Satisfaction Scores Take Off

Airlines, retailers improve performance ratings

After plummeting to all-time low scores in 2007, the nation’s largest airlines improved their customer service performances last year in four major categories, according to a high-profile airline quality study.

In 2008, there were more on-time arrivals, and the number of mishandled bags, customer complaints and denied boardings declined, according to the 19th annual Airline Quality Rating report.

One possible reason for the improved performance scores is a decline in systemwide capacity.

"We know the system performs better when it’s less stressed by high passenger volume," said Dean Headley, one of the report’s authors and an associate professor of marketing at Wichita State University in Kansas. "The economy scared away both business and leisure travelers in 2008."

The challenge for airlines will be to continue to improve on performance scores when the economy recovers and more people start flying again, researchers noted in the study.

The five airlines that scored the highest Airline Quality Ratings were:

  1. Hawaiian.
  2. AirTran.
  3. Jet Blue.
  4. Northwest.
  5. Alaska.

US Airways was the most improved airline, while United’s scores improved the least. The full report can be accessed at http://aqr.aero.

Retailers score high, too

Customer satisfaction for retailers went up last year, according to a recent American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) study.

The overall score for retailers—which includes department and discount stores, supermarkets and gas stations—was up 1.3% to 75.2 on ACSI’s 100-point scale. Lower gas prices contributed to consumers’ satisfaction with gas stations, which helped push the overall score up. Kohls and Nordstrom led department stores with an ACSI score of 80.

The same ASCI study showed healthcare insurance providers scored a 73, 3% higher than last year’s mark, in part because of gains by Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and Wellpoint. Other industries didn’t fare as well. Customer satisfaction with banks fell 4% to a score of 75. The ACSI score for e-commerce, which includes online retailers Amazon.com and eBay, fell 2% to 80.

Overall, customer satisfaction with goods and services improved 0.9% to 75.7. That could be encouraging in today’s economy, authors of this year’s study wrote, because a similar uptick signaled the end of the recession in 2001. The authors cautioned, however, that consumer spending continues to weaken and people seem to be saving more.

Details on the study can be found at www.theacsi.org/index.php.


Discussions to overhaul FDA, food-safety system begin

In recent weeks, legislators in Washington, D.C., began to wrestle with different bills that address the way the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) operates and handles the U.S. food-safety system.

Some have suggested the FDA be split into two separate agencies: one with oversight over food regulation and the other to regulate drug safety and medical devices.1

Some contend the FDA is simply stretched too thin to regulate food properly. The agency partners with some state inspectors to oversee food processors, but with 44,000 plants under the FDA’s jurisdiction, many are never checked.2

Others think the FDA should move away from all food-related activities. They believe inspections and testing should be shifted to a new Food Safety Administration under the Department of Health and Human Services.3

The food-safety system and the FDA’s credibility have been damaged by recent high-profile events and recalls, including the salmonella outbreak involving peanuts that has killed nine people and sickened hundreds since September, as well as the recent pistachio recalls.

To address food-safety concerns and to build confidence in the system, perhaps a new and improved FDA is inevitable. ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ACLASS and ANAB brands) contends more needs to happen besides changing the organizational structure of the regulatory agency or shifting inspection responsibilities to others. Government must stress the importance of third-party accreditation, using third-party conformity assessment standards for those that touch the inspection process in order to support regulator activities in food safety, the board says.

In other words, auditors, inspectors, laboratories, manufacturers, growers or others with a role in the food-safety process must meet certain requirements and prove they are competent to perform a specific function.

"It is our belief that to truly have an effective food-safety system in the United States, we must have a level of oversight that works in partnership with U.S. regulators that provides confidence in the entire life cycle of the product," Keith Greenaway, ACLASS vice president, said in a prepared statement.

"Third-party accreditation consistently helps to provide for products, services and test results that meet or exceed customer or statutory requirements," he said.

The ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board said it would like to see third-party conformity assessment programs used for laboratory accreditation, food-safety management systems accreditation, product certification, personnel certification and inspection body accreditation. ASQ is also partnering with the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board to convince legislators to include those provisions in the bills being discussed.

To offer insight or opinion on the topic, visit ASQ’s food quality discussion board at www.asq.org/discussionBoards/forum.jspa?forumID=69 (case sensitive). More information about third-party accreditation is available at www.aclasscorp.com and www.anab.org.


  1. Patricia Van Arnum, "Has the Time Come to Divide the FDA?" Pharmatech Talk, http://blog.pharmtech.com/?p=1100, April 3, 2009.
  2. Emily Stephenson, Wichita Falls Times Record News "A&M President: FDA Should Quit Regulating Food Safety," April 6, 2009.
  3. Ibid.


ASTM Toy Standard Addresses Magnets

ASTM International Committee F15 on Consumer Products has approved revisions to ASTM F963, Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety. Changes to the standard include revisions to the section on ingestion of magnetic components in toys.

ASTM F963 includes guidelines and test methods to prevent injuries from choking, sharp edges and other potential hazards. Revisions dealing with magnets account for incidents of ingestion of magnetic components that are small parts of a toy and reflect the age of children involved in the incidents.

The section on magnets now also includes special use and abuse requirements to prevent magnets from detaching from components during play.

For more information, go to www.astm.org.


NIST Unveils Details of testing Electronic Voting Systems

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has opened for public comment detailed new methods for testing electronic voting systems’ compliance with voluntary federal standards.

The new tests will replace multiple proprietary laboratory testing techniques with a single transparent set of tests that will help give voters and governments confidence that the systems are reliable, said Lynne Rosenthal, the manager of the NIST voting project. Manufacturers also will have a better understanding of how their systems must perform to comply with federal standards.

