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As deadlines get tighter, it's become an even greater problem in
the production area to meet increasingly faster turnaround times.
Getting control of file production is likely one of the top items on
your to-do list”?but what are some of the best ways to do so?

One of the last resorts most of us wish to take when it
comes to meeting this demand is to simply say, “No.” When
a customer makes an unreasonable demand, however, you
might be better off exercising this option. Often, production
managers can be so concerned about not alienating the customer
that they'll lose track of how much taking a job can actually
cost in terms of overtime
or lost opportunities
with other customers.

You also may have
noticed that the customers
who make these demands
are the ones who often do
so consistently. I would
argue that even they may
actually be better off (and
more time-conscious) if you
say “no” once in a while.

But, of course, saying
“no” will always be a last
resort, and doing so will never make the sales office happy. so
think of the following as alternatives to saying “no”?alternatives
that can really boost your shop's turnaround time.

Firm deadlines and incentives
Many shops set deadlines according to whichever customer
is screaming the loudest, which of course is the least efficient
way to handle this. The salesman or CsR comes in and says, “I
need a proof of this by end of day,” without bothering to see if
that is possible. Typically, then, the production manager hands
it off to the crew and says, “Make it happen.”

One company I'm aware of has the following system:

  • Hot, Hot, Hot Rush = the top of the pile;
  • Hot, Hot Rush = as soon as possible;
  • Hot Rush = in the next couple of days; and
  • Rush = whenever you get around to it.

Nothing ever is entered into the system unless it is at least
a “rush” job. Understand, of course, that the sales office considers
all of the various rush codes to mean their job should be
done first. But there are still only so many hours in a shift, and
only so many employees to push the jobs through. Piling on
unrealistic expectations helps no one”?not company sales, not
company employees, and not the customers.
Cutting Down Turnaround Time

It might help to build in some incentives to establish realistic
deadlines. We tend to think of negatives when it comes to
deadlines: If the job is late the customer will be angry, the job
will cost more, or the profit will be reduced. But when deadlines
are not realistic, these factors have little meaning, and ranting
about missed deadlines won't fix the problem.

Instead, try some positive rewards: perhaps a free lunch,
or tickets to a sporting event (both of which cost far less than
a missed deadline). If there is some reward for both sales and
production when a job is completed on time, two things happen:
The sales rep has some incentive to establish a deadline that
can reasonably be met, and production has incentive to meet it.

In addition, it's not unreasonable to establish higher shop
rates for producing a job when the customer demands that the
job be done in less-than-standard time. When the CsR says,
“We can have the proof for you today for $60 and tomorrow for
$30,” you might be surprised how quickly tomorrow becomes
an acceptable due date.

Don't be afraid to ask the customer
When a question arises about a job, the average print shop often
wastes time by not asking the customer some specific questions.
It's not uncommon for jobs to get produced incorrectly,
even though a question has been raised in the production
department”?all because the customer was never contacted.

Of course, it's important to handle such queries professionally
and to not approach the customer in an accusatory manner.
Make it clear to them that you are trying to provide them the best
service; you're not questioning their ability to create good files.


At the same time, it's important to know exactly what the
question is before you ask. For instance, how often has this
happened in your shop: The production technician says a font
is missing. The CsR calls the customer and says a font is missing.
The customer says, “I did a collect for output so they can't
be missing.” The CsR then calls the production manager who
talks to the technician who says, “Well, actually, he used Mortimer
sans with a bold style applied and there is no Mortimer
sans Bold.” so the production manager calls the CsR who calls
the customer, and on and on. and of course in all this time no
one is actually getting any production done.

It's a matter of effective communication. Whoever is actually
talking to the customer needs to understand precisely
what the problem is”?and what must be done to correct it.

How e-mail can help and hinder
If your shop is like most, you rely heavily on e-mail to keep
things moving through production. There should be a consistent company-wide policy for writing and sending e-mails,
particularly those going to customers. Yes, e-mail can be a
great automator and aide in cutting down turnaround time,
and it has the added benefit of leaving a paper trail. But it
can have a negative side as well. Some folks really aren't
all that proficient handling their e-mail account (e-mails
get “lost,” are simply not read, or are inadvertently thrown
away), plus it can allow people to see information they are
not supposed to see.

Keep in mind that e-mail originating from your employees
represents your company, and you have a right and responsibility
to make sure it's being done properly. For example, you
may want to insist that employees use a spell checker before
they send an e-mail, and append all of their contact information
and appropriate disclaimers to each e-mail they send out.
E-mail can become a legal document in the case of a problem
with a print job, an employee, or a customer.

And although you do want to generally limit the number
of e-mails, I would also advocate one topic per e-mail. People
generally read e-mails by skimming. If you have more than one
topic to cover in an e-mail, make that very clear at the outset, or
send two e-mails.

Staying on time
Of course, many shops will also say that they could really
speed up production if only they invested in more computer
horsepower. The truth is, however, that today's print shops
are not late with jobs because their computers are slow. They
are late with their jobs because they have not managed the
production well, have overcommitted their available resources,
or they have not held the customer responsible for bad or
incomplete files. Following these few tips will go much further
toward staying “on time” than the latest computer hardware
will ever do.


Stephen Beals ([email protected]), in prepress production
for more than 30 years, is the digital prepress manager
with Finger Lakes Press in Auburn, NY.



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