Quality means different things to different folks.
I have long been conflicted about what exactly quality means. Is quality in the eye of the beholder? Is quality impossible to achieve if you manufacture or sell cheap/inexpensive products or services? Is China or Mexico or Taiwan or Russia universally synonymous with poor quality? What does it mean to say, “You get what you pay for”? Is there a market segment where poor quality works? Is a quality product or service more expensive? Is a JD Powers ranking becoming another certification for quality?
Quality is becoming a almost a common theme. It has even become self proclaimed and anointed. Go to most any website or peruse literature and you will note most copy proclaims something to do with quality. Most people are in awe when they see a company producing product under an ISO Certification, but do they know what ISO Certification really means to them? In addition to ISO you find quality certifications for most industries/economic sectors. There is Six Sigma, CRM, TQM, Deming and even variations within these programs.
Frankly, it all boils down to a simple fact: Did the customer get what was expected for the time or money expended; was the client satisfied with the exchange-their time and money for the service or product? Further, satisfaction can also be achieved through quality programs, it’s called Customer Service.
Over the years I have been party to major ISO certification efforts and attended Deming Seminars on achieving quality. In the 1980’s the Navy got involved in quality improvement. The theory was, everybody outside of your department that came to you looking for help had to be looked upon as your ‘customer’. Further, periodically your customers were ask to rate your delivery of services. But, the simple fact remains: Did you give the client/customer at least what was expected relative to value in a product or service? Quality issues are still talked about today, just not as much in your face. Look at the slogans-Job 1, quality goes in before the name goes on, 98.6% customer satisfaction rating. Then look at the success of iPhone built in China. I would compare that quality with any product in the rest of the world relative to quality.
Before we move on let me ask another question, “does the purchase of product or services from the internet limit the consumer’s ability to buy and receive quality?” Let me illustrate with a recent experience. I recently bought a car charger for my cell phone from an on-line seller. The picture of the product looked great, seller advertised it as being quality and all the customer ratings were great. Guess what? It was an absolute disaster relative to the product experience. The quality was poor and it did not work. Sure, I could get a refund but the hassle of filling out forms, time zone issues, no phone contact, etc.; that total experience was just not good!
The father of quality innovation is Dr. Edwards Deming. Dr. Deming is known for his work in Japan following WW II. He was known to General MacArthur and was brought to Japan to help revive Japanese industry. Japan did in fact turn out some very quality war products with exceptional engineering such as the Japanese Zero aircraft. But after WW II the future was in consumer products. Therein was the problem for the Japanese…cheap and volume was their mantra.
He was a statistician by training and that experience was the foundation upon which all industrial quality programs were based. I submit that the philosophy of production quality also applies to the service sector. Dr. Deming’s task was to set a course for Japanese industry to move from cheap and shoddy, to innovative and quality products. It took time before quality was recognized in the Japanese automobile, aviation and consumer electronics. Are names like Toshiba, Sony, Mitsubishi, Honda, Nissan, and Lexus, just to name a few, familiar to you as quality today? I can remember when Datsun (today’s Nissan) was laughed at as a rust bucket automobile.
My point is: Quality matters to the majority, but there is still room for the cheap products. I read a report several years ago that stated that buying cheap products and replacing them with new cheap products was a cycle that was extremely expensive. But obviously, sometimes quality is out of the reach of some people or for even a specific application. For example, I do not need to buy Snap-On tools. A socket set I buy at Wal-Mart is perfect for my applications at about 1/10th the costs.
But let’s ask a simple question: Is quality that much more expensive to produce and deliver? I submit the short answer is- No! This short answer is based on some assumptions in the areas of: volume, product life cycles, designed use, government regulations, automation, and distribution. Even Six Sigma has proven quality improvements in the service sector can save costs. Simply retaining clients because of good service is 5 times cheaper than replacing dissatisfied clients.
I am in the service sector and I want to illustrate why potential clients should look for vendors and service providers that deliver quality. I believe we will discover that it benefits everyone.
If you are committed to having and maintaining a reputation for quality of service, you should strive to work with clients who want, understand and appreciate quality. Conversely, if you are a client demanding quality look to providers that have processes in place that will deliver on your quality goals. It is a fact that in a ‘high touch’ industry the quality of service is expensive to deliver. Therefore, knowing what the client expects will dictate the level of quality all parties agree upon.
My definition of Quality, in the service arena, is delivering services that satisfy the client’s expectations. Part of the satisfaction equation is managing expectations and that means not over committing and/or under delivering. Do not compromise an ability to deliver quality bu lowering the price for the sake of getting a client.
To ensure you are constantly improving on your quality commitment:
- Always strive to improve processes and communication throughout.
- Match the right vendors and employees with the delivery of service.
- Partner with vendors who have the same quality motives.
- Document informal agreements and discussions where practical.
- Take actions to support quality, it speaks volumes.
- Seek out clients who appreciate and demand quality because those are the relationships that build your reputation.
- Pleasantly surprise clients in anticipating conflicts and quickly address issues.
- Use checklists for a project; never rely on memory
- Debrief with all vendors and the client. This will ensure that the client can air concerns and it gives you the chance to resolve problems. After all, satisfying the client is the goal.
In the service arena 96% of unhappy clients/customers do not complain to the provider of the service. But, they are 3 times more likely to give a poor recommendation versus those clients that did complain.
Whether it is a vendor or client, be inordinately fair and respectful throughout the process. I work with a vendor that refuses to address anyone by their first name or nickname. Familiarity deprecates the client’s perception of professionalism.
This sector is more ‘touchy feely’ and by definition is very labor/time intensive. It requires a high level of personal interactions. To be successful it must be based on personal reputation, trust/relationships, and an unspoken contract of-“I will trust you to do what you say you will.” There are many stories in business about people who did deals on handshakes alone. Today however, we need contracts to provide continuity as people move from job to job and position to position. Wouldn’t be nice for people to say about your service company; I got more than I expected and contracted to receive.
There are some similarities between the product (manufacturing/goods) sector and service sector. For example, there is a perceived value of quality relative to the specific price of goods or services, and both have an element of customer service value that adds to the quality experience. Availability is a critical element to the perception of quality in separating a premier provider versus also ran.
In essence, if you are a client look for providers who present well organized plans and suggestions, listen well to your stated and even unspoken requirements, offer ‘wow factor’ alternatives, have a reputation of excellent delivery and a group that you can easily relate with.