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Scott Paton

Quality Innovations

New approaches improve customer service and safety.

New segments of the brave new "service economy" attract as much disdain as banking and transportation. I personally hold both banks and airlines in special contempt. How two so very important segments of our economy can operate so poorly and with so little regard for customer input is astounding.

 Lest I be inundated with letters, I'll admit that banks typically have excellent accounting practices and the commercial aviation industry has a stellar safety record. But as anyone who has ever been through the home loan process or who flies frequently can tell you, there's a lot of room for improvement.

 This month's cover story examines the quality efforts of one of America's largest banks, SunTrust Service Corp. Author Susan Peryam, SunTrust's first vice president of quality, writes candidly about her efforts to instill a passion for quality in front-line managers. Along the way, she overcame senior management's preconceived notions about front-line management's ability to collect, analyze and act upon data. With training and guidance, SunTrust's front-line managers now routinely solve problems that had previously been left to senior management.

 SunTrust's story is unusual. Although banks rarely make mistakes in maintaining bank account balances, charging interest or processing checks, they are not known for high levels of customer service, innovation or rapid response. SunTrust's quality initiative is an effort to be more responsive to customer needs, compete more effectively in the new era of megabanks and increase the bottom line.

 As the banking industry consolidates, expect service quality to become an integral element of successful banks' business strategy.

 In contrast, service is not the focal point of the most recent gain in the airline industry (in fact, it seems as though the major airlines' strategy for success hinges upon narrowing seats, reducing the space between rows and serving Lilliputian-sized meals--if they feed you at all). Although I can't tell you about an airline's new service quality program, there is hope for improved safety.

 Our own Robert Green sheds light on a groundbreaking new technology that promises to improve safety in the skies. His article "Measuring Complex Curves with a New Twist" reports on Brown & Sharpe's new AF-X, which uses dynamic stripe sensor (DSS) technology to measure complex surfaces with lasers. Although noncontact laser measuring systems have been around for a few years, DSS technology promises to revolutionize coordinate measuring. The first use for this technology is airfoil blade measurement. It's faster and more accurate than traditional means of blade measurement and offers greater scalability. It has applications in the tool-and-die, semiconductor, airframe and sheet metal industries, as well.

 What this means to the flying public is even safer airplanes. So the next time you're stuffed into the middle seat on a transcontinental flight, sipping your three ounces of OJ and noshing on your one-ounce bag of pretzels, take solace in the more accurate turbine blades powering your jet.

 I'd like to know your thoughts on these articles and the others in this issue. E-mail your comments to .

--Scott M. Paton


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