when considering priority. Thinking of levels of people will get you in trouble. Every person in the process chain needs to understand prioritization of performance in relation to the other items on which they work not “the president wants this right now”. That form of prioritization is surely necessary at times and managers have to adjust to make it happen while keeping the flow of all the business considered. An open channel for emergencies has to be in place. But, the normal flow of product and service has to have a regular prioritization all can understand.
An in-plant with good service means a busy in-plant. Move one item and five others are affected. In one plant, we had over 250 steps for each print order. From file prep to print to finish to distribute to allocate $$, it all had to be done and communicated.
This is a good place to make a note about humanizing services. A great lesson for me was finding a way to allow the people we served to look into our processes without turning control over to them. One person loved to walk up to the production team and shift their priorities either through smoozing or scowling. Neither helped anyone. I’ll never forget a twenty year professional broken down in my office, nerves shot, and eyes red from trying to serve this person. The person needed influence, but not in the middle of production processes. We altered our customer service approaches to be more inclusive of them and others along with spending time communicating our process methodologies. The interruptive visits went away.
Our votes(decisions) must go together with our guns (force of need). After all, any vote we shall have, shall have been the product of the gun. The gun which produces the vote should remain its security officer – its guarantor. The people’s votes and the people’s guns are always inseparable twins. Robert Mugabe
Executives and directors, I encourage you to protect what you value. You don’t have to pull out a gun to protect prior decisions, but you certainly should think protection. Decisions have been made with great thought and foresight. There was force of need that implemented past decisions and force of need that makes new ones. When you implement change, you need to address protecting prior decisions so the team understands value of loyalty and service. Otherwise you look petty and political and might make some costly mistakes.
Okay, that is enough thinking on this subject. The online book can give you more insights.
Next up will be online support and pdf workflow optimization. If you have an in-plant, Mr/Mrs/Ms Executive, you must make this happen.
Reviewing the cost power of in-plants is important for any executive wanting to make key decisions regarding cost and value and profits. Many make the mistake of simply categorizing in-plant production as a cost reduction or expense area. That can blow costs up in many other areas of the company. However, an inefficient in-plant that has not worked hard at value add may provide cost reduction after all. Unless, you work on the value add.
Profit leaders in commercial print plants keep Value Add at 65% or better. An In-Plant can do better. I’ve seen plants up to 85% where materials are not of high significance. Part of the problem is that corporations and organizations outside of manufacturing don’t get the concept. Even companies in manufacturing forget to apply costing and planning principles to individual departments that are applied to the entire company profit and value calculations.
What is Value Add?
Value Add is simple. Value Add is what your shop produces minus materials (paper, ink, plates) and minus what you shop out and outsource to others (mail list handling, large runs, design, etc…) When you shop out the work, you are not adding value for the client, the departments, or your business. Someone else is adding value. It devalues your overall business proposition.
Managers and executives, no one can do 100%. We need to measure today and work to move it above the 65% line. This is long term value for you as a business. You can be making profits off of this work and improving your single source provider influence in the mind of the customer. Customers want to go once place and get service from you, the provider that understands their needs.
So Where Can You Improve an In-Plant Service?
Simple. Ask the people sourcing work out of the company and organization.
Are there posters and banners and event collateral being serviced down the street for three times what could be produced in-house? Trust me, if you are doing these types of work and not enabling the in-house team with equipment to produce, you are losing money. It is costing you profits.
Is direct mail being serviced outside? Your in-plant should be working to integrate that into their digital offering. If your in-plant is already out-sourced, you should challenge the provider in this area.
Are you supporting online and variable print collateral across your organization? It is expensive out of house. A committed in-house or commercially provided in-plant can make that area work excellence for your organization.
What does your organization need?
Are you doing finishing at a secondary site and adding confusion, less reliability, and production lags in delivery? Think it through.
As an executive, you should be challenging the provider whether your in-plant is in-house or commercially provided. As an in-plant manager, you should be actively seeking product and services that build the value of the offerings to the business or organization.
Value Add builds business value, expands worker capability and contribution, and reduces production mix ups and lags due to outsourcing.
Next up? Product Optimization… a real place to get costs down and profits up.
The question is continually asked for printers, “What is the cheapest way I can print?” Another form of that question is, “What is the cost?”
Cost is relative. Sure, you need the best price. But you also need the most sustainable price. You also need the best price over time. A quick cheap solution may produce enormous waste in cost and environment over time. Printing 50,000 that are stored on the shelf and only half is used is really the price divided by 25,000. So a $50,000 job for a run on which only 25,000 will ever be used cost $2.00 a piece and damages the environment unnecessarily. Maybe you need to run 5,000 at a time at a cost of $1.10 a piece. If you succeed and need more, you can go up to the 50,000 and beyond based on profitability not cost of piece thinking. Chances are running digital fits. If you go to 30,000, you still have only spent $31,000 dollars and have not waste and no unnecessary environmental impact. You save money. The environment is handled responsibly. What a deal. Read the blog. Be responsible.
I’m not saying go out and buy the equipment being promoted here. But follow the logic. Stretch your mind as a buyer and person who uses print when you are talking to those that serve you. Read this blog.
