In a year of challenges, the levels of quality and customer service a company provides have become increasingly important. At Haskel, the Quality departments in the Haskel European headquarters in Sunderland, England and the Haskel US headquarters in Burbank, California have taken on the challenge of integrating new technologies and processes to more further their alignment with customers' needs in changing work environments.
We spoke with Eric Long, Quality Director for Burbank, and Deborah Hogg, QEHS Manager at Sunderland, to learn what they are doing to make their teams more efficient and supportive.
Let’s start by learning more about each of your backgrounds in quality and your work at Haskel.
I've been in quality for 30 years, and I have seen a wide range of quality systems. This experience gives me a sense of where to invest our time and effort.
I have been at Haskel for four years now. Previously I worked at one of the Big 3 automotive companies in various product engineering, quality/reliability, and technical problem-solving roles.
I moved from Commercial to Quality in February 2020 after having been with Haskel since 2011 as Commercial Lead. Before joining Haskel, I held quality positions in the automotive industry.
It’s been an important year for the Quality Departments at Haskel. What kinds of changes have your teams been implementing?
We have revitalized and rebuilt the quality system at Sunderland. We introduced a generic email address that is managed by the department, giving one point of communication for all channel partners and end-user customers. We ensure contact is provided until a resolution is reached. Regular meetings are held with channel partners who have requested this and we’re working more closely with suppliers to reduce defects.
We have also moved our reporting software to a global system, Smartsheet, that is headed up by Eric.
At the Burbank site, we've been making incremental improvements to institutionalize our processes and developing things that will be sustainable for years to come. The main way I make that happen is through the use of technology, which in some cases comes in the form of upgrading equipment for more effective inspection or better platforms for communication and data analysis. All of the improvements we’ve made help keep our brand on top and better manage institutional knowledge. The introduction of our Smartsheet platform that Deborah mentioned has also been vital to our process improvement.
That sounds like a lot of exciting changes are being made. Can you share more about the ways a tool like Smartsheet supports company-wide quality?
Smartsheet combines multiple tools into one platform where we can create dashboards that help the entire team see the big picture. This is important because there are all kinds of standards that govern our products and our practices, but it's difficult to put them into context if you're not from a Quality background. For example, we are ISO 9001, but it can be hard to keep the details straight of that specific certification because we also have ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001, and several other certifications. It gets even more complicated if you're not necessarily the person who the auditors speak with. So, by putting this information on a dashboard in Smartsheet, we're able to better show how everything is linked together.
The other key function of Smartsheet is the ability to send automatic alerts and reminders to people when certain tasks are due. We've used that functionality to automate processes that used to be done manually or through emails, which are difficult to monitor.
Can you give us an example of how these tasks are being automated and the difference it has on the department?
A lot of it is done in processing. For instance, we manage product deviation requests through Smartsheet. These can be anything from changing materials to making holes .001 inch smaller. Before proceeding with the request, we determine if the change is acceptable or not, which is a highly involved process:
- Requestor submits a form
- Quality reviews the information in the form
- Quality logs it in Smartsheet
- Engineering reviews and approves or rejects it
- Quality records the disposition (approve or reject)
- The results then gets disseminated back out to those that need to know (supplier, inspection, purchasing, etc.)
Smartsheet automatically notifies everyone involved when their tasks are due so that the entire cycle runs smoothly.
All of these changes you’re making benefit customers too. How do they improve your service to them?
The most obvious benefit is in managing customer complaints. With Smartsheet, customers have a form where they can enter a complaint that automatically generates a case number. It’s similar to ordering something from Amazon and getting an order ID number. Case numbers let us track the time from when the complaint is opened until it’s closed, and this ensures customers are getting fast responses and quick turnaround times. I think customers appreciate this higher level of customer service.
Smartsheet is an integral part of our Voice of Customer (VOC) commitment. Through the QMS, we can administer quality surveys to employees, suppliers, and customers. Tabulated responses allows the Quality Department to quickly analyze the data and create action items.
Part of that VOC is providing advancements to our offerings beyond products. New QR codes on our packaging and our products lets users register their products and allows us to reach out to them regarding aftermarket services, troubleshooting, and upgrades.
Why is it important that the Haskel Quality Departments made these changes at this time?
It speaks to the level of service we aim to offer – world class. Personally, I enjoy solving technical problems. When a pump or a product is returned, we get to be detectives and work backwards from the crime scene. We look at the evidence to identify the root cause. There are certainly tried and true problem-solving techniques, but you still have to be inquisitive, work hard, and sometimes get lucky to reach a valid conclusion.
This level of attention is something I think customers appreciate. If we can come back to them with a rationale or data that says why we included or excluded certain things in our root-cause analysis, that's much better received than just telling them no trouble was found. When you understand the process and the manufacturer is transparent with their approach, you trust the product.
How have these implementations and changes impacted the Sunderland plant?
In the past, the Sunderland quality department didn't maintain the same transparency and communication with customers as we do today. The changes we have made have helped out Quality department more visible to customers with higher engagement.
Sunderland has its own data, but the two headquarters are aligned by implementing similar tools and processes. Using more technology like Smartsheet allows us to share in activities so we can work as one cohesive Quality Department. We jointly created this year's customer survey and we have started sharing repair logs.
In addition to being its sister plant, Sunderland is also a customer of Burbank. If issues arise with the products, they typically would just get fixed them without notifying Burbank of the issue. But with Smartsheet repair logs, we can track and input the details of the problems that are found and repaired. We send automatic alerts to the shared log at Burbank so they can review the problem and work on a solution.
That process is fairly new and we’re very excited about because I think it will streamline product repairs. There's nothing more frustrating or demoralizing than seeing the same problems over and over again. It makes you feel like your voice isn’t being heard and nobody's resolving the issue. It's unacceptable to knowingly send out any non-conforming product. I want to know about it so we can fix it the first time. It’s all about making continuous improvements.
With the shift to virtual workplaces and remote work due to COVID, have the introductions of new technologies streamlined the changing environment?
It's been a really good fit. Smartsheet only requires internet and is universally accessible, making it very convenient. We get questions from some customers about we address COVID-19 and some of our larger customers use surveys for COVID-19 action updates.
We explain to them what protocols we use for product handling, including temperature screening and facemasks. Overall, it’s certainly been good to have a head start in virtual work processes in the COVID-19 world.
Are you anticipating more changes to other processes as more people stay remote and work virtually?
We are well-positioned for remote activity. It wouldn't have been possible had we not already taken steps to automate these processes.
These implementations have streamlined processes and made them smarter. We're a global company, so many of us travel or work remotely. We are used to remote situations, but Smartsheet helped step up our game. Eric had a big role in leading that; he figured out the smartest ways to use technology for improved processes.