TREAT Your Customers

The five characteristics of quality service

by Ron Sedlock

Joseph M. Juran said quality is fitness for use. This customer-focused definition is a guiding principle for any quality system and should apply to product-based and service-based environments.

Regardless of where you work, you’re probably well versed in quality tools and techniques. At times, however, you may find positive results are either lacking or slow in coming. Something seems to be missing. The missing piece to the quality puzzle is service quality. It is the catalyst needed to activate the quality ingredients that produce the results you want.

Based on my experience and what research has shown, customers have common needs from a service: timeliness, reliability, empathy, assurance and tangibles (TREAT). Although there are interactions among the five, it’s important to address each one individually to get you thinking about the best ways to ensure you’re delivering the best service possible.


Customers want services in a timely manner. This could mean starting a meeting on time or minimizing the wait time in a doctor’s office.

Ask yourself: What is your response time to a service request? How long does your service take? Is the service completed on time? How long does it take to correct a service mistake?

Possible tools: run chart, Pareto chart, Gantt chart, and program evaluation and review technique chart.


Customers want on-time and complete services every time. That may include consistently meeting due dates for a particular project or, in a restaurant setting, always delivering good food in a timely manner.

Ask yourself: How do we design reliability into our service? Is our service the same every time? Do we anticipate potential service failures? What is the mean time between service failures?

Possible tools: failure mode and effects analysis, poka-yoke and the bathtub curve.


Customers want services that meet their needs, which is why it’s important to listen to them. This allows you to do what is necessary to help your customers improve their productivity or the quality of their services. It’s also something parents use every day as they listen to their child to determine how to meet his or her needs.

Ask yourself: Do we know the voice of the customer? Do we follow up after the service? How useful is the service from the customer’s perspective?

Possible tools: quality function deployment, follow-up, active listening and customer site visits.


Customers want to have confidence in the quality of their service provider, so it’s important to do what it takes to build a solid reputation. That may include backing up your actions with data—for example, a Tier 1 automotive supplier’s delivery rate or a doctor explaining the research results of a certain medical procedure.

Ask yourself: What are our credentials? What is our track record? Do we communicate trust to our customer? Do we make amends for service failures?

Possible tools: track record, failure analysis and root cause analysis.


Customers want to see physical evidence of good service. This may include providing graphs and charts that are easy to read so customers can easily collect the information they need. Or, in an example everyone can relate to, it may be a hotel room that meets your standards of cleanliness.

Ask yourself: What evidence exists that I provided the service? Is my physical appearance professional? Are my documented reports clear and concise as seen by the customer?

Possible tools: customer feedback and peer review.

Each of us has multiple roles in life. In addition to being a quality professional, you might be a parent, brother, sister, friend or neighbor. And regardless of the role you’re playing at that moment, on some level, you’re providing a service. After you have developed the habit of providing these five service attributes, it won’t take long to see the benefits.

Consider what you can do to improve the service you provide and apply it to internal customers, as well as external ones. And remember, the desired results of designing any service are flawless execution and customer satisfaction.


  • Covey, Stephen R., The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon and Schuster, 1989.
  • Fitzsimmons, James A., and Mona J. Fitzsimmons, Service Management: Operations, Strategy, Information Technology, fifth edition, McGraw-Hill, 2006.
  • Juran, Joseph M., and Frank M. Gryna (ed.), Juran’s Quality Control Handbook, fourth edition, McGraw-Hill, 1988.

Ron Sedlock is the principal consultant and trainer at the Quality Catalyst in Lakewood, CO, and an adjunct professor of service management at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He earned a bachelor’s degree in science from Cleveland State University. Sedlock is a senior member of ASQ and past chair of ASQ Boulder Section 1313 and Jacksonville-Northeastern Florida Section 1506.

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