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How Do Customers Define Quality?

When Gordon Bethune took over troubled Continental Airlines, he ordered a study to determine how flyers defined quality, and what they wanted most. The overwhelming answer was “on time arrivals and departures.” This goal became his central focus for the next three years.

And it worked. Continental Airline’s punctuality improved dramatically. As on- time arrivals and departures got better and better, sales, profitability, customer satisfaction, employee morale and stock price all improved dramatically. By focusing on “being the best” in a specific area that was of paramount importance to customers, Continental became one of the most impressive business turnarounds of the 1990’s.

What Do Customers Want?

Quality is not objective, existing by itself, nor is it defined by the company. It is emotional and subjective, and is defined by your customers. Quality is what they say it is. To paraphrase a famous legal opinion, “I can’t define it exactly, but I know what it is when I see it.”

Customers define quality in two parts. First is the product or service itself. A quality product or service is something that does what it is supposed to do. It does what the customer was promised when he bought it, and continues to do it. The second part of quality, from the customer’s viewpoint, is the manner in which the product is sold, serviced and delivered.

Customers Are Primarily Emotional

This second part, the personal or emotional component, is often more important than the product or service itself. In one study, the researchers found that 68% of customer defections to the competition were not product, price or capability determined. Instead, the primary reason for changing was a perceived indifference on the part of someone in the selling organization.

Rank Yourself Against Your Competitors

Give yourself a grade on a scale of 1-10 with regard to the quality of your product or service in comparison with your competitors. Be honest with yourself. Ask everybody in the office to contribute his or her opinions as well. Ask your best customers how they would rate you against the other companies in your business. Whatever score you finally agree on, use that number as your baseline for improvement.

Once you have an estimate of your quality ranking, your goal should be to improve it by one grade. For example, if on a scale of 1-10 you give yourself a score of seven, your aim will be to work yourself up to an eight. Once you have worked yourself up to an eight, your goal will be to work yourself up to a nine, and so on until you reach a ten ranking. This is your long-term goal. It is for customers to refer to you as “the best in the business.”

Your Personal Quality Rating

The same principle of continuous improvement applies to you personally, as well. Identify the most important thing you do for your business and your customers. Give yourself a grade in that area from one to ten. Ask your coworkers, your boss and your customers how they would rate you in that area. Then commit yourself to doing whatever you have to do to increase your ranking by one grade at a time until you achieve absolute excellence in your key skill areas.

Practice the Kaizen method of continuous betterment, and the CANEI method of continuous and never-ending improvement in everything you do. Never be satisfied with your current level of performance. Every day, in every way, you should look for ways to do your job even better than the day before. Whatever got you to where you are today is not enough to keep you there. Continually raise the bar on yourself. Your life only gets better when you do.

Commit to Continuous Improvement:

1. How do your customers define quality? What is most important to them in choosing your product or service?

2. How do you rank against your competitors on a scale from one to ten? How could you improve your ranking immediately?

3. Set up a reward system in your company for suggestions and ideas to improve quality and achieve greater customer satisfaction?

4. Do you have quality and performance standards for people, products and activities in your company? Does everyone know what they are?

5. What company do you think is the best in your business, the most respected and profitable? How could you benchmark yourself against them?

6. What one step could you take immediately to improve customer satisfaction with your company?

7. What could you do personally to upgrade and improve the quality of your performance in the most important things you do in your job?

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