Creating a Customer-Centered Culture in a Service Environment

Article

Lawton, Robin L.   (1989, ASQC)   Innovative Management Technologies, Inc., Minnetonka, MN

Annual Quality Congress, Toronto, Ontario, Canada    Vol. 43    No. 0
QICID: 3629    May 1989    pp. 607-613
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Article Abstract

The good news is an increasing number of companies are actively addressing customer expectations. This includes the focus on needs of both internal and external customers.

The bad news is that quality improvement programs, applied in a service environment, often suffer from common weaknesses or omissions. The result is that organizations unknowingly embark on a journey of intermittent improvement.

We have observed that the following service quality program characteristics can limit both continuous improvement and achievement of maximum impact:- The strategy for change is either problem-driven or training-driven (vs. Customer-driven).- Manufacturing models and jargon are inappropriately applied in the service environment.- Process improvement focuses on issues of concern to the service provider, with limited effort applied to the customer's process of acquiring and using the service product.- Customer relations skills are assumed to be the primary contributor to customer satisfaction.- Elimination of errors ("doing it right the first time") is pursued without first confirming exactly what customers want. Nobody wants errors, but sometimes the customer does not even want the thing the service producer is trying hard to perfect.

If I have succeeded in stepping on a few toes, let me hasten to add that there is a lot of good coming out of most quality improvement programs. The customer-driven strategy outlined here fills the gaps by changing the priority and manner in which service issues are addressed.

In the broadest sense, quality exists to the degree our customers are satisfied with, or excited by, our products and services. Our experience has been that (1) the objective performance of the service or manufactured product, (2) the perception of the product and related subjective experiences and (3) the outcome or desired results achieved by use of the product. Any effort to improve quality must begin by identifying the specific customer expectations associated with these three factors.

The purpose of this paper is to outline a process for obtaining, quantifying and acting upon information regarding these three factors. This approach enables rapid, dramatic, and sustainable quality improvement to be achieved in any service environment. It provides a framework for building a culture that is responsive to both internal and external customers. The essence of this process is summarized in the following points:

  1. Define services as tangible products. This is accomplished by changing the focus from service activity to service product.
  2. Identify and differentiate customers in terms of their needs, roles, power, and special characteristics. The three general classes of customers are end-users, brokers and fixers.
  3. Determine customers' prioritized expectations related to the service product's performance, perception and outcome. Focus on the important few.
  4. Measure the degree to which priority expectations are being met.
  5. Describe the service creation and delivery process with charts, text and measures so that all participants in the process have a shared understanding of process, priorities, and performance.
  6. Establish and maintain service measures which address quality, productivity and profitability.
This paper will briefly outline the five key elements of the Total Performance Management (TPM) change model: process, structure, strategy, measures and tools. Emphasis will be on the six-step process outlined on the preceding page, as well as a recommended strategy for achieving maximum impact. Selected results of using this approach will be drawn from accounting, distribution, marketing, field services and, human services.

Keywords

Quality management (QM)


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