Performance Improvement
H. James Harrington

Experiencing Quality

What you see isn't always what you get.

Quality comes in all shapes and sizes. Everyone sees quality through his or her own unique vision. Quality to one person is shabby work to another. There is software quality, Six Sigma quality, performance quality, product quality, statistical quality… the list goes on and on. But with the global economy comes global competition. Customers in this new global economy have many products from which to choose.

 The global economy has also changed the way customers think about quality. Today they think about just two types of quality:

  Observed quality: first impression

  Experienced quality: after-purchase impression


 When customers first purchase a product, they make their buying decision in the following order:

1. Availability: I need it. What's available to fulfill my needs?

2. Price: Which one of the available items can I afford to buy?

3. Quality (observed): When comparing the ones that I can afford to buy, which one looks like it has the best quality?


 During the buying decision, quality is the third consideration because, today, everyone expects quality in everything. This type of quality is called "observed quality" because when customers inspect an item, they decide if it's the best quality available for the price. It's an instantaneous analysis.

 However, when it comes to rebuying, today's global customer looks at buying priorities in a very different way:

1. Quality (experienced): This is an evaluation, not only of the specific item that customers are about to buy, but also of all the things that they liked and disliked about the item they previously purchased.

2. Price: Can I still afford it?

3. Availability: If it's not available now, I can wait to get the quality I want.


 In this global environment the first sale is important, but real profitability comes from the follow-up sales because it costs 10 times more to get a new customer than it does to keep a current one. Experienced quality is the key to success in this global economy, for it is experienced quality that builds an organization's reputation, either good or bad. All too often, superficial, observed good quality impressions give way to the reality of experienced poor quality.

 Experienced quality may sound a lot like reliability, and it is, but it's even more. It's all the customers' experiences related to what they purchase. The experiences can be as short as a few minutes or as long as many years. For example, when I look at a sizzling steak sitting on my plate at a restaurant, I might say to myself, "Boy, this looks great." However, when I bite into it, I find that it's tough, full of gristle and tastes flat. This tasteless steak is not my standard for steak quality, which is set for me by Ruth's Chris Steak House. The steak had  good observed quality but poor experienced quality. This has happened to me many times.

 Another example of the difference between observed and experienced quality was my recent stay at a hotel in Shanghai, China. It was a very modern hotel connected to a new conference center. The hotel personnel were extremely cooperative and friendly. The hotel glistened with granite pillars and floors. I was provided with a two-room suite with a big bedroom and a big living room in which to work. It looked great (observed quality). However, I discovered many problems after a few days into my stay:

  The bedroom lacked closets, so I had to get dressed in the living room.

  Neither room had drawers in which to place my clothes.

  When I plugged my computer into the outlet near the desk, sparks flew and my computer stopped working.

  Neither room had a clock, so I had to turn on the lights at night to see what time it was.

  There was phone in the bathroom, but it plugged into the wall inside the shower, so water splashed all over it.

  The television offered only one English channel, and it showed European sports exclusively.


 These were just a few of the things that I noticed as poor experienced quality. The result is that when I return to Shanghai, I'll look for a different hotel.

 It is comparatively easy for a product or a service to be evaluated when it's of observed quality, but ensuring the experienced quality is at a level that will "wow" customers takes a great deal of care, experience and knowledge. It's only when you wow customers with experienced quality that you win their loyalty, and customer loyalty is the name of the game today.


About the author

 H. James Harrington is COO of Systemcorp, an Internet-software development company. He was formerly a principal at Ernst & Young, where he served as an international quality adviser. He has more than 45 years of experience as a quality professional and is the author of 20 books. E-mail him at jharrington@qualitydigest.com   . Visit his Web site at www.hjharrington.com.


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