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Where is the customer?

As I See It

Many, many years ago, when “made in Japan” signified junk, a man with a strong customer orientation offered Japan a way to significantly change their image.Along about 1950, Dr. Edwards Deming went to Japan preaching customer focus, product quality and stability of management practices. His concepts took hold and the rest is history.

Later, in the 1970s,American automobile manufacturers were plagued by the perception of inferior product quality. In an attempt to rescue the industry from probable extinction, they adopted Dr. Deming`s customer focus and consistent product quality practices. Their efforts were generally successful and now American-made automobiles compete well against “made in Japan.”

Deming point numero uno is to create constancy of purpose for the improvement of product and service. If there is a defining term in all this it would be CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT of product and service. What does that do to the popular axiom “if it ain`t broke, don`t fix it?” Kills that sucker graveyard dead!

That is all well and good, but how do we institute continuous improvement? Deming`s famous “fourteen points” lays the theory out for study and inspection. The Deming method has to do with employee training and empowerment, elimination of inter-departmental barriers, and heavy investment in technology.

American business has a rather short-term mentality when compared with other societies. We are very mobile and don`t expect to be around to answer for the results of our actions 15 years down the road. Nowhere in American industrial lore will you find anything comparable to the Japanese 100-year plan. No, three to five years is about all we project for.

The Deming principles are applicable to any business, including non-profits. The concept of focusing on the customer is timeless and industry generic.

Actually it was not the automobile industry, but the health care industry that sparked my thinking about Deming. Having had the misfortune of recently being ill, I have had occasion to visit the doctor. The care I received was timely and excellent and my ultimate survival is now elevated to “more likely than not.”

However, as I drove my feverish body into the hospital parking lot, I encountered a most “un-Deminglike scenario.” The choice parking spaces were reserved for doctors! Others for ministers!

Who is the customer here; I thought it was me. If I`m the customer, why aren`t the choice parking spaces reserved for patients, i.e., customers. If doctors and ministers are more important than patients, who would they practice upon if citizens decided to haul their diseased bodies elsewhere for repair?

The following analogy may offend some, but is offered in the interest of intellectual stimulation. What would you think if you pulled into a restaurant parking lot and found the parking spaces near the door reserved for the cooks and wait persons? How about an automobile repair shop offering preferential treatment to the mechanics?

I have long wondered if doctors set themselves up for trouble by attempting to be “above the crowd.” They have my personal respect and admiration, but I wonder if they might be named as a plaintiff less frequently if those “reserved for doctors” signs went down. Suing a guy who makes you walk extra distance to trade with his business when you are sick and he is well but doesn`t wish to be inconvenienced is much easier than suing someone whose obvious focus is the customer, i.e., you.

People like to be celebrated and made to feel special. They dislike feeling demeaned and are more likely to strike back if given the chance when they do. Absolute commitment to customer service precludes ego-massaging of the hired help; it`s an “either/or” decision.

Thought for the Moment

People expect us to be busy, overworked. It`s become a status symbol in our society-if we`re busy, we`re important; if we`re not busy, we`re almost embarrassed to admit it. Busyness is where we get our security. It`s validating, popular, and pleasing. It`s also a good excuse for not dealing with the first things in our lives.

About Joe D. Jones

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