A quality car, education, prison service or holiday will mean something different according to whether it dates from 1950, 2000 or 2050. Likewise, it will be perceived differently in New Delhi, Glasgow and Los Angeles.
Quality is a subjective term whose meaning depends on the expectations people have of a service or product. But the important thing is to consider quality in terms of customers' expectations, recognising that customers can include those who pay for, use or otherwise benefit from a service or product.
If we accept that the purpose of most organisations is to provide services and/or products that satisfy people's expectations of them, then quality is central to the work of all staff, especially managers.
So, the management of quality starts with the customers. If they are satisfied, or better still delighted, they will come back for more, or at least feel that their needs have been met. In either case they are likely to talk about their experience and recommend the supplying organisation to others.
If they are dissatisfied, they will not recommend it, or will disparage it. It is not enough for organisations to identify what factors, behaviours and activities will create value for their customers - they then have to deliver their products or services in a way that is considered acceptable by the customers. In other words, organisations have to develop quality as an integral part of the way they carry out their business.
Over the last 60 years quality has emerged as a dominant theme in management thinking, and many organisations think seriously about how to ensure that all aspects of their processes and systems are designed and managed to deliver high quality to their customers. This is why the ISO 9001 standard is so important.
Quality has become a powerful tool in the marketing arsenals of many companies, which have understood that the benefits resulting from quality are linked to a particular service, product or group of products.
It has become almost a cliché that quality is important to customers and therefore to organisations and their staff. Quality management is about more than identifying those factors, behaviours and activities that make customers happy. It needs to recognise the relation between quality and customer orientation.
What quality means to an organisation is important if you are to make informed and credible interventions in the quality processes in your organisation.
High-quality products and services obviously benefit the customers who pay for, consume or use them, but they also have advantages for the organisation that produces them. High quality can have a twofold benefit for the organisation: it can increase revenue and decrease costs.
A reputation for high quality can help a company attract and retain customers, thus generating a higher volume of sales.
High quality may also enable it to spend less on advertising, as there is nothing more powerful than recommendations from satisfied customers. However, customers are more likely to pass on negative sentiments than positive ones - thus poor quality leads to lower sales.
Whereas customers who buy on the basis of quality are less likely to be sensitive to prices for products that they perceive to be of higher quality. It is often remarked that quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.
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