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The Quality Curmudgeon Rides Again

With regard to your column "Quality Curmudgeon" and the response letters, you (and they) appear to take the stand that the customer is always right. However, in "The Customer Isn't Always Right" by Dirk Dusharme [Last Word, April 1995], we are warned about this trap.

As customers, we use our own framework for how we define service quality. Before we are too quick to complain, we should take a moment to objectively analyze the situation. Your examples of complaints in your column are pretty obvious ones, and I agree with you. However, as quality professionals, we should not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of becoming "whiners," but should focus on the delivery of information -- a constructive complaint -- that would allow service providers  to understand customer requirements better and to make future improvements. Often, complaints result in a defensive reaction by the provider that has no long-term benefit for anyone. Since we as customers may well want, or need, to do business with the same company or individual in the future, we should be objective and compassionate."

-- Scott Ingram

The Quality-Satisfaction Gap

I am one of those people who constantly lament over poor service quality in all aspects of my life. I am the director of quality systems in a manufacturing facility in Cincinnati. My facility is not unlike those mentioned in your editorial. We make a quality product, but we rarely bill for it accurately or ship the correct quantities. But, hey, we make good stuff.

The quality-satisfaction gap is not about products and services. It is about feeling. In a culture where you are bombarded every day with advertisements, objectives and incentives, where someone is always after your hard-earned money, you just want to know that if you buy their goods, they will care once the sale is over.

We want someone who cares and will take action. How reliably can employees perform quality service in a "bottom line" society where stockholders come first and employee needs are not met?

Caring can't come from a total quality improvement team, reengineering, just-in-time or any formula, objectives or consultants. Customers are human, companies are collections of humans.

The solution is so simple, but implementation requires a whole new level of thinking. To quote Einstein, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

-- Dan Behymer


The Basic Problems With Quality Management

You raise excellent questions about the quality of customer service. I think most of us who are involved with quality management know the answers. Getting the decision makers to listen and act is a root cause of the problem.

There are two basic problems, one at each end of the system (a system seemingly without a reliable feedback loop):

* The person sitting at the apex of the organization has no idea what is occurring in the aisles of the stores, at the prescription counters, the cash registers, the tellers' windows and the gas pumps. What a different customer service world we would have if the CEO of any organization would spend just 20 percent of his or her time traveling around the organization, incognito, in a short-sleeve shirt and a pair of old jeans.

* Employees making little more than minimum wage, who are miserable in entry-level jobs that offer little hope of advancement and significant salary improvement, are not going to smile, be friendly nor go out of their way to help customers. Some of them act as though it would be a relief if their equally miserable supervisor would fire them.

It seems that corporations will invest in anything except their people. How much better it would be if more money were invested in selecting and training employees for their jobs, while giving them more decision-making latitude and paying them a wage that made them feel appreciated and important. The company's business would grow from satisfied customers, and employees could have a dependable route for advancement as the business grows.

-- William L. Davis


The Need for Better Training

Thank you for raising many interesting questions in your March editorial on service quality.  There are, indeed, many variables in service transactions, but I don't believe these constitute the major problem.

By and large, our educational system was established to provide reasonably capable employees to serve the production system of the industrial age. Employees needed to read and write, perform simple calculations, speak coherently and, above all, follow instructions.  As a society, we have yet to make the educational changes -- such as focusing on interrelationship skills and teamwork -- that will successfully transform us to a service and information economy.

Moreover, the current pace of technology accelerates our drive toward a progressively more impersonal society.  E-mail notes replace telephone calls or even face-to-face conversations, which require some skill in listening, interpreting and even negotiating.

Finally, the relentless drive toward efficiency and productivity -- at least for some shortsighted organizations -- means that scarce training resources never reach the least-valued and lowest-salaried employees, those who traditionally must interact face-to-face with the general public.

Until we address these issues, I believe we will continue to suffer the quality-satisfaction gap in service transactions you describe in your editorial.

-- Brian Thompson

Great Expectations

I think that in order to get a good perspective on service quality, you need to take a trip to Europe. In Europe, people generally expect poor/rude service because that's what they usually get. My U.K. counterparts marvel at the treatment they get in restaurants and shops when they visit the United States. "Everyone is so friendly and helpful," they say. Americans are generally spoiled, and we certainly complain loudly when service is bad. In the United Kingdom, it is considered rude to complain.

-- Jerry Hayden

An Increasing Vs. a Decreasing Investment

I think that the principal reason for the increasing gap between product quality and service quality is that increasing investment in machines and technology has been accompanied by decreasing investment in people and training.

-- Anand Rami

All the Workplace Is a Stage

I enjoyed your March 1997 editorial. Here are some thoughts:

* How much of the time on duty does the service employee and, by extension, his or her supervision and management think of the employee as being on stage? The professional actor does not relax until completely off the stage; does the average service employee have the same mind-set? This includes the employee's facial expression, comments the employee makes within the customer's earshot and other gestures. What the employee is doing and the employee's competence is included in the on-stage performance.

* How well is the employee really trained? This includes handling hostile as well as unusual situations.

* What is the employee's total compensation and recognition package? An extra $1 or $2 an hour pay, properly utilized for a tenured service employee's package, can result in payback dollars for the employer.

* What is the life expectancy of the latest customer awareness program that management has dreamed up? Is it six months or a week? What is in it for the service employee, several weeks into the new promotion, to be as motivated and revved up as on the date of the launch and pep talk?

* When customers enter the restroom or catch a glimpse through the employee-only door, what do they see?

* Does the service employee think of himself or herself as just one more short-term, low-wage employee the firm has in their revolving door employment program?

* Are the meetings the employer calls an honest interchange with the service workers, or are they so phony and patronizing that employees attend with great loathing? And is there any routine of having honest, to-the-point meetings with the service employees?

-- Ron Wright
Syracuse, New York





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