The Dimensions of Quality
Since our last discussion on the cost of quality to an enterprise and how staff training should be conducted so as to minimize the costs, I have been engaged by a number of entrepreneurs who run small enterprises in exploring the subject of quality. A number of them find it difficult to anticipate customer expectations in their quest to offer quality service.
The best way of anticipating customer expectations is to train staff to fully understand the dimensions of quality so that they are able to breakdown customer expectations into the number of dimensions customers use to judge the quality of a product or a service. If we put our thoughts into it we will appreciate that the dimensions we use when buying goods (tangible products) is different from that for intangible products (services).
How do we judge whether a product, say a car meets our expectations so that we can buy it. The aspects we consider are what we are calling dimensions of quality and they include performance, aesthetics, special features, reliability, durability, serviceability, perceived quality and conformance. Let us take each dimension at a time:
- Performance for any motor vehicle is very important to a car buyer and it encompasses the main characteristics of the car with considerations such as fuel consumption efficiency and acceleration speeds. While one customer will peg performance to the cars’ consumption in terms of kilometers per liter another one will define performance by how quickly the car can pick from a speed of zero to 100 kilometers per hour while yet another will define it by the stopping distance when travelling at 120 km/hr. The beauty of the dimensions customers use is that they are measurable and thus easy to establish.
- Aesthetics is all about the appearance, feel, smell or taste, thus for the car buyer it is all about the exterior and interior design of the car. The car salesman will need to know about all the “beauty” aspects of the car so as to help the customer appreciate the aesthetics of the car.
- Special features is about the extra characteristics of the product and for the car these includes the convenience facilities such as the placement of gauges, use of technology, MP3 , DVD player, cell phone management and the safety features such as anti-skid , side impact or roll bars as well as airbags. In the top range of motor vehicles, these dimensions present the points for competitiveness.
- Serviceability is all about the after sales service. Customers always want to know about warranties, guarantees, complaint handling procedures, availability of spares and trade in options
- Reliability has everything to do with consistency of performance, infrequent need for repairs because nobody wants to buy a car that will spend more time in the garage than on the road.
- Durability refers to the useful life of a product. What is the life of the car in mileage terms? How does it withstand the vagaries of nature (rain water, direct sunshine, snow for those away from the tropics and rust for those on the coastline?). How many kilometers does it run before oil change service?
- Conformance is related to how well a product corresponds to the design specifications. Does the car match the manufacturers’ specifications? Does it reach the speeds as per the manuals? Does it bear the expected weight load? Is the ground clearance as specified?
- Perceived quality has everything to do with the indirect evaluation of quality. It pertains to reputation, peer rating and public perception. There is a customer who wants to buy a car because it makes heads turn while the next customer wants to buy a white car that keeps him incognito
Does it surprise you that price is not a dimension of quality? Price is what the customer is prepared to pay for the product quality. Try to apply these eight elements to any product you produce, sell, buy or use and you will appreciate how they help you define the quality of the product.
These dimensions of product quality do not adequately describe service quality.
Service quality is often described using the following dimensions: Tangibles, convenience, reliability, responsiveness, time, assurance and courtesy. Let us take the car we discussed above to the garage for service so that we can appreciate each dimension.
- Tangibles are all about the physical appearance of the facilities, equipment, personnel and communication materials. Are the garage facilities clean? The yard, the washrooms, the compound, is paint work done out in the sun? What do the staff use when washing the car? Do they have the equipment? Protective clothing? Are the staff clean and tidy? Do they have overalls, workshop boots, hand gloves, protective head gear, eye protectors, ear protectors from loud sound? And the list goes on.
- Convenience has something to do with availability and accessibility of the service. Is the garage or service center conveniently located? Is it easy to locate? Is it sign posted? If we drove to another town to they have reciprocal arrangements?
- Reliability is simply about the ability to perform a service dependably, consistently and accurately. Is the garage able to fix the problem? Can they do it all the time? What is the competence level of the staff? Are they appropriately equipped?
- Responsive is very key because it is about the willingness of the service providers to help customers in unusual situations and to deal with problems. Are the customer service staff willing and able to answer questions? Are they empowered or do they have to refer to their seniors all the time?
- Time is simply the speed with which service is delivered. How long did we have to wait? Were we received promptly? Was the car attended promptly? If we had to wait did someone explain why and for how long? Did we wait longer than expected? Time is indeed money for customers.
- Assurance is all about the knowledge exhibited by staff who came into contact with the customer and their ability to deal with the problem. Did the customer service staff seem knowledgeable about the service? Did they answer questions satisfactorily? Was our job given to unguided trainees? Did we have to leave because the person who could attend to our problem was away?
- Courtesy is the way customer are treated by employees who come into contact with them. Were the staffs including the cashier polite? Politeness and respect at work is shown by being good mannered, paying attention to customers and being prompt. Did the staff show consideration and friendliness which are aspects of courtesy? This can be shown by greeting customers by name, having a friendly smile and making service as convenient as possible. Another important aspect of courtesy is confidentiality. Courteous staffs know how to deal in private, keep things they are told by customers in confidence and do not shout to customers but speak to them out of earshot of others.
As we train staff in quality, it is important to note that in most instances, some quality dimensions of a product or service will be more important than others, so it is important for staff to identify customer priorities especially when it is likely that trade-offs will be made at various points in design and production of a product or delivery of a service
Do you have quality issues in your enterprise that calls for staff training? Let us know.
Wahome Ngari is the Chief Executive, Citadel Consulting Ltd