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Quality in Service Conference Insights

by Pat Townsend
and Joan Gebhardt

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The sixth in a series of remarkable conferences focusing on service quality took place this June in Connecticut. The biannual Quality in Service (QUIS) gatherings alternate between the United States and Sweden, attracting anywhere from 150 to 200 participants. More than half of these hail from the academic community; the other half represent the business world as well as consultants and authors. This year's conference, QUIS VI, drew attendees from 10 countries, the majority being from the United States.

The conference always has managed to anticipate the power curve in developing quality theory and initiatives. When the Baldrige Award was still relatively unknown, Baldrige program director Curt Reimann spoke at a QUIS conference. Before the ecological benefits of quality processes were trumpeted in the general quality press, they were the subject of several papers at another conference. This year, the idea of military leadership as a valid resource for business leadership theory made its way onto commercial bookshelves, but it was the subject of a QUIS plenary session presentation in 1992. The list goes on, impressive enough to justify a look at the central themes of QUIS VI.

The most frequently heard phrase at this year's conference was "customer loyalty." Customer satisfaction is no longer good enough. Too many firms can rightfully claim itand do. However, satisfied customers only buy goods and services until something else appeals to them. Even delighted customers might not come back and bring their friends. So, customer loyalty is now the objective.

Several speakers talked about customer loyalty, but none explored its implications as fully as Dwayne D. Gremler of the University of Idaho and Stephen W. Brown of Arizona State University. In a paper and presentation titled "Worth Beyond Revenue: The Full Value of a Loyal Customer," the authors defined service loyalty as "the degree to which a customer exhibits repeat purchasing behavior from a service provider, possesses a positive attitudinal disposition toward the provider and considers using only this provider when a need for this service arises."

Beyond that, the phrase "loyalty ripple effect" was introduced. Basically, it means that loyal customers benefit organizations in ways other than exchanging money for goods and/or services. These ways include:

*Direct revenues -- Buying products and/or services.

*Word-of-mouth communication -- Loyal customers appreciate assets because the more they tell other people about the product and/or service, the more valuable they are.

*Customer citizenship behavior -- Including wearing T-shirts with a company's logo on them, picking up trash in the parking lot and telling someone when a bulb is out in the restroom.

*Co-production -- Customers acting as "partial employees" by helping the provider make sure the delivery process goes well.

*Social relationships -- Becoming friends with employees and other customers; creating a family feeling.

*Mentoring other customers -- With no profit motive driving the interaction, making suggestions to other customers to facilitate their experience.


Other topics covered during the conference included service quality efforts in Latin America; the positive impact of the quality mind-set's return in marketing; developing "value modeling" (which uses a combination of creative brainstorming, slip writing and computer-aided electronic voting), and the move from standardization qualitycharacterized as the goal in the Deming worldto customization quality. An example of the latter would be a clothing store of the future, where a customer picks a particular design and is measured for it, and the item is immediately made in the back room.

In retrospect, one of the more interesting facts about the two-day conference was the lack of ISO 9000 or ISO 14000 presentations, although Baldrige presentations continued strong. The most intriguing was the case study of two hospitals in Massachusetts that merged, despite a long-time rivalry. They used Baldrige criteria as the guide for the merger, and the experience proved to be remarkably trouble-free.

The conferencerun by Eberhard E. Scheuing of St. John's University in New York, Stephen W. Brown of Arizona State University, Bo Edvardsson of the University of Karlstad in Sweden and Robert Johnston of the University of Warwick in the United Kingdomserved both as a review of past quality lessons and a fascinating preview of quality concerns and methods for the near future.

QUIS VII will be held in 2000 in Karlstad, Sweden.


About the authors

Pat Townsend and Joan Gebhardt have written more than 200 articles and four books: Commit to Quality (John Wiley & Sons, 1986); Quality in Action: 93 Lessons in Leadership, Participation, and Measurement (John Wiley & Sons, 1992); Five-Star Leadership: The Art and Strategy of Creating Leaders at Every Level (John Wiley & Sons, 1997); and Recognition, Gratitude & Celebration (Crisp Publications, 1997).

E-mail them at  ptownsend@qualitydigest.com.


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