Healthcare Thriller Starring an Unlikely Hero: Fulfillment!

November 10, 2017 Matt Pollock

How many thrillers and action movies start with a phone call to set the plot into motion? So did this one.

Like a good movie, what you’re about to read had plenty of thrills—both for us and our client. And luckily, thanks to some solid teamwork and cliffhanger rescues, it had a happy ending.

A healthcare client we had been working with for years had a defective product in the marketplace that could impact users’ health. They needed our assistance in communicating the issue—and time was of the essence.

T-Minus 7 Days

It was a just an ordinary Thursday when our client placed that infamous phone call to inform us that the sample product we had been distributing for them was defective and needed to be recalled. They estimated that about 5.5 million people would have to be contacted—within 8 days.   

Our CEO at the time was concerned, to say the least. The chances of pulling this off were slim. Communicating to 5.5 million people in a week—the mission was nearly impossible. But we took the challenge, and failure was not an option.

We literally had no time to waste. Right then and there, we started crafting a solution. Luckily, we had one thing on our side: our own custom-built system that can rapidly recall by batch number. Within 3 hours, we were able to pull a list of every single person affected by the recall. All 5.5 million of them.

T-Minus 6 Days

So, we had the list. Now we needed the recall letter and a way of getting it in 5.5 million hands. If our clients were able to produce the letter in a day, we could ship it out overnight. Our clients furiously raced the clock to provide us with a letter as we drilled down into the logistics. The overnight letter, though a good idea, rang in at a whopping $3.5 million dollars (overnight shipping plus Saturday shipping adds up!). This wasn't the best solution we could provide, so we headed back to the drawing board.  

We brainstormed all types of packaging, different envelopes, different shipping options—there had to be a way we could save our clients from burning a hole in their bank account. Finally, we were able to craft a solution, saving $5 a package (remember, times 5.5 million packages!). The solution: Jiffy envelopes. Yes, those padded, yellow, self-sealing envelopes could save our client $25 million dollars—as long as we folded each letter to fit inside. Now all we had to do was locate 5.5 million of our life saving Jiffy envelopes.

Let the wild goose chase commence!

We called every office supply store around the country – Florida, Maine, Arizona – asking for every single Jiffy they had. We called stores twice to make sure they didn’t just give us “a lot” of their Jiffy envelopes because we needed ALL of their Jiffy envelopes. 

T-Minus 5 Days

On Saturday, our client sent us the recall letter, and we went to press. Simultaneously, we awaited the arrival of our Jiffy's to our fulfillment locations. We rapidly hired nearly 350 temps that would be waiting at each fulfillment location, ready to fold, insert, and seal the recall packages.  

Call in the jets!

Yes, we literally called in jets.  How else would we transport our newly printed recall letters from our printing press in Florida to our fulfillment centers in Massachusetts, California, Texas, and Kansas in time? The recall letters were still hot when they were loaded into the jets, commercial or cargo, wherever we could find space —wasting time was not an option. It was a waiting game now. The temps were ready to rapidly fulfill orders. We just needed the materials to get there.

When the jets were halfway to their destinations, we received a phone call. Unfortunately, the client found an issue with the copy a few hours too late and asked us to throw out the letters and start again!

Sidebar: Here’s why you need a recall plan. A recall plan identifies individuals and their particular duty within the company when a disaster strikes—ensuring all bases are covered and that everything runs smoothly. This helps to minimize costs (mistakes add up!) and ensure that the company meets all legal obligations to avoid lawsuits. It is better to develop a recall plan and never use it than not have a recall plan in place when you need it.  

T-Minus 4, 3, 2, 1 Days

The weekend posed some challenges for us. We lost a few days. And not because we were putting our feet up and relaxing. The client was  understandably trying to get everything perfectly correct and secure all final approvals before reshipping. After some back and forth, we received the kind of phone call that you want to get: all good.

We went to press again on Monday morning. And the fourth time was a charm.

T-Minus 0 Days

Despite the hiccups we incurred along the way, we were able to make contact with all individuals affected by the deadline of Friday—only eight days after notification of the recall. Moreover, we were able to prove to the legal community that every single person was notified, saving our client from potential lawsuits.

We had the ability to rapidly scale, and we had the ability to add in our intelligence and lean on our resources.

Mission Impossible: Accomplished!

Our clients almost expected to fail and deal with the legal backlash. Days after the completed recall, we received a letter directly from our client's leadership team. A thank you, thank you, THANK YOU letter. We came through for them when they needed us most. We achieved the impossible.  

Printing, logistics, fulfillment, multi-site distribution…we were running numerous operations, and running them rapidly. Harte Hanks allowed for a quick ramp up. We were able to recall the data, provide our clients a solution while saving them big money, and execute to meet tight deadlines. The crisis was averted, and our client was able to neatly wrap up all loose ends—just like in the movies.

Who knew a story about logistics and fulfillment could be so action packed—I mean, we literally called in the jets! 

About the Author

Matt Pollock

As Vice President of Solution Sales at Harte Hanks, Matt uses his 20 years of experience in fulfillment operations to manage and evaluate fulfillment operations and market solutions. He is responsible for business strategy and consulting, and developing strategic plans for multi-site distribution of literature and product sample programs. Matt's expertise extends to unit management, digital printing and print-on-demand, small package shipping and all aspects of warehouse and fulfillment operations.

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