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How do you help your clients help you?

Better Business

June 17, 2015

How do you help your clients help you?

Compliments from our suppliers are the highest form of praise for us as they are evidence of alignment with one of our values: Take the work out of work.

The thing that has earned us the most compliments over the past 25 years is the quality of our final art files. So dull – yes? No!! For film houses to be able to produce separations, film and chem proofs without error is the road to profitability. Film houses are a thing of the past but magazine publishers and digital printers need files to run without hitch in order to avoid losing time to stopped production. Lesson in manufacturing over – but it is from manufacturing that we have this understanding of what our suppliers need from us.

Bless the suppliers who, in the early days of our business, took the trouble to explain to us how to get it right. From there our grounding in TQM took over. We focussed on delivering our work to the next part of the process ready for use. Ready for use means that it is set up ready to use - I know that was repetitive but it is a really simple concept that is hard to explain. On a conveyor belt in a manufacturing process 'ready to use' can be as simple as having the item facing the direction that the next operator needs it in. Ready to use is a really simple idea that packs a huge punch - it facilitates productivity and it engenders respect and collaboration - it is where we have collected the most compliments.

Respect your customers and suppliers by making interactions easy.
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When this principle of respecting the next part of the process isn't part of how companies work, the results are frustrating, annoying and can easily become triggers to driving customers into the arms of competitors. For example, I was asked to fill in a form and return it to one of my suppliers. The form was a pdf of a spreadsheet and the answers I needed to provide were going to be used to either populate that spreadsheet or another one. My supplier expected me to print out the "form", write my answers, remembering that writing doesn't have a delete and spell check function, scan or photograph the "form", email it back and have the person at the other end attempt to read my handwriting and type the answers into the spreadsheet. What a poor use of everyone's time. If a poor use of time doesn't make you anxious enough then consider what a waste of university degrees - why have clever people spend time on rubbish actions?

Taken more broadly this can be the principle on which you can work out ways of helping your clients help you.

For instance. I have a problem with a few clients who are slow payers – don't we all. And: we have a PayPal account. Small companies use credit cards to buy time (to pay their bills) large companies use credit cards to work around the need for purchase orders. We use Xero for our accounting – and in Xero you can add payment options that include PayPal. Add them together and it was a simple matter of spending 20 minutes setting Xero up to recognise our PayPal account and add the payment logos to our invoices, and then reissue those outstanding invoices to slow paying customers with an invitation to use credit cards to bring their account up to date.

Whether customers use the credit card facilities or not doesn't matter. What does matter is that we have made it as easy as possible to interact with us.

It isn't enough to say what you need to pay me. If you respect your colleagues, customers and suppliers you will respect their need to be productive and avoid rubbish work. Then you will be open to the idea of enabling them to interact with you as efficiently as possible. This means presenting them with your output in the format that they need. Then the barriers to respond are reduced, you are facilitating their productivity and interacting with you is more pleasurable.

Help your suppliers stay in business so that they are there when you need them.
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Why is it so important to me that we make it easy for our suppliers? That's simple, without them we can't deliver to our clients. And, sometimes I have a completely unreasonable request. At those times I want my suppliers to think well of me and be willing to undertake the craziness that I have just dropped on them. It's an investment.