All businesses want to provide quality products and services, but not every business manager knows exactly how to define quality, or even where to get started. While there is no single best way to build a quality program, or to go about implementing one, there are a number of questions that, once addressed, can at least help to set your business out on the right path.
The 10 basic questions that any services manager should be asking, and a corresponding set of guidelines for addressing each of them, may include:
1. How do our customers define quality? What do we need to do to convince them that we have embraced the quality initiative?
Merely embracing a quality initiative may not be as well received in the services marketplace if you have not defined the key elements of quality in the same manner as your customers. For example, if your customers define quality as “delivering services faster”, but your quality program is designed to help you “deliver services better”, you will not be perceived as properly addressing your customers’ primary service quality needs.
2. How do we know if our organization is ready for quality? How quickly should we move? How soon should we get started?
Whether or not your service organization is ready to embark on a quality program may be irrelevant if your customers think you are already long overdue. You may be undecided; but if it is time, your customers will let you know.
3. Do we need a separate plan for quality or does it fit in with our overall services business plan? How often do we need to update or revisit our quality plan?
A good quality plan is one that is also part and parcel of your organization’s strategic services marketing plan. A quality plan that is separate from the business plan is typically doomed to failure. Further, quality is an ongoing initiative and not a fixed plan – it requires constant updating and revisiting.
4. Is there such a thing as too much quality? How far should we go in terms of implementing quality?
There is no such thing as too much of a good thing when you are talking about quality. Rather, the main focus should be on, “Are we implementing the right kind of quality” and not, “Are we offering too much of it?’
5. How interactive should we allow our customers or vendors to be in terms of participating in our quality program? How far at a distance should we keep these and other outside segments?
Quality must involve all of the organization’s employees, customers and strategic partners. Quality only works if every party participates in it. An “arms length” approach to quality will not be anywhere near as successful.
6. If our competitors start to implement specific types of quality programs, should we follow them? How important is it to be the first one off the block with a services quality initiative?
Being first is not nearly as important as being best when it comes to quality. Being first does not afford any special marketing benefits either – especially if you can’t deliver. The best quality initiatives are those that “fit” your organization, and not those that mirror what other organizations are doing.
7. How do we best promote our quality achievements to the marketplace? What can we tell our customers that they don’t already know? What should we tell our non-customers to make them more interested in considering our products and services?
Any achievements you accomplish with respect to quality should be promoted to the marketplace. Digital marketing, Webpage content, marketing collateral, print advertisements, press releases, trade shows and word of mouth are the most widely used means to communicate quality achievements. The only difference between customers and non-customers is that some just happen to be paying you for your products and services. Other than that, they should all be treated in the same manner, and should all be provided with the same positive quality communications.
8. How well defined does our internal quality initiative have to be? Does it have to extend to all areas of our operations, at all service locations?
We’ve all heard about the chain that is only as strong as its weakest link. The question to ask is, “Are there any of our operational areas where we can afford not to implement quality?” If the answer for any areas of operations is ‘yes’, then perhaps those areas are not worth keeping “as is” anyway.
9. Can we design, implement, execute and monitor quality on our own, or do we need to seek outside assistance to make it all happen? What types of outside assistance are available?
Your most important mission is running your services business, and not managing quality implementation. However, having a third party manage the entire quality initiative assures that there will be less burden on your part. Accordingly, the best way for ensuring successful quality implementation and maintenance is to focus on what your organization can do best without adversely impacting normal business operations, and using outside assistance where you can gain the greatest advantage.
10. What are the total costs of implementing quality? What are the total costs of not implementing quality?
The total costs of implementing quality are – well, you can do the math! However, the costs of not implementing quality may range from losing customers and market share, to increasing operating costs and reducing profits, to reducing market potential and continually fighting an uphill battle against more demanding customers and better prepared competitors.
Having all of the answers is not mandatory for implementing a successful quality program. However, asking all of the right questions should get you off to a good start.