Salvaging Service

Surveys say customer service problems persist, but there are ways to resolve issues

A mistake gets spotted on that hefty credit card statement hanging over from the holidays. Wireless speakers ordered online must be exchanged for another set. A repair man needs to be summoned to service the new dishwasher that is still under warranty.

In all these scenarios, consumers most likely will be forced to deal with an organization’s first line of defense: its customer service department. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy to get action, a fact backed up by the steady stream of recent surveys that continue to highlight challenges around customer service operations.

Three recent surveys show missed opportunities for companies to resolve problems, strengthen processes, improve products and offerings, and learn from customers, all in the name of retaining them.

"Complaining customers tell you where your processes are failing and you are probably alienating 10 times as many customers who are simply not telling you, costing you a huge amount of revenue," said John Goodman, vice chairman of Customer Care Measurement and Consulting LLC in Alexandria, VA. "It is the lost repeat business you don’t even know you lost."

Consider some highlights, or perhaps lowlights, from the separate surveys by ASQ, Harris Interactive and Accenture:

  • Organizations admit managing customer expectations and communicating with customers are top challenges facing their customer service departments, but most organizations don’t see doing these things as a top priority and are more likely to invest resources in other areas of operation, according to an ASQ survey.
  • More repeat customers said they believe they’re being treated like strangers because customer service representatives don’t know the customers’ histories with the organization, a Harris Interactive survey showed.
  • More than two-thirds of customers who switched retailers or service providers because of an issue said they would have stayed with the company if the matter had been resolved during their first contact with the company’s customer service department, according to the annual Accenture Global Consumer Survey.

The Harris Interactive survey also showed that consumers who used social media reacted more negatively to poor service: Nearly three-quarters said they decided not to buy a product or service because of a negative experience with a sales representative.

"Customers want to be loyal, but customer service often fails to meet their expectations," said Robert Wollan, global managing director of Accenture sales and customer services. "In the digital marketplace, companies must improve social listening capabilities and apply predictive analytics designed to quickly identify and respond to potential customer issues before problems arise."

It seems there are plenty of ways for organizations to shore up their customer service deficiencies. Some of the advice seems obvious, but organizations still aren’t taking to heart the message experts keep offering:

  • Treat the customer more like a partner and not simply a participant in the product transaction.
  • Form a rapid response team charged with identifying and resolving customer service issues.
  • Systematize responses to customer complaints, perhaps using root cause analysis. Analyze failures to see whether systematic issues can be resolved.
  • Educate product teams on what customer expectations are and what the team’s priority should be.
  • Share survey analysis with upper management so it can support changes in product and service delivery.
  • Address issues in a timely manner.

Organizations in some industries, such as travel and tourism, banking and life insurance, should consider offering more tailored, specialized treatment to customers with long service and purchase histories. Enhancing customer service in this way means investing in resources to have information and data available for customer service representatives to use and be able to interact intelligently when customers call, and training those on the front lines to handle these connections more carefully.

Businesses need to do a far better job of providing each customer-facing professional with the information he or she needs to understand and effectively engage with their customers, according to Larry Augustin, CEO of SugarCRM, a customer relationship management company that sponsored the Harris Interactive poll.

"Businesses need to make every customer-facing user an instant customer expert," said Augustin. "They must understand the individual they are speaking with and ensure every interaction drives value for the customer."

That also means leveraging data collected on all customer activities to convince your customers to stay and eventually spend more money with your organization.

"Taking such proactive steps to keep customers requires companies to use analytics to mine the vast stores of data they possess to gain greater insight into customer’s desires and intentions and behave in the ways that customers want them to," said Michelangelo Barbera, a managing director at Accenture.

"Failing to use that data equates to not listening and can result in customers searching for someone who will."

—Mark Edmund, associate editor


Who’s Who in Q

NAME: Thea Dunmire.

RESIDENCE: Clearwater, FL.

EDUCATION: Juris doctorate from Syracuse University in New York.

CURRENT JOB: President of Enlar Compliance Services in Largo, FL, focusing on assisting organizations and professionals in understanding how management system standards can be used to improve business performance.

INTRODUCTION TO QUALITY: Attending International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 176 meetings that were held jointly with ISO TC 207 meetings.

PREVIOUS QUALITY EXPERIENCE: Dunmire worked as an attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, specializing in negotiation of multimillion-dollar Superfund settlements.

ASQ ACTIVITIES: Most of her volunteer activities have focused on developing and revising management system standards at the national and international level.

OTHER ACTIVITIES: Last year, Dunmire was recognized by Industrial Safety & Hygiene News magazine as one of the leaders in the environmental health and safety world for blogging about occupational health and safety management systems (www.ohsas18001expert.com).

