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Time to review your Standard Operating Procedures

Mar 1, 2011 12:00 AM

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Print buyers are becoming more numerous, many with little print experience. Here are six problems I have heard about recently:

Fronting postage for a customer — standard operating procedure (SOP) not followed. I have heard of three instances in which the printers found themselves bearing the cost due to nonpayment. With electronic transfer of funds, there is no reason to ever front postage money. Keep in mind that the postage bill most times is far higher than the printing invoice.

No customer color sample was supplied; the job was rejected due to the customer's claim that it did not match a brand color. Always insist on a color sample.

A customer came in for a color OK on press, signed the sheet and left the plant with a sheet. The customer phoned two hours later (after the job was run) and said the president did not like the color. The buyer did not understand what signing a press OK accomplished. The printer did not have a brochure on press checks.

A customer rejected a major run because of color variation. The customer did not specify acceptable color variation, and the actual variation was a Delta E of 2.1. The printer quoted ISO 12647-2, which states the color variation during the run should not exceed a Delta E of 4.0. The buyer had no idea what the ISO tolerance was. Incorporate the tolerance in “Terms and Conditions of Sale.”

A customer complained of color variation and hickeys, and refused to pay the invoice. The press operators stated that the job ran well with no hickeys. The president of the printing company then asked to see the sheets that were pulled every 10 minutes and time stamped. There were none, because the press operators felt there was no need to store pull sheets for six months.

A job was quoted for quantities of 5,000 pieces, up to 100,000 pieces, in steps of 5,000. The customer placed an order for 10,000 and wanted the unit price for the 100,000 quantity. The buyer did not understand printing and the customer service rep could not explain the pricing. The customer left.

Examine the SOPs for your plant. Are they complete, and are they being followed? Keep in mind that each SOP should be clear, short and simple.

Educate your customers

I am a strong believer in inviting a customer into the plant for a color OK, and even to stay for the press run. Many printers argue this point, citing time constraints, risk of injury or the dirtiness of the plant.

Clean up your act

A dirty plant is no excuse. Each customer who comes into your plant offers a prime opportunity for you to show off your company's skills and ability. You have a customer's total attention and the ability to wow them. Use the time and make the next sale.

Best practices

Technically speaking, trade customs have not existed in the industry since 1994. In 2002, NAPL and PIA released “Best Business Practices for the Printing Industry,” a three-part report meant to replace trade customs (see

To me, the new version seems quite well done and serves as a valuable resource. Many printers have chosen parts of the document that apply to their market segment and print their “Terms and Conditions of Sale” on the back of every quote.

Raymond J. Prince, vice president, Technical Consulting Group, NAPL, is a leading expert in pressroom technical and operational issues. Contact him at (605) 941-1492 or