Best Practices: Don’t Assume, Ask
Sometimes, it’s best not to simply follow directions. For Michael Smedberg, manager of the Amtrak Headquarters Reprographics Facility, communicating with his colleagues before starting a job can be helpful for both parties.
That was the situation when Smedberg received incoming jobs to be printed on three-hole drilled paper. Assuming these sheets would end up in a binder, he asked customers where they would be obtaining them. In many cases, customers said they purchased binders through Amtrak’s contracted office supply provider at $10 to $14 each. Smedberg however, has a separate vendor that can supply binders at $3 to $5 each.
“It’s important to not assume you know what the customer wants,” he explains. “It’s important to just ask them about it.”
In addition to providing binders at a lower cost, Smedberg says he began asking customers if they would like the Washington-based in-plant to produce cover sheets and spine sheets, and insert them into the binders, saving the customer time and effort. Many of the binders that the in-plant produces are training manuals. Having the covers and spines already labeled upon receiving them can be an organizational benefit to the customer.
“[Customers have been] surprised that this service could be asked for and provided by us … providing the binders, putting things in the binders, providing the covers and spine pages and that sort of thing,” Smedberg says. “And they were pleased with the results.”
While offering these services has been beneficial for Amtrak, there were some initial hiccups. When the in-plant first started shipping out completed binders, they were packed vertically in boxes. This essentially caused the sheets to hang from the binder’s rings, leading to some stress and wear in the sheets prior to their arrival.
To smooth out these issues, Smedberg and his team now pack the binders horizontally and provide bubble wrap where necessary. That way any additional unwanted motion for the binders inside is reduced.
Though there has been some increase in the quantity of requests for binders, Smedberg says in most cases, he has to ask the customer if it is something they are interested in.
“We’ve gotten a couple references, but for the most part we have to keep asking all the time,” he explains. “You’ve got 500 stations out there all over the country, so people don’t necessarily talk to each other all the time.”