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Harish Jose

Customer Care

Shitsu vs. Shitsu

In-the-customer’s-shoes quality

Published: Thursday, November 3, 2016 - 13:22

I had a conversation recently with a quality professional from another organization. The topic somehow drifted to the strict quality standards in Japan. The person talked about how his product is rejected by his Japanese counterparts for “defects” such as small blemishes and debris. The defects meet corporate standards, yet the product gets rejected at the Japanese warehouse. My response was that I felt the Japanese were looking at the product from the eyes of the customer—that the small blemishes and debris negatively impact the perception of quality even if the product is fine.

In Japanese, the term for quality is hinshitsu (hin = goods, and shitsu = quality). With the advent of total quality management, the idea of two “qualities” was made more visible by Noriaki Kano. He termed these “miryokuteki hinshitsu,” (attractive quality) and “atarimae hinshitsu,” (must-be quality).

These concepts were not exactly new, but Kano was able to put more focus on this. The attractive quality refers to something that fascinates or excites the customer, and the must-be quality refers to everything the customer expects from the item. For example, a new cell phone is expected to function out of the box. Its user should be able to make calls, send text messages, connect to the internet, take pictures, and play games. But if a stylish phone case was included in or the customer’s name was etched on the back... that would be exciting. It would be unexpected, and thus would bring “joy” to the customer. The interesting thing about the attractive quality is that today’s attractive quality becomes tomorrow’s must-be quality. Would you buy a phone today that couldn’t browse the internet or take pictures? These features were introduced as attractive quality features and have become must-be quality features today.

Organizational theorist Kaoru Ishikawa called these “forward-looking qualities” and “backward-looking qualities.” He considered descriptive terms like “easy to use” or “feels good to use” as forward-looking qualities. In contrast, he considered “absence of defects” backward looking. Walter Shewhart, the statistician who developed statistical process control (SPC) during the 1930s called these objective and subjective qualities.

Sometimes miryokuteki hinshitsu also refers to the aesthetic quality of a product. Apple products are famous for this—the designers pay a lot of attention to aesthetic quality. The iPhone has to feel good and look good, down to the packaging. In the Japanese culture, the concept of aesthetics is rooted in “shibui” and “mononoaware.”  Per Ronnie Lessem in his book, The Global Business (Prentice Hall, 1987), shibui can be defined as a quality associated with physical beauty “that has a tranquil effect on the viewer.”  Mononoaware translated as an empathy toward things, refers to the awareness of the impermanence of things and a sadness at their passing.

Total quality management—the usual Japanese term is companywide quality control—was taken quite seriously by Japanese manufacturers. The following concepts were identified as essential:
1. Customer orientation
2. The “quality first” approach
3. Quality is everyone’s responsibility—from top management down.
4. Continual improvement of quality
5. Quality assurance is the responsibility of the producer, not of the purchaser or the inspection department.
6. Quality should be extended from the hardware (i.e., the product) to the software (i.e., services, work, personnel, departments, management, corporations, groups, society, and the environment).

Rather than relying on inspection, the Japanese manufacturers, including Toyota and Nissan, focused on quality improvement and defect prevention: building in quality. Quality awareness was essential to the entire manufacturing process. Operators owned their part in the process and took pride in their work.

Kenichi Yamamoto, the previous chairman of Mazda, is quoted to have said: “Any manufacturer can produce according to statistics.” Yamamoto’s remark is about not focusing simply on quantities. Even when we are focusing on quality we should focus on both the objective and subjective quality. This reflects how our company culture views the ownership of quality.

I have always wondered why the windows in an airplane aren’t aligned with the airplane’s seats. It appears that the plane’s body is built based on a standard, and the seats are added later based on what the airlines want. There doesn’t seem to be a focus on what the customer wants, which explains why the seats aren’t aligned with the windows. I refer to the idea of the quality of a product as “in-the-customer’s-shoes quality.” If you are the customer, how would you like the product?

I will finish off with a story I heard from one of the episodes of the delightful TV show, Japanology Plus. This story perfectly and literally captures the concept of in-the-customer’s-shoes quality.

The episode included an interview of a “Japanophile” who was living in Japan for quite a long time. He talked about one incident that truly changed his view on the country. He visited a small tea house and was asked to remove his shoes before entering the room. When it was time to go, he was pleasantly surprised to see that his shoes were now turned around to face away from the room. This way, he didn’t have to turn around and fumble to put his shoes on, he just stepped into them on his way out. He was delighted by the thoughtfulness of the host.

Always keep on learning…


About The Author

Harish Jose’s picture

Harish Jose

Harish Jose has more than seven years experience in the medical device field. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Rolla, where he obtained a master’s degree in manufacturing engineering and published two articles. Harish is an ASQ member with multiple ASQ certifications, including Quality Engineer, Six Sigma Black Belt, and Reliability Engineer. He is a subject-matter expert in lean, data science, database programming, and industrial experiments, and publishes frequently on his blog Harish’s Notebook.


Timely article

We have been discussing this very issue internally. Some of our long time employees occasionally will express frustration with the standards we implement. I often hear 'the customer won't care about that!'; but we have received direct feedback on this and many other perceived quality concerns. It's especially true that today's 'nice to have' is tomorrows' 'must have'. Now all I need to do is figure out how to change the mindsets...