Improving quality can reduce the waste caused by scrap and reworking, and means that less time (and hence money) needs to be spent on quality inspection and testing. If customers are satisfied with the goods and service they receive, they are less likely to complain, so the costs of servicing them are lower.
High quality can also reduce capital costs, as processing times will be reduced, and fewer inventories of raw materials and work in progress may be needed. A hotel that makes a lot of mistakes in its bookings or a charity that gives insufficient or misleading information on its telephone help-line service will incur both staff time and expense when dealing with the consequences and with the damage to its reputation.
Most people usually accept that quality is a desirable thing. Many organisations describe themselves as quality organisations, invariably pointing to the quality of their products and services. It is difficult to find anyone who is against quality (although there are always some unscrupulous traders and organisations that knowingly mislead their customers and provide faulty goods and services).
If those who supply goods and services are so intent on achieving quality, why is it that so often customers find that they do not get the quality they want? One reason is that the word ‘quality’ can, and is frequently used to, mean quite different things.
Garvin (1988) argues that any definition of quality will be based on one of the following underlying approaches, which consider quality to be:
1. Perceived. This approach is based on a view of quality as innate excellence. Quality is 'something you recognise when you see it'. Thus Armani can be recognised as a quality couturier. Similarly, Waterford is perceived to be quality crystal. This perception even extends to those who have never owned or come into contact with any of these products.
Such superior quality can be identified by look, touch, and so on. When a service is involved, for example a merchant bank, local solicitor or private health clinic, judging quality may reflect even more intangible criteria, such as the atmosphere in a restaurant or the reputation of a hospice.
2. Product-based. This approach considers those aspects of the quality of a product that can be precisely measured. Quality is seen as a measurable set of characteristics. Thus the quality of a car can be determined by its performance, as measured by its top speed, its acceleration or its fuel consumption. These measures can be controversial. Should we measure the quality of a school by the results its students achieve in exams?
3. User-based. This approach considers quality from the customers' perspective. Thus it is based on a marketing view that customers ultimately decide on the basis of 'fitness for use' what quality means. So an inexpensive product can be viewed as being a quality product.
4. Operations-based. This approach says that the quality of a product or service reflects its conformance to a specification. In this view, quality is achieved if everything is carried out right first time and without error.
5. Value-based. This approach modifies the user-based approach by introducing the notion of cost or price. Quality is thus considered to equate to the best value for money. Many customers will be prepared to accept a product with a lower specification if its price is low. The success of European budget airlines such as Ryanair stems from the fact that many travellers are quite happy to forgo higher levels of service in exchange for cheaper seats.
However, this loyalty is severely tested when things go wrong and delays and cancellations ensue. Garvin's definitions are more than a question of semantics. These approaches are based on fundamentally different understandings of quality, which may lead to quite different actions being taken in the management of quality.
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