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Building quality critical in fast-paced world

As I See It

Some of us can remember back when “Made in Japan” meant junk. “Made in the USA” was the ticket to good stuff. Somewhere about the late 1970s and early 1980s our perception took a 180-degree turn. Japanese-made products became much sought after for their quality and reliability, and U.S. manufacturers were in deep trouble.

What caused the change and how did U.S. manufacturers respond?

Quite simply, the Japanese discovered how to build products that customers wanted to buy. They correctly anticipated customer preferences and raised product reliability to an art form. By contrast, U.S. manufacturers continued designing and making products without too much concern about what customers wanted and with scant attention to reliability.

When the light finally came on, U.S. firms studied and adopted many of the Japanese techniques and were thereby saved from annihilation.

Techniques for building quality into manufactured products have become well established. Attention to employee training, customer preferences and continuous testing during the manufacturing process using sophisticated tools such a statistical process control are key to manufacturing excellence. Extending those techniques to service businesses has not progressed as much.

The Malcolm Baldridge Quality Awards program is an attempt to improve the overall quality of all types of businesses in the U.S. The program involves companies submitting themselves to analysis by a team of trained examiners who determine the adequacy of the company’s systems and procedures.

Following the examination, recommendations for improvement are submitted to management. Companies who have successfully assimilated quality procedures into their operations are recognized for their success at an annual gala. In Mississippi, the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges conducts the program.

In summary, quality results from doing the right things and doing them well. Doing the right things means providing the products and services your customers want. How do you know what the customer wants? Simple, ask them.

The best way to get on top of the game and stay there is by constantly asking customers what they like and what they don’t like.

Surveys are the ticket to ride. Merely selecting a few customers and mailing them a questionnaire, however, is not the answer.

Surveying is an art form and must be done effectively if the results are going to be useful.

One good way is to impanel a focus group consisting of a small group of customers and ask them what questions need to be addressed by your survey. In addition to submitting a written survey to a group of customers, some face-to-face surveying is advisable. People don’t always give written surveys the attention we might wish they did. There is no alternative to getting in front of your customers and finding out what’s on their minds.

Finally, surveying is an ongoing process and not a goal to be accomplished and then forgotten about. Customer preferences change rapidly and if you don’t keep up, you’ll miss the turn and be in the ditch.

Doing business needs to be as seamless as possible. Spend some time walking around your business to see how customer matters are handled. You will likely find that some employees and systems are working admirably while others need a tune-up. Change the system if that is keeping you from providing good customer service. Tune-up errant employees through counseling and training.

With the world changing at a dizzying pace only the businesses that stay close to their customers will survive. Customers have choices and brand loyalty is a thing of the past.

Constantly modifying your product offering and customer service procedures is the ticket to health and happiness.

Thought for the Moment – The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just. — Abraham Lincoln

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.


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