In manufacturing, quality is frequently synonymous with product quality. Continuous improvement projects and initiatives tend to aim to reduce waste and defects. When Lean or other organizational excellence methods are involved throughout the business systems, manufacturing processes that lead to cost reduction and efficiency are the most often targeted. What many manufacturers neglect is the service side of quality.

Regardless of your industry—manufacturing, healthcare, or education—your company delivers a service. It might simply (but very importantly) be the communication between your department and colleagues in another group or it could be regarding your work as a supplier to a client.

So why is service being discussed at this time?

A recent ASQ survey, conducted online during World Quality Month, polled more than 400 quality and customer service experts worldwide. The goal of the survey was to unearth some of the main complaints from customers. Results indicated little disparity from country to country. In other words, regardless of the geographic and cultural differences, customer complaints are customer complaints worldwide.

Let’s take a moment to look at the top customer complaints—according to the survey—and see if any are familiar to you, as a customer or service provider:

55 percent of respondents say timeliness in service delivery is the most often heard complaint.

37 percent say long waits, such as store lines and waiting for shipped products is the biggest complaint.

26 percent say errors or inaccuracies in billing and payments are the major issue.

25 percent say lack of clear communications is the most often heard complaint.


Now, think about your suppliers (you might have as many internal suppliers as external). Do any of the aforementioned complaints (timeliness, delayed shipments, billing/payment inaccuracies, no clear communication) correspond to your complaints of your suppliers?

Service companies aren’t the only businesses that should be concerning themselves with service quality.

In the past few years, the term customer experience has gone from a wish to something that companies worldwide are working constantly to deliver. The most obvious example of building a customer experience around a product is Starbucks. Even if you don’t like the company’s coffee, it’s difficult to deny the experience they have built around purchasing and drinking coffee. There are other companies building reputations for great customer experience and quality is a major component.

While you use your powerful toolbox to reduce waste and cost, make sure you find ways to improve your lines of communication and processes to provide and receive better service.

Receiving Good Customer Service

While we tend to believe that customer service is all in the realm of the provider—especially when a provider doesn’t meet expectations—John Goodman, ASQ member, customer service expert and vice chairman, Customer Care Measurement and Consulting, states that the customer can prepare for excellent customer service. Many of Goodman’s comments were referencing retail exchanges but are certainly pertinent in business-to-business exchanges as well.

For instance, product returns. These can be awkward situations and, given that bad product causes delays, tense. Sometimes purchasing and finance might be involved, sometimes not.

While it’s in the best interests of retailers to have good return policies, Goodman recommends that all customers take these steps to help ensure a positive sales experience:

First and foremost, be prepared and calm. Have your paperwork—receipts, invoices, etc.—at the ready.

Before you begin the conversation—let’s try not to enter the communication at an argument level—take three deep breaths. When you are anxious or upset, the blood drains from your head and you are not thinking clearly and therefore often don’t present your case logically.

State exactly what you want your representative to do for you—if you don’t they might go off in the wrong direction in developing a response. This wastes your time and theirs.

If you are returning an item and the answer is “no,” ask for a description of the policy underlying the issue and find out who has the authority to override it.

“Returning an item is like breaking up when you’re dating. Do it in a public place and don’t make the service rep defensive with ‘I caught you doing something wrong or you misled me on this product,’” Goodman said. “Don’t raise suspicion and be honest up front. Tell the store rep that you know that the problem is not their fault—this reduces their defensiveness.”

Goodman notes that the simplest and most important thing you can do is to recognize good quality service.