It is impossible to describe all the methods that can be used to ensure quality for the customer. The forms are different for different companies due to differences in technology, and however, there are fundamental principles common to all businesses.
Table of Contents
Define The Term Quality
It is essential to understand which quality aspects are critical to your specific product and service. Don’t just follow general recommendations, and your approach to quality management must match what your product/service and your customers need.
When developing your approach to quality management, always keep in mind that the customer should have the principal place. The goal is to satisfy existing customers, retain them and attract others. To achieve this goal, you need to decide what “quality” means in your organization. The quality of a physical product can be evaluated in terms of its dimensions or the perfection of its coating. Consistency, taste or smell may be decisive in foods. Many human quality factors can appear during the service, such as the friendliness and sympathy of the doctor or how a lawyer can present a complicated document to his client. For some products, the design and form of the packaging can play as important a role in gaining customers as the product itself.
You need to define the most critical aspects of your product/service quality. If you don’t know them, how can you keep them and possibly improve them? In the past, this shortcoming has occurred in many quality management processes. Vast sums of money were spent on implementing quality management without asking the fundamental question: “Which factors most influence customer satisfaction?” Many manufacturers, who have faced declining sales, have also focused their attention on the design and reliability of the product itself, without realizing that their customer satisfaction is most affected by a service, such as the ability to provide timely and technically competent advice.
Elaboration of Specification
Develop a written specification for your product/service in three ways:
- what the customer expects to receive,
- what you do and offer
- How do you check it?
The elaboration of the specification follows from the first point. You need to know what you are offering your customers. Start by taking on the role of your customer. What facts did you realize about your business? What good or bad points do you see?
- If you come by car, could you park?
- The access road was muddy, so you got your shoes dirty on the way to the door?
- Did you have to wait while entering while the staff ignored your presence?
- Did they welcome you in a friendly way?
- Is the decoration attractive?
- Is the environment generally pleasant to eat?
- Was it clean there?
- If you don’t smoke, is there a non-smoking area?
- Is the menu informative and up-to-date?
- Did the staff treat you as an essential visitor or as another inconvenience?
- Were you promptly served?
- Did the staff make it clear that they understood what you wanted?
- How long did you have to wait?
- Did they offer you what you ordered?
- Was the “warm” food scorching?
- Was the “cold” food icy?
- Was the food nicely served and tasty?
- Was the account adequate?
- Did you think they were interested in your money at the end, or did you have to wait twenty minutes to find someone you could pay?
These are just some of the many questions we could ask to find out what experience the person has had in the restaurant. Similar questions can be asked about your business; Remember that the experience lasts long after the customer has bought the product for most products. Have you already taken on the role of customer and described the knowledge you would like to have when shopping with your company? Think about it carefully. Could you write it down? This is a “specification – customer experience”.
The second part of the specification is a “technical” description or a description of the process of your production or provision of services. With the customer experience before your eyes, write down how you meet these requirements. This will be a highly technical document for many products and may already exist as a product specification.
Third, how do you verify that you provide what your specifications require? Do you have a series of well-defined tests for the product, both during production and upon completion? Do you systematically check the service to ensure that everything meets the standard? This is your “inspection specification”. What procedure do you use to regularly (daily, weekly, monthly) examine whether your quality performance meets your efforts and the expectations of your customers and whether it is improving or deteriorating? You may have staff specifically responsible for quality control, but you don’t have to. Whatever your organization, make sure that the responsibility for monitoring your quality standards is clearly stated in the job description of the relevant staff.
Understand the process performed in your organization, including any activity that could affect compliance with the specified specification quality, and ensure that the quality of each method is monitored and maintained.
In the previous paragraphs, we pointed out the need to control and test the quality of your products/services. However, if you do this at the end of the process, you will not prevent an alarming development. It is essential to systematically ask what factors and stages in the production process or services can affect the quality and the result.
One way to do this is to sketch a flow chart of the organization’s activities. You need to know where the most value is added to the customer and where mistakes are most likely to occur. Then take precautions to ensure that problems do not happen, along with tests and checks to ensure they do not happen. Large companies often use complex software to map processes to elaborate this part in great detail. There is no need to go to that depth in a small business. However, you should know which factors are critical to each of your products or services.
Culture of Improvement
Finding improvement must be part of everyday life. Similarly, the identification of problem areas must be perceived not as the production of problems or a lack of loyalty but as part of the work of each individual. It is an aspect where quality is everyone’s business.
However, when dealing with continuous improvement, we must draw attention to the following fact. Managers have an unfortunate tendency to believe in simple answers to complex questions. There are several consultants, both theoretical and practical, who can promise an almost miraculous transformation of your business only if you try their admirable new techniques. Significant quality improvement is not so easy to achieve. It is a long and gradual process that requires a strategic approach:
- It is a long and challenging journey.
- It must be carefully thought out.
- It will consist of several components, including technical, human and systemic improvements.
Improvement must not be seen as a short-term project. Too many companies will embark on “Continuous Improvement” programs and leave after two or three years because they have not delivered their expectations. Significant quality improvements often require fundamental changes in the corporate culture. Improvement must become a way of life; it’s a never-ending journey. It must be seen as “constantly improving in everything we do”.
Finding The Causes of Quality Failure
When you discover actual or potential quality issues, do not “fill the holes” with short-term solutions, but look for and eliminate the cause.
As soon as you identify the quality problem, ask yourself and others, “Why? What caused it?” Don’t ask, “How can we cover this up?” Nor is it enough: “Can we make a quick fix to minimize the damage in this case?”. You may have to do this, but it is not enough. It would be best to go deep to uncover the causes and deal with things that may prevent the situation from recurring. These can be technical, organizational, or financial causes and a system design problem or purely human error. Please don’t settle for it until you uncover the root causes of the issues you face.
Focus on realistically improving the quality of your product/service, and don’t be fooled into thinking that a comprehensive bureaucratic paper system for “maintaining quality” will enhance your business. Keep your paperwork at a sober minimum enough to keep your operations under control and to be able to check things back.