Last week we looked at the basic elements of a Quality Management System, and the five questions customers ask themselves when weighing up the quality of your product or service.
This week we look at how we can use these five questions - relating to specification, conformance, reliability, delivery and cost - to judge what will be emphasised.
So, as an example, when you eat at a Japanese restaurant you may be more concerned with specifications (what can I expect when I eat there?), whereas when you eat at your local Italian restaurant you may be more concerned with conformance (is it what I expected?).
If you are eating at a Pizza Hut you may be more concerned with reliability (is it the same as last time?). However, in reality expectations are likely to comprise a mixture of these elements, in different combinations in each case. Customers are likely to have different expectations, even of the same product or service, and this may compound your difficulties. Also, customers may perceive the same product or service quite differently.
Returning to the restaurant example, some customers may see a meal as a means of enjoyment with family and friends, while others may be using it as a business opportunity to entertain their customers.
In short, the quality of a product or service is whatever customers perceive it to be: this makes it essential that you understand quality from your customers’ point of view. In some situations, customers may not be able to judge the technical aspects of a product or service specification.
For example, you may be unable to judge the quality of the medical aspect of an examination and diagnosis you receive at a visit to your dentist. You may therefore judge the experience by the dentist’s manner, the receptionist’s attitude, or even whether you had to wait longer than you expected.
Shortfalls in quality are likely to arise when there is a gap between what customers expect and what they consider they are getting. When such gaps exist it is almost bound to lead to customers’ dissatisfaction.
You need a plan
This is why it’s essential that you look at a plan for managing this. An organisation may use several different types of plan: business plans that address how it will anticipate, respond to and satisfy the needs of its customers; marketing plans that consider specific products or groups of products; production plans; IT plans; human resource plans.
Your organisation may have all, some, or even none of these plans. You may feel that you know what your organisation is trying to achieve, but that this is not written down anywhere. Whatever your situation, it is useful to understand the planning process in its own right.
For example, you may set your own preliminary objectives which could be precursors to the rest of your planning activities. You need to be clear about these two areas before you carry out any further activities, and you will need to keep the business objectives and environment in mind while you develop your own plan.
However, you will probably need to revise them as you go through the process in the light of the context analysis (the review of your organisation and its environment) that you carry out and if you do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. The results of the context analysis will help you to develop your SWOT analysis and this will help in the revision of your own objectives.
The SMART acronym for setting objectives is useful here. All objectives you set should be:
There is a key point to this process. Imagine that you are a training company and you initially decide that you need to improve the quality of the materials given to your delegates. At the moment the teaching styles of the trainers are inconsistent, and you feel that the quality of what is offered is low and does not reflect the professionalism you wish your company to be known for. You therefore set as your preliminary objectives:
However, after conducting a context analysis and a SWOT analysis to find out exactly what is happening at the moment and what your customers want, it becomes clear that a major weakness is the quality of delivery of the materials, rather than the quality of the materials themselves.
You therefore decide to keep your two original objectives, but to add a third priority objective, which is to institute a training programme for all trainers.
The plan would be measured against the initial objectives that you set, and this might influence your next set of objectives. If you achieve the objectives then you may want to set even more challenging ones next time, or you may wish to alter your focus to concentrate on other areas of perceived weakness.
Like other planning frameworks, the one presented here could be more detailed and would need adjusting according to the size, sector and character of the business and problem you are addressing. However, its purpose is to stimulate your thinking about what you can do as a company to enhance customer satisfaction.
Next week: What you’ll be doing when implementing ISO 9001…
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