A loudspeaker manufacturer addressed a huge number of issues, wrestling with the most difficult ones first, so that after about a year and a half, the priority list of over 100 problems was reduced down to three or four. An example of one of the more knotty problems during this time was the “RA” situation–Return Authorizations. Products and materials being returned to the plant for any of a variety of reasons–rejects, demo returns, repairs, etc.–would get out of control once they arrived back at the factory. Who was doing what, when and for what reason, for dozens of items each month, was unclear. The resulting billing for RA services rendered was inconsistent, customers were angry, and people in the company, second-guessing one other, were forever stepping on each other’s toes. Tempers flared.


At the outset, the problem-solving group identified thirty-three issues related to RA, breaking the approach into six main tasks and the overall concerns into five groups: education, triggers to initiate action, customer issues, enforcement, and information tracking. Out of this came rules for a step-by-step action, identification tags, advice to clients, and an understanding that Product RA’s were quite different from Service RA’s. (Service RA’s led down another path of warranty definitions and policy.) An assessment method was established for RA’s such as customer dissatisfaction, shipping damage, internal error, consignment, etc. Ultimately, a process evolved, carefully controlling each RA from “birth to grave.” It took more than fifteen two-hour-long meetings to get to the bottom of the issues and their myriad of sub-issues, all of which had to be chased to the end–each to a successful solution or action plan.

The Results

The RA issue had positive ramifications in the plant and its solution relieved pressures throughout the company, including the front office, accounting department, customs department, sales, and so on. Customers and distributors acknowledged the improved processes, even indicating that the company was superior to other suppliers in the process of shipping, re-shipping, and control of products. Instructions were concise and accurate; misunderstandings were avoided; and a sense that things happened as expected gave these stakeholders increased confidence in the company.