By Cary McGovern
Understanding the requirements of your records-management customers is key to your profitability. You should offer the services he needs. The questionnaire is a tool that identifies opportunities based on the actual need.
I have used questionnaires for many years as part of selling records management to customers. Although the wording can vary greatly from customer to customer, I have drafted a sample that you might want to model in your own operation. You have permission to copy this form and use it in your records-management business.
Structure of the Questionnaire
After thousands of uses, the following questionnaire has proven to be one of the easiest and most user-friendly methods for customers to communicate their needs. It uses a grading format that allows the questions to be scored by a simple check mark. It takes, at most, five to 10 minutes to fill out. It can be sent en masse to everyone in a company or just to key employees. The participant can choose one of five selections as an answer to each question:
- Strongly agree
- No opinion
- Strongly disagree
It is interesting to see how diverse the answers can be even within the same departments. You should expect to discover a great deal of information from these questionnaires. They are quite a valuable tool.
Some Questions to Consider Using and Why:
1. I know where all of my records-storage boxes are stored.
This statement is aimed at flushing out all of the places that are in use. You will find the good, the bad and the ugly. Most of the time, management has no idea the manner in which they maintain records. This also uncovers any records at other self-storage operations and commercial records centers.
2. All records-storage boxes have a complete and accurate description of their contents written on the outside.
It is rare indeed when we find that a customer does this right. Generally there are seven identifiers that should be on any records-storage box:
- Record name or record series
- Department or record owner
- Date range from
- Date range to
- Alpha-numeric range from
- Alpha-numeric range to
- Destruction date
3. We have an accurate and fully compliant records-retention schedule.
Even Fortune 500 companies have a difficult time with this one. Retention requirements include regulator requirements (regulatory), litigation avoidance (legal) and sound business practice (internal controls). The addition of an effective retention schedule saves them a great deal of time and money in the long run.
4. We destroy boxes when they reach the end of their retention period.
All records have a life and, ultimately, death. If records are kept longer than required, it can cause liability issues. Courts have typically ruled that if you have the record, you must release it when requested, even when past the retention requirement.
5. We only keep records that are required by law or sound business practice.
Virtually no one knows what he is required to keep. I have been involved with companies that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars--even millions--on retention schedules. Worldwide or global companies have to contend with regulators from each country with which they do business.
6. We have a manual index or a computer-database reference that accurately lists the contents of each box in storage.
This is usually problematic for customers. They may have a rudimentary method for finding files in boxes. Sometimes there is a database, but it is rare to see a well-thought-out and standardized method. Remember from earlier columns that the cost in records management is in "the finding of the files" for most customers. If you can help them identify, index and find files, then you have cut most of their cost.
7. We never lose files.
If they answer "agree" or "strongly agree" to this one, you know that they are unaware of how their program actually works. Everyone loses files from time to time. Finding a lost file can be extremely expensive. If a professional, such as a lawyer, for example, has to join in the hunt for a record, the cost escalates quickly.
8. We can access any file within an hour of a request.
Usually the only way that someone can access files that quickly is if the files are indexed and available through a professional records-storage company with an automated system. Some systems allow the customer to search an online database and request the file immediately. Some software products also allow for quick and easy access.
9. Ownership of all boxes is assigned to a specific department manager.
Professionals in records management assign each record series to a specific department or functional unit manager. This individual is considered the record owner. He is more likely to understand the need of the record for its primary or secondary uses. If record-series ownership is not assigned, it is likely that they don't understand the value of the record to the company.
10. We have developed standard filing methods that all employees know and understand.
Standards in filing methods lead to efficient operations. If they answer "agree" or "strongly agree" to this one, then ask them for their standards manual. They probably won't have one.
11. We understand which boxes or files contain vital records.
Vital records are records that must be preserved to ensure the continued operation of the business. It is rare that companies actually know which of their records are indeed vital. Of course, computer files are always considered vital, but several other records in paper form are also essential. An example of this is "contract documents."
12. We have individuals assigned in each work group that are responsible for filing records.
One of the recommended measures to ensure standardization in each department is to assign the responsibility of filing methods to a single individual. If they do not follow this principal, then they are certainly haphazardly filing.
13. We have assigned responsibility to a specific employee as the records manager.
In many companies, the title of records manager is one of the many hats that an administrative manager wears. It should be assigned to an individual to fix control. This person should report to the chief legal officer or the chief operating officer. A company cannot, under any circumstances, abrogate their records-management responsibility.
14. We know what our record-keeping cost is.
Record-keeping cost is usually much higher than they know or even want to know. The cost of storage is only the tip of the iceberg. The true cost includes the cost of labor and finding a file. What's worse is the cost of not finding a file. Those costs are sometimes as much as millions of dollars due to regulator penalty or litigation expense.
It is true to say that a poorly managed records-management program is much more expensive than a well-managed one. You can easily assist the customer simply by indexing and inventorying the files and boxes in your storage facility.
Regular columnist Cary F. McGovern is a certified records manager and owner of File Managers Inc., a records-management consulting firm that also provides outsourcing services, file-room management and litigation support services for the legal industry. For more information about records management, contact Mr. McGovern at File Managers Inc., P.O. Box 1178, Abita Springs, LA 70420; phone (504) 871-0092; fax (504) 893-1751; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or Web: www.fileman.com.
|The Management Questionnaire|
|Question||Strongly Agree||Agree||No Opinion||Strongly Disagree||Disagree|
|I know where all of my records-storage boxes are stored.|
|All records-storage boxes have a complete and accurate description of the contents written on the box.|
|We have an accurate and compliant records-retention schedule.|
|We destroy boxes when they reach the end of their retention period.|
|We only keep records that are required by law or sound business practice.|
|We have a manual index or a computer-database reference that accurately lists the contents of each box in storage.|
|We never lose files.|
|We can access any file within an hour of any request.|
|Ownership of all boxes is assigned to a specific departmental manager.|
|We have developed standard filing methods that all employees know and understand.|
|We understand which boxes or files contain vital records.|
|We have individuals assigned in each work group that are responsible for filing records.|
|We have assigned responsibility to a specific employee as the records manager.|
|We know what our records-keeping cost is.|
|(Copyright FileMan Records Management 1999)|