Posting customer feedback can make quality a deciding and profit-making factor for future customers.

Imagine a marketplace where buyers and sellers rate each other after every transaction. This feedback would become a permanent record that they must each display in the marketplace. In this market, “high quality” merchants and customers would prosper and those with poor feedback would find it impossible to survive. Imagine the positive effect this would have on quality.

This marketplace exists today, and from a quality perspective, I’m fascinated by it. The marketplace is eBay, and the rating system described above is in use. It is extremely simple and highly effective in ensuring quality products and a quality transaction. To illustrate this, I’ll share my personal experience.

I like to buy old fountain pens on eBay. Most people can’t believe that I antique shop on-line, thinking that the only way to effectively judge the condition of an old pen is to personally examine it. eBay’s quality system is so effective, though, that sellers are motivated to accurately describe a product and all its defects. I’ve purchased many vintage items on eBay, and I’ve been happy with the transactions, as well as the products I’ve purchased.

The way eBay’s system works is that buyers and sellers rate each other after the merchandise is received and payment is made. Feedback is put on-line for everyone to see. Before I bid on an eBay item, I examine the seller’s feedback. If the seller has bad comments, I won’t bid on the item. On the other side of the sale, sellers can cancel bids from buyers with bad feedback. Buyers who don’t pay promptly and sellers that misrepresent items don’t last long. From a quality perspective, that is the way it should be in all marketplaces—bad customers and bad suppliers should not be able to survive by hiding their poor performance.

I like to ponder this eBay quality model as it pertains to other marketplaces. Are you willing to encourage your customers to make comments about your products and service for the whole world to see? Would you be willing to show all potential new customers your unedited customer feedback on their first visit? If you answered no, what does that say about your quality system?

Would you like to make some changes at your company before customer feedback was posted for the whole world to see? If yes, why aren’t you making them now? The answer probably is that quality managers, like myself, have allowed people other than our customers to have tremendous influence on our quality system, to the loss of our customers and to the loss of our company.

One of the biggest factors that derail a focus on customers is quality certification. A reader of this column stated it this way, “What customers really want is quality parts, not quality certificates.”

A quality certificate?

What if you were to post unedited customer feedback on your Web site and call that your quality certificate? Unlike all other certificates, I think that every customer would see that Web site as a simple, credible, valuable and useful certificate. Any supplier willing to publicly post unedited customer feedback (that was overwhelmingly favorable) would have a formidable competitive advantage over all other suppliers not willing to do this.

Why aren’t companies doing this? Probably because some companies feel that an unedited public airing of customer feedback would not be a positive thing for business. For all the other companies, I think that this could be a real competitive advantage with huge potential because so few people are doing it and because it is defensible for those willing to make their quality data public. The catch is, though, that you really must have excellent quality to use it as a competitive advantage.

If you are interested in tapping into the huge contribution that quality can make to your organization, then focus on the people that make or break your company—your customers, not your ISO/QS auditor. If you could get to the point where you were willing to publicize unedited customer feedback, you would be in a class by yourself and the market would be yours. You would not need an ISO/QS certificate to do business. Until you get there, though, everything you do to refocus on your customers will make your business healthier and more profitable.

Is your company ready to use unedited, publicly posted customer feedback as a competitive differentiator in your market? Would this be more effective than an ISO/QS certificate? Send me an e-mail and let me know what you think.