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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Advancing Quality is a Matter of Customer Focus

Paul Borawski, CEO of ASQ, asks the influential voices basically how to advance quality so it’s value is fully realized.

I pose two questions for your consideration.

  • What is the most important challenge the quality community faces in ensuring that the value of quality is fully realized for the benefit of society? (I could write a book on that question.)
  • And, what question does the quality community most need answered in order to advance the state of quality practice in the world?
I realize these are big questions, but then you are big thinkers. 

Over the last 40 years, the quality management discipline has undergone steady evolution from internally focused command-and-control to more proactive, customer-focused functions. The market certainly encouraged that, as economies shifted from dominance of product-based manufacturers to more heavily depend on service-based solution providers. It seems reasonable that service economies will naturally tend toward customer-focus, since much of the service involves direct customer contact. Feedback can be bitterly honest, yet also quickly addressed (compared with poor manufacturing quality).

Aspects of quality management are becoming integral to business operations; quality ratings and awards are a competition, and success is marketed as a sign of commitment to the customer; innovation is a constant refrain in business journals and even advertisement; customer surveys are endemic; data is rampant, so differentiating between real change and random variation becomes a core competency; and so on. The cost of poor quality is realized in real time as loss of market share or profitability.

The manager in today’s world must implement cost-reducing quality initiatives that increase market share in spite of competitive forces. There are two basic ways to become (or remain) competitive: achieve superior perceived quality by developing  a set of product specifications and service standards that more closely meet customer needs than competitors; and achieve superior conformance quality by being  more effective than your competitors in conforming to the appropriate product specifications and service standards. These are not mutually exclusive; excellent companies do both simultaneously.

Customer “satisfaction” does not simply happen; it is an effect. Quality is one important cause of the customer satisfaction effect, along with price, convenience, service, and a host of other variables. Generally businesses do not seek customer satisfaction as an end in itself. The presumption is that increased customer satisfaction will lead to higher revenues and higher profits, at least in the long term. To best serve customers, the successful quality program will apply specific principles, techniques, and tools to better understand and serve their firm’s royalty – the customer. The Customer is KING!

I believe the answer to both of Paul’s question lies with customer. Those organizations that are customer-focused will be the ones who fully realize the value of quality.  This practice or focus is what has advanced quality to it current encompassing approach. It is in the pursuit of satisfying the customers that future advancements will be made. However this is not easy and therein lies the challenge.

I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own. 

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