Polish Up on Quality Lessons

Business showcases customer satisfaction, employee engagement

by Joseph D. Conklin

For more career tips, listen to an interview with columnist Joseph D. Conklin.

Quality is a rewarding career. Yet, occasionally, after a particularly intense day, a momentary break from quality seems attractive. Sometimes, I leave quality behind only to run into it someplace else.

That happened on a recent break when I stopped by the shoeshine stand in my office building. As I talked to the manager, Gabriel Leon, it became clear he constantly confronted quality challenges.

The conversation reinforced that quality is important and relevant in all organizations. Our conversation provided reminders about how to succeed in quality.

Conklin: Why do you work for yourself instead of somebody else?

Leon: Working for myself gives me the most security and peace of mind. Being my own boss increases my chance to be creative. I can respond immediately to new opportunities in the marketplace. If I face a problem, I only need my own approval to try a solution.

Conklin: How do you satisfy customers?

Leon: I don’t stop working on a job until the customers say they’re happy or I see a smile of approval. I always give more than asked. These extra touches have brought me 50 to 60 regular customers. In the past month, I’ve picked up half a dozen new customers through referrals.

Conklin: Does technology help you measure customer satisfaction?

Leon: Yes, but not in a fancy way. Because positive word of mouth is to my advantage, I make it easy for customers to communicate with me. They have my email address and let me know what they think of my service.

Conklin: You hire and train people to run branches of your business. How do you select them?

Leon: I prefer trainees with patience and a perfectionist streak. Some talent for the business, of course, is required, but I also look at the person’s desire to learn and excel. New hires go through a formal training program sponsored by the service association I belong to.

We recruit in the local community. The program is well known and attracts local applicants. Many of them are young people we already know, so evaluating the fit is easy.

Conklin: How do you select potential business locations for the trainees to run?

Leon: I’m always looking for new locations. Where I place trainees depends on their knowledge and productivity. The locations vary in the level and type of service customers demand. I have to match the demands with a trainee’s ability.

My community outreach efforts sometimes uncover promising new locations. I support the cobbler internship program at one of the local high schools. The teachers and students freely volunteer ideas for locations.

Conklin: How do you evaluate trainees’ performance?

Leon:  I challenge them by letting them do my shoes. After they complete training, I chat daily with the trainees to check their commitment and attitude. Until they’ve completed training, I periodically sample their work. After that, I visit their location once a week and watch how well they interact with customers and take care of their shoes.

Conklin: How do you stand out from your competitors?

Leon:  My customers compliment me on my consistent, high-quality and on-time work. If they stop for a shine while carrying a second pair of shoes, I’ll inspect and perform minor repairs on the other shoes at no extra charge while they wait for the shined pair to dry.

I offer three levels of shine from which customers can pick—having more than one option helps me stand out. Another thing that helps is supplementing a shine with accessories for a small additional charge.

Conklin: How do you keep your edge?

Leon:  I constantly practice the basics of my trade. If I think of a new idea, I’ll try it on my own shoes before adding it to the service menu. I have a helpful network of friends in the business, and we take turns comparing each other’s work. We really learn a lot from one another.

Helpful reminders

I thanked Gabriel for his time. Besides a great shine, I left with some wonderful reminders of how to succeed in quality:

  • Know your customers and give them more than they ask for.
  • Match employee skills to customer requirements.
  • Invest in training.
  • Look for new services to offer.
  • Learn from your peers in the business.
  • Always evaluate employee performance.
  • Always obtain customer feedback
  • Put your whole heart into your work.

I returned to my desk with new determination and energy to answer the day’s challenges. With all that knowledge, I also wondered if Gabriel would consider writing a new chapter for Juran’s Quality Handbook.

Joseph D. Conklin is a mathematical statistician at the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. He earned a master’s degree in statistics from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and is a senior member of ASQ. Conklin is also an ASQ-certified quality manager, engineer, auditor, reliability engineer and Six Sigma Black Belt.

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