PUBLICATIONS: Dunmire has written several articles for QP, Facilities Safety Management and Occupational Health & Safety magazines, and contributed to newsletters and book chapters, including one chapter for The Handbook of Occupational Safety and Health.

RECENT AWARDS: In March 2012, Dunmire received the Outstanding Achievement in Standards Development Award from TC 176 for her work on the revision of ISO 19011.

FAVORITE WAYS TO RELAX: Cooking, especially trying new recipes with unusual ingredients.

QUALITY QUOTE: Dunmire points to a quote from Clyde Berry, one of her favorite professors at the University of Iowa, who said: "Success in life is one-third what you know, one-third who you know and one-third timing, and you need at least 60% to pass."

If you want to be successful, you can’t rely solely on competence or connections alone; you must have both, and you also need an understanding of when the timing is right for whatever it is you want to accomplish.


Most Think Sales Comes First for Manufacturers

Nearly 60% of consumers polled in a recent global survey said they think manufacturers value sales more than product safety. Only 36% said they strongly believe manufacturers perform thorough product safety testing before introducing new products to the market.

At the same time, manufacturers realize product safety is increasing in importance to consumers and delivering it is critical to their business success, according to findings from the second annual Underwriters Laboratories (UL) study.

"The volatility in today’s world is causing companies and people to look at the products they make and consume with more scrutiny than ever before," said Keith Williams, UL’s CEO.

Quality was also a main topic in the "Product Mindset 2012" study, which was the culmination of interviews with 1,201 consumers and 1,202 manufacturers in China, Germany, India and the United States.

Manufacturers ranked quality as the No. 1 most important driver of their success today and the No. 1 most important future driver.

Manufacturers also said they think consumers care most about quality, with 38% saying it is the most important issue for consumers.

For consumers, quality ranked as the first or second most important type of product information across the food, building materials, high-tech and smart appliance categories.

To read the full study, visit: www.ul.com/productmindset.

Word to the Wise

To educate newcomers and refresh practitioners and professionals, QP occasionally features a quality term and definition:

14 Points

W. Edwards Deming’s 14 management practices to help companies increase their quality and productivity:

  1. Create constancy of purpose for improving products and services.
  2. Adopt the new philosophy.
  3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality.
  4. End the practice of awarding business on price alone; instead, minimize total cost by working with a single supplier.
  5. Improve constantly and forever every process for planning, production and service.
  6. Institute training on the job.
  7. Adopt and institute leadership.
  8. Drive out fear.
  9. Break down barriers between staff areas.
  10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets for the workforce.
  11. Eliminate numerical quotas for the workforce and numerical goals for management.
  12. Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship, and eliminate the annual rating or merit system.
  13. Institute a rigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.
  14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation.



Two Scheduled to Receive
Distinguished Service Medals

Douglas C. Montgomery and Charles A. Aubrey will be awarded ASQ Distinguished Service Medals at this year’s ASQ World Conference on Quality and Improvement, May 6-8 in Indianapolis.

Montgomery will be honored "for his dedication and promotion of quality through high-impact research, service and leadership; and for his continued ambassadorship on behalf of ASQ and its promotion nationally and internationally."

Aubrey will be honored, in part, "for a lifetime of selfless, dedicated commitment and service to the global quality community as a volunteer leader, exceptional quality practitioner and role model of devotion to the promotion of quality in both the profit and nonprofit sectors."

Short Runs

THE BALDRIGE PERFORMANCE Excellence Program is seeking applicants to serve on the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Board of Examiners for its 2013 award cycle. The deadline to apply is Jan. 10. For more information, visit www.nist.gov/baldrige/exam_app_open.cfm.

THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY Action Group is partnering with Industria Nacional de Autopartes, an association for automotive suppliers in Mexico, for a special membership program to support and drive transformational initiatives in the lower-tier automotive supply base in the United States and Mexico. For more information about the partnership, visit www.aiag.org/staticcontent/press/releases/general/mex-us%20supplier%20power%20final.pdf.

THE AMERICAN SOCIETY for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International is now making available a new academic offering to help university professors make technical standards a part of their engineering and business curricula. The ASTM Professor’s Tool Kit contains informational tools to help educators promote awareness of standards in the classroom. For more information, visit www.astmnewsroom.org/default.aspx?pageid=2943.


Ellis R. Ott Scholarship Applications Available

Applications for the 2013-2014 Ellis R. Ott Scholarship are now available through ASQ’s Statistics Division.

The $7,500 scholarships are for students in master’s degree or higher programs with a concentration in applied statistics or quality management.

