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Departments: First Word

 

  
   

Scratching the Big Itch

Don't just meet your customers' needs; meet their Needs.

by Dirk Dusharme

 


If you were to judge by the articles seen in Quality Digest, you might get the impression that quality control techniques are strictly for use in industrial or business applications, far removed from the eyes of the average Earthling. But you'd be wrong.

Take a look at the article "Ensuring Quality Service at the Special Olympics World Summer Games" to see how the Chinese are using quality techniques to improve service for this upcoming event, to be held in Shanghai, China, in October 2007.

For those unfamiliar with the Special Olympics, the mission of the organization, started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. It currently serves more than 2.5 million people in 150 countries. The Shanghai games will involve 7,000 athletes, 40,000 volunteers and 3,500 event officials.

The Chinese approach to addressing the customer service aspects of the games is a very unique example of customer-centric thinking. Working with the Special Olympics organization, the Shanghai hosts identified the special needs and considerations of the athletes and incorporated these criteria into event-tree analyses, FMEAs and other analysis techniques at critical touch points along the service path to identify and prepare for possible service failures. The intended result is not just that all service interactions will meet the needs of all stakeholders; that should be the intended result of any customer service endeavor. No, the fascinating part of their goal is that the service functions in themselves should actually improve society's response to people with disabilities. We're not talking about a goal that just meets the short-term expectations of the customer for a particular product or transaction. This is a goal that says the service should be so revolutionary that it "helps society at large understand the needs of people with intellectual disabilities [and] serve as the basis for improving service." Wow.

OK, I can already see you cynics poised like jittering Chihuahuas over your keyboards, preparing to pound out e-mails decrying my gushing over this particular Chinese endeavor, pointing out their years of child labor, human-rights abuses and Mao suits.

You might be right. This could just be a public relations ploy to enhance China's image in the global marketplace. I doubt it, but time will tell. Regardless, the idea of maintaining a long view of customer service is very forward thinking. It requires looking beyond the immediate needs of your customers and instead determining what their overarching Needs are; what is their Big Itch, and how do you scratch it?

Several years ago I was photographing a "travel camp" of developmentally disabled children and adults between the ages of 14 and 65 led by a close friend of mine, Andy Claydon. Certainly a key service goal of these two-week camping trips is to ensure the health and safety of the campers and to make sure that they have a blast. But Andy had more in mind. His long-term service goal was to make sure that every camper (and every bystander) came away knowing that there was no reason a developmentally disabled person couldn't set up a tent, cook a meal over a camp fire, hike a mountain, kayak or rappel off a cliff. Seeing a dozen exhausted campers return after a day of adventure and challenge, collapse into a heap outside their tents and then talk excitedly long into the night about what they'd accomplished… that's service with reach.