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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

We Can Do Better

Management and customer service

Published: Monday, March 5, 2007 - 23:00

This column normally originates from the hammock in the woods behind our home. With almost a foot of snow on the ground, though, this month’s contribution would better be titled “Thoughts From a Lounge Chair in My Den.”

So, while sitting in my favorite chair and listening to the popping of well-aged logs, I mused about issues in quality and performance excellence and management techniques.

  • Ford Motor Co. recently announced its largest loss in its 103-year history. And yet bonuses may be in store for members of its senior management team, said Alan Mulally, Ford president and CEO, to keep the “skilled and motivated team going forward.” From my perch it would seem that these people are the very ones who drove Ford into the ditch, and I would request a different designated driver on the “Way Forward” campaign.
  • Using Ford’s logic, the captain of the Titanic would receive a bonus for locating the iceberg. I notice Ford is resurrecting the Taurus nameplate. It might better try breathing new life into a previous catchphrase—“Quality Is Job No. 1!”
  • While on the subject of Ford Motor Co.—those of you outside of Michigan may not be aware of this—top executive Mark Fields has until recently been in the habit of flying home to Florida on the company plane at a cost of thousands. After an expose on local TV, he ditched that practice. Last I checked, Southwest and Spirit Airlines had economical flights to Florida. Mingling with us, the unwashed, might just provide Fields with a glimpse of the real Americans he needs to purchase Ford automobiles. Bring some marketing brochures with you, Mark, on your next flight.
  • Executive pay has been in the forefront of news lately. Excessive departure packages such as those paid to an energy mogul and a hardware store captain boggled the mind. Their regular salaries also caught the eye of many shareholders. Have you ever sat in a meeting with a CEO who earns ten or fifteen million dollars a year? Each time he or she interacts at the meeting, you would expect that they would speak in tongues and have a solution for even the most complicated situation. Alas, that isn’t always the case. Many of these denizens of industry are so isolated at the top that they’re clueless. Let’s hope that the corporate tree shaking continues so that we can return integrity and professionalism to the corner office and eliminate the cronyism and incompetence.
  • Believe it or not, many hospitals are using gimmicks to attract people to their emergency rooms. Some advertise that if you aren’t waited on within 30 minutes, you’re eligible for some movie theater tickets or in some instances a pizza. Whatever happened to quality in health care? I saw a billboard last week that read, “Do you want it fast or correct?” I think that sums up this whole campaign of trying to differentiate oneself from the competition. I had hernia surgery recently. The operation began at 9:15 a.m. and I was home relaxing at 11:30 a.m. I guess the whole process came in under the allotted time for that type of operation, so I didn’t win a pizza.
  • Speaking of differentiating oneself from the competition, my local Jiffy Lube does more than just pour several quarts of oil into my engine block. When I pull in, I’m offered a cup of coffee, a newspaper and a comfortable seat in front of a plasma television. The inside of the car and the trunk area get a thorough vacuum and the windows are cleaned inside and out. If I ever need a burned-out bulb changed, the price is $9.95, as opposed to the $75 at the local dealership. So yes, I still find quality and superb customer service in the most unlikely places.
  • Chrysler Corp. provided 13,000 employees with an unforgettable Valentine’s Day present—walking papers. On a day set aside for love, soothing words, or maybe a European spa treatment, candy and flowers, Chrysler decided to stage a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. I guess they waited longer instead of announcing it on Christmas Day. Top management is paid millions of dollars to make these types of decisions that will have a lasting effect on the psyche of the affected employees. “Happy Valentine’s Day dear, I was fired today!”
  • How many times have you driven past organizations that display signs or flags that herald a recent award? We’ve all seen the ISO-certified flags, but who other than quality professionals understands what it means? Companies displaying these awards are obviously proud of their accomplishment, however, very few people outside of their organizations share their enthusiasm. These accoutrements of quality are similar to those bumper stickers stating, “My son is an honor student at ABC Elementary School.” Do I know what transpired to receive the award? Do I care? Chasing awards and recognition is good business only if the emphasis continues to be on internal improvement, and not on these external showcases.
  • The latest issue of Fortune magazine lists “The 100 Best Companies To Work For.” Of the 100 organizations, 10 are from the health care industry, which was good enough for fourth place after financial services, retailing and high-tech categories. Looking at the reasons health care attracts and retains people, I came up with some interesting perks at various hospitals—for example, a $250 gift card for use at Chevron stations and full health care coverage for retirees. There’s a hospital in Florida where nearly 70 nurses made more than $100,000 last year. No wonder turnover at this Sunshine State facility averaged 13 percent, well below the national average of 20 percent. For the best perks, no one can compete with company No. 1 on the list, Google, which provides free meals, swimming spa and free doctors on site, unlimited sick days and a $5,000 subsidy to buy a hybrid car. Based on the 1,300 resumes it receives every day, it seems as if everyone wants to work at a company that respects its employees and provides top-notch products. Frankly, isn’t that what we want too?
  • Sad to see Toyota Motor Co. apologizing for its quality and success for fear of a backlash from a public that considers it the scapegoat for what’s wrong with the former Big Three. Certainly Toyota has lower costs because of nonunion factories, a younger worker population with accompanying low health care costs and reduced legacy costs. But why should anyone have to apologize for a high level of commitment to quality? Go figure.
  • Did you follow the plight of Jet Blue passengers in New York who were trapped on the tarmac inside the airplanes for up to ten hours? Wouldn’t common sense and good customer service dictate that someone would order up a bus to transport passengers back to the terminal? I wonder how Jet Blue management feels about waiting in line at their local supermarket for maybe an extra 10 minutes. They would probably react like most of us and demand an apology and some form of reimbursement. But with Jet Blue, 10 hours on the ground seems to be business as usual. David Letterman said it best: “To make amends each passenger will receive a free voucher to sit on a runway for 10 hours in Miami!” As customer service dwindles, the airlines set a record last year for lost luggage. Driving my own automobile to nearby locations and even those more remote becomes more appealing every day. It takes a bit longer but at least my luggage seems to arrive when I do.

If this issue of “Hammock Thoughts” seems a bit contentious, ornery and angry, it’s because I’m tired of poor customer service, overpaid management, lapses in good common sense and sound judgment, and no apologies from organizations that don’t even come close to meeting expectations of customers. We can do two things to correct this travesty: Write letters to management with copies to various media outlets hoping that this will alter the course of the affected companies, or just refrain from giving these lackadaisical companies any more money. I vote for the latter.

Well, I’m told that a warm up in our area is on the horizon, so maybe next month I will return to my relaxing hammock and just maybe I will have a more positive attitude once I start to inhale the warm spring air. In the meantime, I’m thankful I’m not on a Jet Blue plane.


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.