Eventually, your organization will change the software that generates the documents you send to customers. Your company may upgrade to a new version of the current document composition software, or it could change to a completely new system. Either way, you should check the accuracy of the documents generated by the new or updated software. Modifications to incoming data or other changes in the document workflow can also have negative effects on the printed output, even if the base software is unchanged.
In the old days, we visually checked the quality of printed output. We printed the same file with both the old and new software and someone sat down in a conference room flipping through stacks of paper, comparing them page by page. I remember doing that myself. It wasn’t a lot of fun.
Besides being a mind-numbing and lengthy approach to quality control, visual inspection is inherently inaccurate. People make mistakes; especially after performing repetitive tasks for hours at a time.
Why Print Integrity Is Important
Uncaught printing errors can cause operational problems, such as when a font change or line spacing adjustment causes address elements to exceed the size of envelope windows. The consistent positioning of barcodes read by mail inserting systems is critical to operations downstream from the print room, as is the number of pages per set. Unrecognized printing mistakes can increase run times for mail insertion, impede productivity, or even generate undeliverable mail.
Branding is important to your company. A document that features an old logo version or an obsolete tag line will be inconsistent with other customer communications issued by your company. Now that most companies are moving towards white paper workflows where they apply all the branding in line with full color presses, the opportunities to make branding errors have expanded.
Print/mail service providers who process work for several brands can make devastating brand mix-up errors. Printing documents for one company using the colors or branding elements of another is a ruinous error. A mistake of this nature can cause costly reruns, the loss of customers, and perhaps even a lawsuit. Will a mail machine operator catch this kind of error? Maybe not, especially if the operation has merged jobs for several customers to take advantage of high-speed inkjet printing capacity.
Customer communications are subject to regulations regarding required disclosures or consumer protection. Regulators can change the requirements, which can vary according to geographic location, and companies must respond by altering the regulated sections of their documents. A software upgrade that accidentally includes an old version of regulated terms and conditions or inaccurate state-dependent language can easily escape the notice of human quality control employees. Errors like these can expose your company to regulatory penalties or class action lawsuits.
Several types of printing errors can confuse customers or, at the very least, cause them to lose confidence in your company. Poor customer experience contributes to customer churn and negative reviews posted to social media. Accidents such as unsynchronized front and back pages, truncated text, or obsolete references can influence customer perception and increase calls to customer service. Catching document composition errors before document distribution helps companies avoid the fallout caused by mistakes.
Some automated testing systems scan actual printed pages as they are produced. Others inspect the PDF files or other print image input data that feed the document generation software. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.
Besides print composition errors, reading the printed pages allows you to catch problems caused by the print engine itself. Instances of smudges or inconsistent print quality can only be found by inspecting the finished pages. The drawback is that by the time you catch these errors, your operation may have already spent hours processing the data through the digital front ends of the presses and wasted time and materials creating the printed output. Another factor to consider is that such a method won’t catch problems with documents delivered electronically.
Electronic comparison methods use a baseline version and a set of rules to inspect files before you print them. This approach is especially appropriate when upgrading or changing document composition software. When the print integrity system discovers a discrepancy between the control file and the inspected file, it will issue a warning. Developers and forms design teams can review the warnings, make any necessary corrections, and re-run the test. You won’t waste time repeatedly RIPing the files or setting up the press as the conversion proceeds.
Personalized and Targeted Documents
Documents of all kinds, from transactional items like bills and statements to marketing pieces, are becoming more personalized and segmented. Advances in digital presses and the software that runs them have made it possible for organizations to make customer-facing documents more relevant to the individuals to whom they are addressed. With all this variability comes complexity in document generation routines.
Companies in every industry are actively seeking ways to automate processes. Automatically generating and distributing printed and electronic documents with fewer points of human intervention increases the risk of undetected document composition errors. Add automated document integrity verification to the workflow to reduce the risks that such mistakes present.
Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants creates content for the document industry and helps document operations build and implement strategies for future growth and competitiveness. Learn more about his services at www.printmailconsultants.com and www.pmccontentservices.com. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.