In passing my bookcase last night I felt compelled to pull out Peters and Waterman’s 1982 classic “In Search of Excellence.” I found what I was looking for … in chapter six (“Close to the Customer”) I came across this golden nugget; “Service, quality, reliability are strategies aimed at loyalty and long-term revenue stream growth.”
Developing a Quality Obsession …
For purposes of this short conversation I’d like to focus on quality and reliability from a marketing perspective. A recent article in Marketing News stated that “this year of recalls and disasters related to products made overseas have left American consumers feeling deceived and vulnerable … Consumers are yearning now for reliable, high-quality goods.” Now, I’ve taken some liberty with the quote from the article above because the main focus was on the “Buy American … Made in the USA” theme. However; one might get the feeling that all of a sudden quality and reliability are back in fashion.
Did quality and reliability ever really go out of fashion with customers? I doubt it. Which begs the next question: How do you define a quality-ready organization? For me, a quality-ready organization is focused on quality assurance. The American Society of Quality (ASQ) defines quality assurance as:
“The planned and systematic activities implemented in a quality system so that quality requirements for a product or service will be fulfilled.”
Software has become mission critical for most companies, as glitches with application software can cause serious business consequence. When I talk to software development organizations they are quick to point out that software is increasingly determining the nature of the customer experience which means that software quality and reliability have become the new life-lines to customer loyalty and profitability. For them quality-ready software development means being able to profitably design, develop, test and deliver quality software applications on time and within budget.
When I polled my marketing students for feedback concerning quality and reliability one response stood out: “Quality and reliability are expected, and were your tickets to the dance in the first place. If quality and reliability fail your chances of dancing with me again are slim.”
Are you building a Quality-Ready organization?
A great reminder to take a look again at old business tomes gathering dust on all out bookshelves. My own particular favourite is Ted Levitt’s ‘The Marketing Imagination’.
I guess my book shelf shares many books with yours. Names like Rust, Parasuraman, Ziethaml, Bitner and Berry adorn many of them. If there is one lingering insight that reading all these books over 15 years ago left me with, it is that the customer and only the customer, that decides what quality is. Not someone in quality assurance. Not the company. And not someone in any of the worthy quality associations that sprung up when TQM was popular in the 80s.
As Womack & Jones point out in their foresighted book ‘Lean Solutions: How Customers and Companies Can Create Value Together’ and as you point out so lucidly in your post, the challenge is to understand what customers think quality is and then to build an organisation able to deliver said quality, just when customers need it, at a very competitive price.
If only life were so easy!
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager
The concept of quality as it relates to the software industry generally blends three perspectives. First, in many industries software is mission critical; meaning the features must be reliable and always work. For example, a financial services organization is not going to tolerate bugs/defects that result in posting errors. A bank needs to keep their debits and credits in the correct column; its just one of those regulatory things! The second perspective that directly impacts the customer experience is technical support. In the case of an issue or problem users can be very unforgiving if prompt attention and follow-up is lacking. The third area involves innovation. Software users expect applications to continuously evolve to meet their ever changing needs and desires. Each perspective is important, and consistent quality practices will help business managers make customer-focused decisions.
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Alan – good question, something very worthy of debate.
Personally, I think “quality” means different things to different industries. For example, the toys I buy my kids better work (or not be coated with led paint) because that’s what I expect. However, for intangible items – like the accountant I hire for my business taxes, I evaluate quality differently.
Considering these differences, creating a “quality process” would require different goals and organizational efforts. At a high level, manufactured goods require more of an engineering perspective of quality. Conversely, business who are more complex or intangible my need a program to define quality in the relationships they have with their customers.
In the sprit of your article, I’d like to refer to a thought back from the 1980s also. In the PIMS (profit impact on marketing strategy) study, one of the criteria was quality. Interestingly enough, companies who has a few defects far out performed companies that had no defects (companies with many defects performed poorly). The conclusion at the time was that organizations who have small problems, but “made it right” by customers were more visible and viewed more positively than firms whose products were so good, they were “out of sight, out of mind” with their customers.
Perhaps it’s not about quality, but about managing expectations.
Thanks for mentioning the PIMS Principle (Buzzell and Gale, 1987), it is interesting research. The study indicated that the profitability of a business is affected by 37 basic factors, explaining the more than 80 percent profitability variation among the businesses studied. Of the 37 basic factors, seven proved to be of primary importance. Based on analysis of information available in the PIMS database, Buzzell and Gale hypothesized that “in the long run, the most important single factor affecting a business unit’s performance is the quality of its products and services relative to those of competitors. A quality edge boosts performance in two ways. In the short run, superior quality yields increased profits via premium prices. In the longer term, superior or improving relative quality is the more effective way for a business to grow, leading to both market expansion and gains in market share.”
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