When a customer places an order with your company — either through a sales rep or by phone or fax — do you treat that order as a matter of life or death?

You should. That order is a matter of life or death for that relationship, for the sales rep, for your company and for your customer.

How is that order handled by your system? Do your employees — the sales rep, customer service department, order-filling/shipping department and delivery people — think of that order as a matter of life or death, or just another order?

Unexpectedly, I recently spent two-weeks-plus in the hospital. While there, I had plenty of time to ponder communication, awareness, and chain of command that dictates how an order is handled.

During my time in the hospital, dozens, if not hundreds, of orders were given by various medical personnel that determined whether I lived or died.

A doctor would place an order for a test or medication or treatment of some sort, then the order had to be processed by numerous departments and the tests or medication had to be delivered flawlessly every time, on time. It occurred to me that these orders had to be documented to the highest degree by each person involved. Then it occurred to me that there were hundreds of patients having orders placed on their behalf in that hospital every day. Many of these were, in fact, life-or-death situations.

More than once, a doctor and a nurse discussed a treatment or a procedure for me and both parties took notes and confirmed that each person understood the instructions.

Likewise, if a customer places an order and it isn’t handled properly, I suggest that it is a matter of life or death. One mishandled order could kill your relationship with a customer, and it might threaten the potential of any future business with that customer.

So maybe now is the right time to take a hard look at exactly how an order placed with your company is handled from the time it is made until the payment is received.

When a customer places an order, someone has to write or type it and then enter it into your system. How does this process work? Is it simple and free of confusion, or is there room for improvement?

Now that it’s in the system, where does it go? Which department takes responsibility next and how does that system work out? The order now has to be picked, staged and made ready for shipping. Is the order filled completely? Are the quantities correct? Are the items correct? Is there a back order, and if so, how is the back order handled? Is the order filled correctly? Do you have checks and balances along the way to measure and monitor these procedures?

Finally, the order is loaded for delivery and the delivery is made. Is this done on a timely basis? Is the order delivered to the proper location and have you conformed to all the delivery instructions?

Next comes invoicing. Does the invoice match what was ordered? Are the quantities, prices and terms correct as written on the customer order?

When following up for payment requests (if needed), is your communication to the customer business-like, courteous and easy to understand?

Your company processes hundreds of orders each month. It is important that you have a system in place that is efficient and easily understood by everyone who works with it. No one wants to do business with a company that has little or no quality control.

Has anyone within your organization ever taken the time to figure out the cost of correcting mistakes made in processing an order? I mean pinpointing actual dollars-and-cents costs. There is also the cost of unhappy customers. How many times can you goof up an order process before you never hear from that customer again? Go ahead, turn up your courage and do this evaluation. Remember, “you cannot manage what you cannot measure.”

Investing in the people who follow this process on a step-by-step basis is important. Taking the proper corrective action in these situations should net you a worthwhile return on the investment.

Just like the orders made in a hospital protect patients’ well-being and safety, orders placed with your company must be handled perfectly, every time, all the time, for the well-being of your company and that of your customers. In fact, these orders should be looked at as a matter of life or death.

By the way, after my stay in the hospital, I am back in business — 100 percent — thanks to a process that ensured the every action was executed with precision.

To share your selling ideas, fax: (414) 228-1134, contact Mr. Dixon at (877) 379-3566 or e-mail questions or comments regarding this article.