I was talking with the president of a company that provides statement processing for the healthcare industry. He’s put production controls in place, including barcodes, scanners and internal audits, to ensure the integrity of every mailpiece. Taking it a step further, he’s hired external consultants to review his entire process.
The process he’s established means a higher cost-per-piece than some of his competitors. The external review will be expensive. But, in his words, “very necessary to ensure patient confidentiality.”
Substitute the word “patient” with “customer”, and his words can be applied to everyone who processes mail. It doesn’t matter if you work for an insurance company, bank, school, the government, or any type of firm; you should be installing controls to make sure your system provides the highest level of integrity. The correct piece, with the correct address, goes into the correct envelope, with the correct postage, at the correct time.
The products to improve the integrity of the mailing process have been available for several years. Used with barcodes, scanners can track every piece as they move through the process. Cameras can be added to equipment to check for print quality, logos and keylines. Software products allow you to monitor what is happening on the shop floor in real time.
Audit controls add expenses to your bottom line. Scanners, cameras and software mean spending more money to run your operation. In an industry where people focus on “cost-per-piece”, is it worth it?
I toured a laboratory that produces eyeglasses. The senior vice president of manufacturing walked me through the entire process – from receiving the order through the shipping department. The process included:
- After receiving information from a doctor’s office, the system generates a barcoded work order that contains all the instructions for the eyewear.
- Through scanners, the work order is paired to tray, which has a barcode on the side.
- The correct lenses are selected from stock, scanned, and placed in the tray. (Note: At this point in the process, eyeglass lenses are about the size of hockey pucks)
- The tray is placed on a conveyor through the initial preparation, grinding and polishing steps (some automated, some manual).
- The conveyor moves at an established speed, so it takes exactly 35 minutes to reach the end of the process. Scanners on the belt keep track of each tray as they progress through the system.
- The frames are measured by lasers to get the exact size for the lenses. Automated machines cut the lenses to fit.
- After assembly, the glasses are hand-assembled, cleaned and inspected at different stations.
- The shipping department has received the production information from the system, so the shipping labels are preprinted, speeding the glasses back to the doctor’s office.
There were steps within the steps. Also, they were testing new equipment to increase production levels. The new equipment won’t to replace workers, but to allow the lab to keep pace with a growing business.
I was impressed with the attention to detail. High-tech equipment was everywhere, run by a skilled workforce. The operators of the equipment knew their responsibilities and the importance of accuracy in completing their work. Managers were visible, monitoring the workflow and gathering information from the system. And the senior vice president’s pride in his people was evident throughout the tour.
As a person who wears eyeglasses, I was comforted to know that the lab took such care in producing glasses. As a process consultant, I was excited to learn that “integrity” was a universal watchword in every world-class organization. Regardless of the industry.
Even with this overview from 50,000 feet, mail center managers will recognize a many of the steps – barcoded work orders, automated processing equipment, shipping systems and manual processes. The lab technicians were just like mail machine operators, with similar educational and training backgrounds. Many of the supervisors had started as machine technicians. And the senior vice president had worked his way up to that position, and had been with the company almost 20 years.
What was unique to this operation was the desire to continuously improve. To drive out the risks for any errors. Sometimes, investing in more equipment. At the same time, streamlining the process to eliminate inefficiencies. The savings from the improvements offset the expenses to increase integrity.
This holistic approach should be adopted by every organization. Higher levels of integrity will always cost more. But the systems that add integrity can be used to gather information about your organization. By analyzing that information, you’ll be able to find ways to eliminate steps and improve productivity.
For example, the lab used to outsource certain orders for special coating. By analyzing the data gathered in the system, they were able to justify buying the equipment to bring that work in-house. The equipment was very expensive, but the return on investment from the savings was less than 18 months. And they’ve lowered total processing times for those orders.
High integrity in the process also means that I can see clearly with my glasses. What do your customers see when they receive a statement, check or letter? You must recognize that the mailpiece that leaves your operation may be the only interaction with that customer.
When do you think of the utility company? When you flip on the light switch, or when you pay the bill? When do you think about your credit card company? When you shop, or when you pay the bill? When do you think about your insurance company? Your bank?
Integrity isn’t cheap. But integrity adds value. Value in the quality of the mail you produce. Value in the ability to improve your efficiency. Value in enhancing the reputation of your company in the eyes of your customers.