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Quality Curmudgeon, Part Deux

by Scott Madison Paton


Apparently, my January 1997 editorial" Quality Curmudgeon?" struck a nerve. I've never received so many letters on one editorial. I am surprised and delighted to know that so many of our readers took the time to respond to my editorial. See this month's "Letters" section  for a sample of some of the letters we received.

Judging from the letters I received, it seems as if most people agreed with my editorial. Many even took the time to describe some service quality nightmare that they had experienced.

A few letter writers think I am heartless and dishonest for daring to speak up when I receive poor service and for occasionally keeping extra change. Perhaps it is dishonest of me to keep that extra change, but is it any less dishonest for those employees to be so careless in their jobs? Is it my fault that I was given the extra change or is it the manager's for not training his or her employees properly?

I think that the reaction my editorial received is evidence of the sorry state of service quality in the United States. It's difficult to think of any service sector that has outstanding quality. And unlike product quality, which has undeniably improved during the last decade, service quality seems to be on the decline.

We talk about how much automobiles have improved. We marvel at productivity advances in the computer world. Airplanes take us farther much faster and fuel-efficiently than ever before. But few people enjoy the car-buying experience; software technical support lines either leave you on eternal hold or lose you in a voice-mail house of horrors; and airlines offer a dizzying array of confusing price schemes, herd us like cattle through crowded and congested airports, throw bags of salty, fat-laden peanuts at us, and dump us in crowded baggage claim areas where our primordial hunter-gatherer instincts are forced to take over.

Why is it so difficult to provide decent service? Do we have unrealistically high expectations? Has our decadent capitalistic lifestyle so spoiled us that we are unable to tolerate anything less than royal treatment? Although I hesitate to write this, I think the answer may be yes.

The quality-satisfaction gap -- the difference between the level of quality expected and the level of quality received -- seems to belight-years longer for service quality than for product quality. And I'm not quite sure why. Does the human element involved in service transactions introduce too many variables to provide for consistent service? Is new technology outpacing our ability to provide high service quality? I'm afraid I've raised more questions than I've answered. What do you think?

Send your comments on service quality to me at spaton@qualitydigest.com.

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March 97 Quality Digest