Always Right

As a teenager oh so many years ago, I waited tables at a fast food chain that offered full sit-down service. I didn't receive much training, but one mantra was drilled into my brain: "The customer's always right."

It was a neat trick: appealing to the masses while focusing on each customer, even into the wee hours. The restaurant was open until 2 a.m. on weekends, which tended to attract the very tired and very inebriated. These usually weren't the easiest people to serve (even if they were right). But the company must have had the correct formula--it's thriving to this day.

While such customer focus has long been a tenet of quality, it's enjoying a resurgence. The renewed interest is at least partly due to an increased emphasis on customer satisfaction in currently widespread programs like ISO 9000:2000, Six Sigma and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Sometimes it takes a new spin--Six Sigma, a revision of ISO 9000, the latest group of Baldrige winners (including the first ever in education in 2001 and in healthcare this past year)--to redirect attention on the fundamentals. However, you could argue this is more than just a return to the basics; it's an expansion to customer value and loyalty. Today it's not enough to try to meet customers' needs, then ask them if you succeeded. You have to anticipate those needs and deliver value beyond your product or service.

This issue's cover articles provide in-depth analysis of customer satisfaction's impact on quality assurance decisions, the bottom line and even national growth. They were planned in response to the growing spotlight on customers as well as to your feedback. Customer satisfaction consistently rates in the top five most important topics in QP's annual reader survey.

In the last survey, conducted in November 2002, you also told us:

  • Continuous improvement, auditing, cost of quality, best practices and process improvement and management are important topics, too.
  • Departments and columns of high value include "Keeping Current," "Frontiers of Quality," "Back to Basics" and "One Good Idea."
  • You're reading a little more of QP, with 59% (up from 57% last year) saying you read at least 50% of each issue.

Knowing the demands on your time, the QP team has focused on that last item. Starting on p. 25, you'll notice a new look for our features that gives you an immediate synopsis of each article,  then makes it easier to read the information most important to you. Watch for changes in other sections soon.

We always welcome your input to guide the continual improvement of the magazine, so please keep it coming to editor@asq.org.

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson

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