The waiter was friendly, helpful and smiling, but your food order was wrong. You called in to the Help desk line and the technician was anxious to please and very polite, but at the end, did nothing. These are examples of good service in the customer experience, but Quality was missing. Being courteous does not win customers.
Quality trumps Service. If you talk the talk, you must walk the walk. If you don’t give the customer what you promised, right the first time, then it really doesn’t matter how nice you smile or what kind of good eye contact you have. In the end, the customer cares more about getting what they asked for. Easier said than done though, because everyone has different interpretations about what Quality is and everyone has different perceptions of expectations. Let me share some concepts that changed my life many years ago and how I have looked at Quality ever since. These 4 Absolutes of Quality Management were described by the originator Philip Crosby in his book “Quality is Free” and taught for many years by myself and others at the Quality College in Winter Park, Florida.
1st Absolute: The Definition of Quality is Conformance to Requirements
This definition takes away the subjectiveness of Quality, so there is no high quality, low quality, good quality, bad quality. It simply conforms to the requirements or it doesn’t. For example, my food order that was incorrect was not quality. It did not conform to my requirements. I had ordered a grilled chicken wrap without the sauce. It was delivered with sauce. Words typically used to describe Quality such as excellence, luxurious, expensive are no longer valid, because as long as the product or service meets its requirements, it is quality. Therefore, a Seiko watch is just as much a quality watch as a Rolex if it meets its requirements.
What this means then, is you have to work really hard upfront to determine the customer’s requirements. A good technique to use is LQR: Listen, Question, Restate. Listen to hear what the customer is truly asking for, Question to ensure you have all the information you need, and Restate in your own words what you heard the customer say so they can verify or clarify.
2nd Absolute: The System to Get Quality is Prevention, not Appraisal
We work in a hurried world and it’s all about getting the job done fast and moving onto the next. The perception is we can always find the time to go back and fix it if we have to, but maybe the customer won’t notice or say anything if it’s wrong. The problem with appraisal though is that it costs 10 times more to fix it after the customer tells us they didn’t get what they were promised because now we not only have to repair, redo or replace the product/service, but to keep them happy we probably have to offer a discount or free credit, not to mention the bad press and image damage. Prevention takes a little longer to plan by asking questions and making sure we know what the customer is seeking before the delivery, but in the end it is by far the least expensive path to take.
3rd Absolute: The Performance Standard for Quality Must be Zero Defects/Error Free
Anything less than a zero defects performance standard means you are willing to disappoint some customers. The attitude becomes one of “that’s close enough”. And when you have employees thinking that even a few times it’s okay to make a mistake and not give the customer what was promised, you have instilled a mindset that says it is acceptable to not give the customer what they want. By setting a zero defects performance standard, you are telling your employees you want them to Listen, Question, Restate and determine the customer requirements clearly. You want them to take the time to plan and use prevention to ensure the delivery of conformance to the requirements. It doesn’t mean you will fire anyone who makes a mistake, but that you want them to find out what went wrong in the process so that it can be corrected so that the same mistake won’t happen again.
4th Absolute: The Cost of Quality is the Price of Non-Conformance (PONC)
There is a cost to not giving the customer what you promised. Sometimes it is very obvious such as a repair or replacement. This entails the cost of the time involved and if there were any material costs incurred. Other times it is not as obvious, such as back office time in tracking information about the problem, letter writing, phone calls listening to the complaint and future lost business. There is a cost though and it is a price you can choose to pay or not. Most manufacturing companies find that the price of nonconformance runs around 30% of sales, for service companies we found the PONC to be about 40% of operating expenses. These are big numbers for a cost that doesn’t have to be and certainly contributes to customer dissatisfaction.
But, now imagine, if you are a company that works hard at all the above to ensure your customers receive the product or service that conforms to the requirements. Then what separates you from your competition will be the Service you deliver in the customer experience. If you can WOW them now with your friendly, courteous, helpful, smiling employees in the process of that experience – you have an unbeatable organization!