A Publication of WTVP

Quality doesn’t just happen—it comes as a result of hard work and a
commitment to process excellence.

Quality is seldom improved through
cost reduction efforts, but costs can be reduced by improving

Quality is no longer just an element of customer
satisfaction—iit is fundamental to your organization’s survival.

What is Quality? This question has been debated by many of the finest minds in history. Aristotle and other great thinkers of his era debated the meaning of quality, and to Aristotle, quality was more of a personal preference. Even with the arguments throughout history, however, there haven’t been substantial changes in the definition.

At its core, this is a very good question. Is quality just a matter of making sure that our products or services conform to specifications, meet customer’s needs, etc.? Is it all about numbers—like 3.4 defects per million opportunities, zero customer complaints, 95 percent of phone calls answered within three rings, 98-percent on-time delivery? I really don’t think so.

Total Organizational Excellence

The professionalism with which customers are greeted, the understanding of their needs, the way their questions and concerns are addressed, and the timely delivery of products and services are all quality issues. Customers have unprecedented needs, in addition to their own perceived expectations. Moreover, these needs and expectations are constantly evolving. As a consequence, there is always a need for quality improvement.

Unrelenting pursuit of quality improvement is one hallmark of a mature, customer-focused organization.

Quality can be defined as “the degree to which products and services satisfy the needs and expectations of the customer and ultimate consumer.” What most organizations sell is not just a product, but rather a service or business experience. That experience is the summation of every activity—every employee’s effort in the organization. Quality is truly everyone’s business.

After a series of satisfying business experiences, the customer will not only have bought a product, but also an integral business relationship. As time goes on, the customer develops an ever-increasing regard for the organization. Ultimately, the organization is what is being sold, the business transaction is the vehicle for selling the organization, and the product becomes the medium of exchange. Organizations must combine product quality with service quality to provide the highest levels of customer satisfaction.

Let’s recognize that what we are talking about is excellence. Not product excellence or manufacturing excellence, but total organizational excellence.

Organizations must realize that the value of a customer is not based on a single large purchase, but on a lifetime’s worth of purchases. Loyal, repeat customers account for a high proportion of sales and profit. If an organization does not meet expectations, dissatisfied customers find it hard to remain loyal. Quality is important at all levels in an organization, but a majority of customers dissatisfied with consistently poor service quality will look elsewhere to spend their purchasing dollars.

These numbers are really the results of quality processes or products. Bottom line—what’s our motivation for quality? What makes us strive for higher levels of quality? Some might say it’s really simple. Organizations might say it’s strictly financial. We have to make good products because if we make poor products, we won’t make money, and if we don’t make money, we won’t be in business.

Some of us may agree to some degree, but not totally. It’s true that if we produce poor products, it will eventually result in fewer repeat customers, lost sales and lower revenues. But if that’s our only motivation, we’re going to be surpassed by competitors who might be motivated by other incentives.

We should make good products or provide excellent service because, in the final analysis, it’s the right thing to do. It’s all about a mindset. We must want to produce and sell a product or service that we would be pleased to own or use. One of my quality engineering students remarked that he does his best because his family might depend on that very product, and their lives might be in the balance on how well it performs. Talk about making quality personal!

If we look upon quality as strictly financially motivated, the tendency might be to focus only on the nuts and bolts. What actions contribute directly to the bottom line? Meaning, how much do we invest in our quality processes to provide a product or service that meets the customer’s expectations? All energy is directed toward what customers say they want. That might not be good enough.

Quality can’t be just about numbers; if it is, then we’ll lose the game in the marketplace. Quality has to be about desire and a motivation to do what’s right—not just what’s right for our customers but simply what’s right.

At the end of the day, quality means a commitment to total organizational excellence and an overall desire to do more than just deliver products or services. All of the experts tend to agree that satisfied customers vote with repeat business and their purchasing power. After all, quality is really what the customer says it is. When it comes to quality, the customer’s vote is all that matters. Delivering what the customer is willing to pay for, time and again, is the only way organizations will really succeed. iBi 

Jim L. Smith is a retired senior manager at the Caterpillar Inc. Mossville Engine Center with 45 years of industry experience in operations, engineering, research & development, and quality management. He is an ASQ Fellow (American Society for Quality), holds several professional certifications, and is a Caterpillar-certified 6 Sigma Green and Black Belt. For over 25 years, Smith has been conducting ASQ certification preparatory courses, and has graduated more than 6,000 people from his programs. He was named ASQ’s 2006 Quality Professional of the Year and Quality magazine’s 2007 Quality Professional of the Year. He writes a monthly column called “Face of Quality” and a blog called “Jim’s Gems” for Quality magazine, and is currently collaborating with two other authors to complete The Human Side of Quality, which will be published by ASQ. Jim can be contacted at [email protected].