In today’s environment of intense competition, service based businesses are constantly searching for ways to differentiate themselves.
The quality of the services they provide is frequently at the top of the list of ways in which they try to do so. In an effort to create more value to the customer, grand ideas are often generated with extremely high standards.
However, when it comes time to execute at these new standards, businesses may be disappointed to find they can only deliver on a fraction of what was originally intended. This is due to inadequate planning and development of the quality standards themselves and the mechanisms necessary for their delivery. Generating the ideas for delivering quality services is only a fraction of what is necessary to actually make the ideas happen.
The concept of quality has been defined in many ways over the years. Notable author and respected quality expert Joseph M. Juran believed that quality is a freedom from deficiencies in products or services whose features and benefits meet or need the customer’s needs. The American Society of Quality defines it as “The characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.” Both definitions reference a “fitness for use” which is defined only by the customer or consumer of the product or service.
In an attempt to deliver value through quality differentiation, business must remember the customer is only willing to pay for levels of quality which fall between their needs and their expectations. Everything outside of this spectrum is waste, regardless of the time or effort invested, as the customer is not willing to pay for it. This creates additional cost to the business without reciprocal revenue.
In 1986 Juran published a paper titled “The Quality Trilogy” which presents a universal approach to managing quality: Planning, Control and Improvement. The concept suggests the overall cost of poor quality during the operations phase of business can be greatly reduced through proper planning. This has significant importance to service based businesses, like cleaning and restoration companies, because the cost of poor quality is generally incurred through trial and error methods, consuming valuable resources and deteriorating profits. This scenario can be reduced or avoided by following six simple steps to quality planning.
1. Identify your Customers
Your customers include the consumer of your services as well as other stakeholders who may have an impact on the project resources and/or future business development. These include suppliers, sub trades, referrals sources and others. Another important customer is your employees. They are significantly impacted by the levels of quality produced within an organization, both positively and negatively.
2. Determine your Customers’ Needs and Expectations
A need is an identified requirement of the customer. These are easily observed and are a mandatory baseline for value. Expectations are unidentified requirements of the customer. These represent levels of quality where value can be built up to the point in which they are exceeded. After they are exceeded the customer’s willingness to pay diminishes faster than the cost of service increases, yielding significant amounts of waste to the company.
3. Develop Products and Services
While the services your company offers may appear to be fixed on the surface, they are never etched in stone. They should be constantly evolving with the ever changing demands of the market and your customers. Moreover, they must also meet the needs of your customers relative to the value your customers perceive. Most businesses often provide services not listed on the side of their vehicles. These can be the real quality differentiators, if the customer is willing to buy them.
4. Create Features and Benefits
The features and benefits of your services must be in alignment with the customers’ needs and expectations. This is critical during the planning process If you make too many assumptions about the needs of the customer, you can create services that have features and benefits of little or no value. It is also important to make sure these meet criteria which is measurable. This criterion provides more reliable tracking mechanisms during the control phase of managing quality.
5. Develop Processes
After the desired level of quality is established, processes must be developed that will produce those features and benefits which are necessary. All processes must have four components: inputs, activities, outputs and planned results. The planned results will be the criterion defined above.
6. Prove Process Capabilities
Equally as important to quality planning as the process itself is the task of making sure the outputs produce what was intended. In service businesses this is difficult to implement without going “live” with the process. An effective way to accomplish this without running the risk of trial and error is to test the waters with a “beta” group. Take a small group of the target customers and test the process on them. Let them know in advance that is what you are doing and then ask for their feedback in order to refine the process.
Quality planning takes time and patience. It requires a concerted effort and dedicated resources at all levels of an organization. The payoff however, ultimately results in higher quality services with real value to your customers. These tangible benefits can become differentiators for any company which will drive future business and profits well beyond the cost of development. Stop guessing at what is best for your customer. Take the time to find out and plan for the levels of quality they desire. In the end you will see your company rise above the competition in ways you never thought possible.
Timothy Hull brings first-hand insight and mastery of large-scale restoration operations to those who face operational challenges in this industry. He is currently a business development advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA) where he works closely with business owners and their key management staff as both a business consultant and an executive coach. To learn more about VMA’s services and programs, visit www.Violand.com or call (330) 966-0700.