Every organization needs improvement. Every executive needs to perform with velocity and validity. Velocity means right timing. Validity means right area. Over time and travel, it has been my experience that any operation can gain a 25% improvement in costs and performance through some basic approaches. Most don’t believe it. That includes the one that just improved. Yet, most remain semi-productive behind walls of indecision and fear.
The language of growth resistance is well documented.
We’ve done that before and it didn’t work.
So and So would never approve that.
You don’t understand MY situation, we are different.
Oh, that’s just the article of the week program, we don’t need that.
On and on it goes. The language of fear and resistance is pervasive, stifling, entitlement driven, and deadly in the long run. It is valid. Yes, many times each of those statements has been true. That does not make them true in every situation and certainly does not excuse using them to resist thinking creatively and cooperatively to build new solutions fit to present demands.
So, let’s explore the first area where an executive, manager, or director can assist so an in-plant can develop greater value for an organization and move from being a cost to a benefit. That is the focus. Get the in-plant into a benefit position for the organization. Eliminating costs is a dreary and sometimes necessary effort. Yet, the real focus is to improve the bottom line. The real need is to broaden the gap between expense and revenue.
You Need Print
Every organization has needs for print and related services. The needs vary according to the demands of the recipients of the product or service the organization delivers. The needs vary based on the methods of marketing and sales and support that are in motion and planned. Meeting those needs effectively and efficiently and responsibly with attention to compliance becomes the challenge for the in-plant operation.
The first stop on improvement is workflow efficiency. This area has been overanalyzed in the industry to the point of becoming high centered in detail approaches. Most plant managers and team members have a great grasp on what could be done to improve efficiency. Most plant managers and team members do not have a great grasp on how that will improve the service for the people needing access and turnaround. There is no reason to simply save time and steps. The need is to gain improvements that return value for people.
Simple, Simple, Simple
Loaded in my phone/camera are pictures of many shops located in many settings. There are ten times as many of these in the gallery of photos in my mind. Short ceilings, cramped corners, stacked supplies, dangerous aisles, and overheated equipment plague my mind. Whew! How in the world do we get into these situations? What was that last person thinking when they reduced access to the supplies the operator needs 10 times a shift? It is not usually expensive to resolve some of these items. The human factor becomes the biggest blockade. Convincing people that life can be better and less hectic and reduce costs for the client is the tough road. Trust me. Sometimes a little reorganization of equipment and supplies to fit the workload of the current and planned product production can return dollars in reduced bad runs, faster turns, less utilities, and better uptime on equipment to allow increased volume. Costs go down quickly and morale goes up just as quick.
Smiling Servants Stimulate
Good morale reduces costs and improves revenue. In a production shop, parties and warm and fuzzy photo moments are not the quickest way to morale improvement. Give a production worker the right tools and the right training and a person to serve and get out of the way. The fastest route to morale improvement is workflow blockage removal. You need to “get ‘er done”. Bring on the orders and allow top performers to serve with excellence.
In a healthcare campus, our shop was located next to the morgue. That thought can be quite a downer. One worker complained when a nurse stepped in and asked her to hold a lifeless baby while she finished other arrangements. Whew! Some shops have bigger issues than others. But worse than the morgue was the fact that the equipment was placed badly for heat exhaust and the air temperatures and volumes needed to operate were inadequate. The team was in a constant state of fear a piece of equipment would be impacted and production would slow or halt. No one can be productive living in fear of the unknown. A little creative rerouting of cooling supply arranged by engineering alleviated the heat overload. Some quick rearranging of equipment between 2am and 4am one morning brought more air flow sensibility. An almost no-cost solution gained days a week of equipment uptime and brought pride back to the production team. The doctors and nurses and administrative staff began getting what they needed to do their jobs more effectively for patients. New work requests began to flood the shop as reliability of service returned.
Process documentation is not an option. In an insurance group, we discovered there was no integrated production plan understandable by the entire team. Every person on every shift had a different interpretation of how to get the job done, what was priority, and who else was to blame for every issue. No one really knew when work would come out of the shop once it went in. Ten day turnarounds were not uncommon. You probably have worked with groups like this. They are great people buried in an inadequate process built over time and patched together like Frankenstein with each change in organization need and chaos and priority of the day.
You are not going to get the full answer in this short article to how we solved this problem. But, I will tell you, it was the team that solved it. I will tell you they began working through point to point touch solutions and tracking. I will tell you they talked to the people receiving their services and included them in prioritization based on business impact not personal departmental preferences. I will tell you it takes executive support.
Oh, the team went to 8-72 hour predictable and communicated turnarounds on ten times the volume with the same staffing and equipment levels. You would love to get that wouldn’t you? The cost / benefit impact on company overall services became more than the cost to run the plant. Think this way. The beginning cost was $2000x and the volume was 1000x. The resulting cost was $1001x and the volume was 10,000x. Pent up demand was going to over-sourcers at higher costs. The unseen expense to the organization of many departments having to arrange outside services couple with dollars buried in hidden budget line items was huge. It went away.
Rapid workflow benefits your ability to work on the next area. You can’t get buried in workflow improvements. It is just one area needing attention. There is a balance and every area needs attention all the time. Next, we’ll talk about value add. It has to improve.