During the 15 years the award has existed, scholarships totaling $215,000 have been awarded to 38 students. Last year’s recipients were:

  • Emily E. Wisner from North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
  • Nathaniel Stevens from the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

For more information and an application form, visit http://asq.org/statistics/about/awards-statistics.html. Applications are due April 1.

Direct questions about the scholarships to Lynne B. Hare at lynnehare@verizon.net.

ASQ Journal Spotlight

Every month, QP will highlight an open-access article from one of ASQ’s seven other journals.

This month, be sure to check out "Seeing Is Believing," which appeared in a recent issue of Six Sigma Forum Magazine (SSFM). In the article, Chad Smith of Continuous Improvement Solutions LLP offers his first-hand experience in helping a city government buy in to the power of kaizen. Smith first told this story during his presentation at last year’s Lean and Six Sigma Conference.

To access "Seeing Is Believing," click on the "Current Issue" link on SSFM’s website: http://asq.org/pub/sixsigma. From there, you also can find a link to information about subscribing to the quarterly publication.


TC 69 International Meeting Set

The International Organization for Standardization Technical Committee 69 (TC 69) on the applications of statistical methods will hold its annual international meeting June 1-7 at ASQ headquarters in Milwaukee.

Delegates from different countries will discuss past, current and future projects, review liaison activities with other TCs and standards bodies, and determine strategic directions. Because a quorum of nations will be represented, committee leadership says decisions can be expedited through approved resolutions, avoiding the somewhat laborious process of formal balloting.

TC 69 is the committee that covers statistical standards developed by international experts. The U.S. Technical Advisory Group develops the U.S. positions on these standards. 

Statistical experts interested in joining the U.S. delegation to TC 69 or in sponsorship for the meeting can e-mail standards@asq.org.



The number of organizations that have recently become ASQ enterprise members, joining 40 other organizations at this membership level. The four are:

  1. Barclays PLC, a British multinational banking and financial services company based in London.
  2. Bharat Electronics, a state-owned manufacturer with multiple locations in India.
  3. Genpact, a business process management company headquartered in Gurgaonv, India.
  4. Mattel, the California-based toy manufacturer.

Visit http://asq.org/membership/organizations/current-members.html for more information about enterprise membership.


Conference Abstracts Sought

A call for abstracts for ASQ’s third annual Advancing the STEM Agenda Conference will end Jan. 7.

Organizers of the event in Grand Rapids, MI, on June 3-4 are looking for presenters to share ideas, best practices and research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and STEM partnerships with industry.

Paul Plotkowski, founding dean of the Seymour and Esther Padnos College of Engineering and Computing at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI, has been announced as the keynote speaker for the conference.

Authors who submit abstracts will be provided status reports by Jan. 15. Papers based on the abstracts will be due March 4.

For more information about the selection process and the two-day conference, visit http://asq.org/conferences/stem-agenda/index.html.

Date in Quality History

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

Jan. 8, 1825

Eli Whitney, an American inventor who became famous during the Industrial Revolution for developing the cotton gin, died on this date in New Haven, CT.

Whitney is also credited with influencing modern manufacturing by introducing a uniformity system. When Whitney was awarded a government contract in 1798 to produce 10,000 muskets, he did it with interchangeable parts that were similar in fit and function. This allowed for random selection of parts in the assembly of the muskets.

Whitney’s approach influenced manufacturing processes throughout the next century. Quality partially meant defining ways to objectively verify that the new parts would match the original parts or design. Exact replication was not always necessary, practical, cost effective or measurable.

Whitney ran his firearms factory near New Haven until he retired in 1820. He died five years later of prostate cancer, one month after his 59th birthday.


  • Folaron, Jim, "The Evolution of Six Sigma," Six Sigma Forum Magazine, August 2003, p. 38.


6 New ASQ Officers Nominated to Board

ASQ’s Board of Directors will vote in May on six board candidates named by ASQ’s nominating committee late last year. The nominees are:

  • Chair: Stephen K. Hacker, CEO and founding partner, Transformation Systems International LLC, Portland, OR.
  • Past chair: John C. Timmerman, vice president of global guest experience and rooms operations, Marriott International Inc., Bethesda, MD.
  • Chair-elect: Cecilia L. Kimberlin, principal, Kimberlin Inc., and retired vice president of strategic deployment, quality, regulatory and medical, Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, IL.
  • Treasurer: Chava Scher, retired vice president of quality, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Haifa, Israel.
  • Director: Julia K. Gabaldón, president and CEO of Quality New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM.
  • Director: Joal Teitelbaum, director, president and founder, Joal Teitelbaum Escritório de Engenharia, Porto Alegre/RS, Brazil. 

The candidates will be officially announced and ratified at the business meeting May 5 during ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement in Indianapolis. For more on the candidates, visit http://asq.org/members/leadership/elections/index.html.

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