To receive federal certification from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, new voting systems must meet the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines, which call for the testing of electronic voting systems using a prescribed set of test methods. The draft test suites—a series of documents, scripts and software programs—address various aspects of voting systems, such as hardware, usability and security.

NIST requests public comments on the draft by July 1. The new draft tests can be viewed at http://vote.nist.gov/voting-system-test-suites.htm.


Healthcare catches on to lean, Six Sigma

Many healthcare systems are still in the infancy stage of using lean and Six Sigma as cost-cutting methods, a recent ASQ benchmarking study revealed.

The ASQ Hospital Survey is the first study that looks at the implementation of lean and Six Sigma in U.S. hospitals. Seventy-seven hospitals participated in the online survey.

"During these turbulent economic times when healthcare costs continue to rise, it is crucial that U.S. hospitals look to methods like lean and Six Sigma to become more efficient," said James Levett, M.D., chair of ASQ’s Healthcare Division and chief medical officer for the Physician’s Clinic of Iowa in Cedar Rapids. The survey revealed:

  • 53% of hospitals use some form of lean.
  • 4% of hospitals have fully deployed lean.
  • 42% of hospitals use some form of Six Sigma.
  • 8% of hospitals have fully deployed Six Sigma.
  • 11% of hospitals are not familiar with lean or Six Sigma.

Details of the survey can be found at www.asq.org/media-room/press-releases/2009/20090318-hospitals-see-benefits-lss.html.

ASQ News

MEMBERS RECOGNIZED At the recent meeting for the U.S. technical advisory group to ISO/technical committee 176 in Dallas, several ASQ members received awards for their volunteer achievements. Those individuals recognized included: Buddy Cressionnie and Bill Brow with Unsung Hero Awards; Craig Johnson and Lawrence Wilson with Honorary Lifetime Membership Awards; and Baskar Kotte with the Outstanding Professional Achievement Award.

LEARN AND LEAD School superintendents are invited to attend ASQ’s Educational Leadership Summit on June 18 and 19 in Fort Myers, FL. Educational leaders from throughout the country are scheduled to attend and share best practices from their school districts. Visit http://leadership.asq.org for more details.

STATE OF THE SOCIETY REPORT This year’s State of the Society report, "Quality Now More Than Ever," is now available for viewing online. Visit the ASQ News section of the Media Room at www.asq.org/media-room/news/2009/index.html.


Quick Poll Results

Each month, QP visitors can take a short, informal survey, and we post the results.

Here are the numbers from a recent Quick Poll:

"What is most important when it comes to securing lasting change in an organization?"

  • Committed leadership 63.2%
  • The right people to drive the change 18.7%
  • Workforce buy-in 14.8%
  • Adequate resources 3.2%

Here’s for the most recent poll question:

"Whom do you think should shoulder most of the blame for the recent food-safety crises?"

  • Growers and manufacturers
  • State and federal regulators
  • Third-party auditors
  • Foreign suppliers


QP looks back on an event or person that made a difference in the history of quality.

May 16, 1924

Walter A. Shewhart mentioned a schematic control chart in a memo to his superiors at a Bell Laboratories factory in Cicero, IL. This was the first time control charts were ever talked about. The historic document was less than a full page and included the first sketch of a control chart, which has become an essential concept behind statistical process control.

"That diagram, and the short text which preceded and followed it, set forth all of the essential principles and considerations which are involved in what we know today as process quality control," wrote Shewhart’s superior, George D. Edwards, Bell’s director of quality assurance at the time.

Shewhart, later called the father of statistical quality control, became a founding member of ASQ and the first honorary member. Edwards was the first president of ASQ from 1946-48.

Source: ASQ, www.asq.org/about-asq/who-we-are/bio_shewhart.html.

Who’s Who in Q

Name: Jane Hoying.

Residence: Bay City, MI.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Dayton in Ohio.

Current Job: Manager at Shainin, an international consulting firm that specializes in problem solving and prevention.

Previous Jobs In Quality: Hoying’s first job was as a quality engineer responsible for a federally regulated safety product. There, problems had to be solved and every decision had to be sound. In many ways, she has continued to function as a quality engineer in every job since then as she advanced through positions in quality systems; process, manufacturing and industrial engineering; product design; first-line supervision; general supervision; engineering management; and problem-solving coordination.

Introduction To Quality: Her mother’s pearl of wisdom was "Anything worth doing is worth doing well or not at all." Hoying and her siblings were never chastised for poor performance. Her parents would simply ask, "Was that the best you could do?" The unspoken answer to that question corrected behavior and instilled the concept that high-quality results come from high-quality effort. 

ASQ Activities: Involved in Improving Performance in Practice, an ASQ/Automotive Industry Action Group medical community initiative to improve healthcare delivery.

Other Activities/Achievements: Saved clients tens of millions of dollars by developing a new problem-solving method to address complex problems thought to be unsolvable.

Recent Honor: ASQ Dorian Shainin Medal for Innovation in Problem Solving.

Favorite Ways to Relax: Participant in competitive figure skating, home renovation, and fiber and textile design.

Quality Quote: Solving complex business or technical problems requires shifting your paradigm from a process-sequence perspective to a function-based perspective. Looking at how something fails to function distills a problem down to its bare essence, enabling complex interrelationships to be uncovered.


In the March Career Corner column ("Make Your Own Luck," p. 55), QP incorrectly reproduced the author’s original drawing (Figure 2). The correct figure would have shown cascading plan-do-study-act cycles within a true Fibonacci Spiral (a correct version has been posted with the online version of the column). The version that appeared showed a linear progression within an Archimedes Spiral.

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