Quality Magazine

Quality Movement Has Good, Bad News

March 23, 2010

The continuous quality improvement movement has focused the attention of many employers and employees on the quality of the products and services their organizations provide to their customers. The result has been an increase in employee and management commitment to quality. Many organizations have transformed to better serve their customers.

Senior managers, however, are often perplexed when they learn that 40 to 50% or more of their employees rate the quality of their products and services poorly. Even more puzzling, management has data that demonstrate a high level of repeat business, low customer turnover and high levels of customer satisfaction.

Quality has become the sacred organizational cow, but many employees have actually become too critical of their organizations. In the frenzy to improve quality and perfection, employees have become so focused on identifying and solving problems, they have lost sight of the fact their customers are, for the most part, satisfied.

Perhaps this is because they have little personal contact with customers and thus don’t know how they really feel. Because they spend the majority of their time solving problems and putting out fires, they distort the reality that the overwhelming majority of their customers are satisfied and will continue to be satisfied.

When employees feel the quality of the products and services provided to customers is low, their commitment to the organization weakens, internal conflicts proliferate, and trust in management declines. Also, organizational pride-the thin glue that holds many organizations together-begins to lose its strength.

If employees believe management, their coworkers or people in other departments are not committed to quality, they may lose their own personal commitment to quality. This could result in a downward spiral of declining quality, poor customer service and lost business. Here are steps you can take to ensure employees don’t lose their personal commitment to quality.

Identify what is important to customers and share results: Employees often focus their energies on improving what is most important to them rather than on what is most important to their customers. Properly developed surveys can ask customers what is most important to them, and sharing these results with employees can help focus their energies and assuage their concerns.

Track customer satisfaction trends: It is important for employers and employees to know if customer satisfaction is improving, remaining constant or declining. This information helps employees better understand whether the organization’s commitment to quality is working.

Provide competitive intelligence: It can be enlightening to employees to learn how customers feel about the organization’s products and services vs. those provided by competitors. This information also can be gathered through customer satisfaction surveys and by interviewing former customers of competing organizations.

Provide an appropriately balanced picture: Care should be taken not to sugarcoat or distort customer satisfaction data. Armed with accurate and complete information, employees will be able to develop the appropriate perspective.