In an earlier blog, I wrote about how quality is elusive. I listed five facets of quality, meaning the different ways our customers measure quality. Continuous quality improvement means having a focused effort around evaluating who your customers are, what they expect, and how they measure quality. Asking your team the following questions can help guide your quality program toward the best outcomes for your organization.
- What do you provide?
This isn’t always cut and dry, or as it appears on paper. Are you clear on what your business is delivering? In other words, what is the single most important output for your business? Is it to make people happy? Provide a unique solution? Save someone money?
- Who is your customer?
Who does your product or service really impact? Who is the real customer in the buying and utilization cycle? Have you evaluated who has the greatest need for your service and who pays for your product and service? If so, what do they expect?
- How is your customer perceiving quality?
Questions 2 and 3 heavily influence each other. For example, customer age is a key determinant of the type of quality your customers expect. For older customers of the baby boomer generation, value might be key to quality. For millennials, a greater good, including environmental stewardship, is one of the key defining characteristics of quality. Think of the example from my earlier blog about my expectations of a flight versus those of a family flying to Disney World. Perhaps an airline would shift what it offers on a morning flight to Florida versus a Red Eye from LA.
- How do you gather feedback and listen to your customers?
Some of the old-fashioned, and often most reliable, ways to figure out what the customer wants is through customer satisfaction surveys that ask: How can we improve? A more modern version of the survey is an internal or external customer forum. This creates an online customer community where customers can collaborate about how to improve service.
- How does your company gather data and how do you evaluate data?
Sometimes we gather data for the sake of gathering data and we don’t do anything with it. But in focused areas, data can be very important in helping to refine quality. It’s important to have real-time, integrated data here, so that everything is completely up to date and your customer service team is responding to complaints with all the knowledge they need. Some of the newest and most exciting methods of gathering data that can help us all track our customers’ satisfaction and quality expectations can be found in social media. Some companies are following customers’ tweets in certain locations to gauge their complaints, desires and behaviors. Others are creating forums and opportunities to gather data on Facebook and elsewhere.
- What’s the customer behavior related to our product?
This would include asking how does the customer realize their own need for the product or service? How do they gather information about their needs and possible solutions? How do I compare between what options are better for me or not? How do I assess which options are better to keep and which ones I should not?
The answers to these six questions (and, depending on your business, maybe a few others) will form the basis of your customer-focused continuous improvement efforts. They’re the keys to creating and sustaining a quality movement that is customer-centric, one that will evolve and grow to meet the demands of the customers and the intense competitive climate while delivering great rewards for employees and shareholders.
The fact that quality is elusive creates a competitive advantage for the team or organization that becomes more engaged in understanding, rather than complacent. Where do you fall?