Connected to the Customer

We all know customer focus is the foundation of quality. If you don’t have quality in the customer’s eyes, you don’t have quality. Today, with a global marketplace and more sophisticated customers, simply offering defect-free products or services doesn’t cut it. In their article on p. 24, A.V. and D.S. Feigenbaum say: “Companies committed to quality can no longer focus their programs primarily on the reduction of defects or things gone wrong for customers. Defect reduction has become an entry level requirement …”

As consumers, we all encounter organizations that can’t meet even the entry level test. But we also see cases of stellar customer service and value, as well as companies trying new ways to delight their customers. Recent postings in ASQ’s Quality News Today news feed (available to members who sign in on www.asq.org) provided several examples:

  • A recent J.D. Power and Associates survey showed wireless phone companies significantly increased their overall satisfaction with customers.
  • Delta Air Lines, striving to turn around its business, is considering paying bonuses to workers based on achieving customer service measures.
  • Seeking better accountability for healthcare delivery and a focus on patient centered care, the Canadian government surveyed patients across British Columbia; 85% rated their quality of care as good to excellent.
  • Three automakers are taking a new look at customer satisfaction efforts: Toyota with its dealer network, DaimlerChrysler through fuel efficiency and Volvo by having some of its dealers’ mechanics make house calls.

Let’s hope these are illustrations of top management’s realization that to be world class to its customers, an organization must make quality integral to its business, not just a “flavor of the month” program deployed in one department. “Pacesetter companies lead, manage and systematically structure quality as a fundamental strategy for continuous customer quality alignment with hands-on senior management leadership,” the Feigenbaums write.

Note their use of the word “systematically.” These days systems—defined in quality terms as groups of interdependent processes and people that together perform a common mission—seem to be receiving more attention.

For example, this issue includes two novel examples of systems thinking. Charles Cobb advocates applying it to make the Sarbanes-Oxley Act more than just another compliance program (p. 48). Clare Crawford-Mason shares her theory that Deep Throat, the Watergate era informer, was a systems thinker—and what that means today (p. 61).

Despite the apparent connection to government, neither article is intended as a political statement or comment on this month’s election; both were written months ago. The message is all about connecting the dots within an organization to lead everyone back to the customer.


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