“Continuous improvement process has been typically viewed as incremental and additive rather than explosive and earth shattering.”(Business Horizons, July 1994) While most service organisations realise the importance of meeting or exceeding valid customer needs, they lack consistent strategies or theories to guide the internal organisational change process. (M. Milakovich, Improving service quality)
Continuous improvement requires moving from a focus on structure to a focus on customer processes. This focus on the customer prevents dissatisfaction, and maintains quality service. (M.S.Q. Vol. 6, Number 1 (1996)
All pioneering leaders of the quality movement recommend a systems approach
to improving quality, from the design, production, and delivery stages
to the after sale service and consumer education.
The chain reaction of quality improvement: Previously it was believed that quality and productivity were inversely related (if one increases the other must be decreased). The chain reaction of quality shows how improved quality reduces waste and increases efficiency with better use of people, time, material, and equipment. Quality commitment pleases customers, increases productivity, expands market share, and secures jobs. (M. Milakovich, Improving service quality).
Kaizen means improvement. When applied to the workplace Kaizen means continuing improvement involving everyone - managers and workers alike. Imai relates quality to Kaizen by stating that "In its broadest sense, quality is anything that can be improved." (Imai, M, (1996)
Total Quality Control is the system that Japan has developed to implement Kaizen or continuing improvement. Total Quality Control is a forty-year plus improvement on the teachings of Deming, Juran, Feigenbaum, and others who brought the concept of quality to Japan. (Imai, M, (1996) Total Quality Control is used to ensure the product and the service will meet the expectations of the customer. “Such a system should employ quality enhancement tools, customer data, and the capabilities of staff.”(M. Lowenstein, page 143).
Companies should work to have a culture that supports staff. One of the strengths of Japanese companies is that they have organisational and staff cohesion. They also get everyone in the organisation to be alert to look for opportunities to do things better. This results in employees contributing to the companies success.(M. Lowenstein, Customer retention)
WHAT NOT TO DO!
Many businesses lack direction because management treats employees like replaceable assets, and they don’t invest in staff training, resulting in lack of employee motivation and poor service quality. Management has been accustom to short term thinking, instead of transforming the business into a quality oriented work environment. (W. Deming, out of the crisis) “Individual performance appraisals are a means to control and discipline employees”, resulting in low moral, installing fear, preventing teamwork, and removing the enjoyment of work. A competitive punishment-reward system distracts everyone from the primary mission of service to customers. (W. Deming, out of the crisis)
Its important not to lose sight of customer needs. “Change for the sake of change would be ludicrous. The key factor is to look constantly at customer needs and expectations in order to be fully responsive to changes that occur in the market place,” C. DeVrye, page 79). A bank invested money and staff hours into reducing queuing times from five minutes to three minutes, only to find that customers did not notice the difference. “The customers would have preferred resources to be spent on extending hours of operation for their convenience”. C. DeVrye, page 80).
A means of feedback should be introduced, to find out how customers view improvements and what remains to be accomplished. Also all employees should be involved in the planning process for continuous improvement of customer satisfaction. London Underground introduced the Customer satisfaction index, in 1991. The index enabled the business to achieve a sample that was consistent, and represented all Underground users. Its purpose is to find out what areas of improvement that the company could make, to its quality of service. The samples were carried out by interviews at the station at a length less that ten minutes, otherwise the survey would consist of infrequent users. Questions in the interview included, frequency of service, cleanliness, service of staff, public address and ease of ticket buying. “You will not be surprised to learn that 20 percent of our customers make 80 percent of the trips” (M.S.Q Vol. 5, Number 1. (1995).
In the mid eighties a chief executive of Scandinavian Airlines, explained to his employees that the airline had financial difficulties. “He admitted he didn’t have all the answers, and explained that he needed their help if the airline was to survive.” Not everyone in the organisation had contact with customers, but each employee is working in a chain that will ultimately serve someone. (C. DeVrye, page 80). The company was turned around showing that honesty, employee knowledge and improvement are vital for service success.
Quality of service will be judged on how regular service is delivered and the quality at which complaints are handled. “Service firms should strive for perfect service, but they must be prepared to respond when things go wrong. It requires educating the customer on how to be an effective partner in problem solving, and it requires having a well trained staff who are authorised to take actions to solve problems on the first contact with the customer.”(J.S.M Vol.3 No.4 Fall 1989)
Benchmarking is about comparison, improvement and exchange of ideas. Identify areas of improvement, examine ideas or best practices and implementing changes. Benchmarking can be your own ideas that are enhanced by the expert opinion of others. The Ideas method of benchmarking is a method that’s been traditionally used as a quality improvement tool. (this will be described later in this essay) (M.S.Q, Volume 5, Number 4 (1995)
Due to the perishability and intangibility of service, customers may have different values and different grounds for assessment, they may perceive the same service in different ways. (M.S.Q. Vol. 6, Number 1 (1996) “Organisations have difficult barriers to overcome in identifying definitively how consumers actually evaluate quality.”(NZ.J.B. Vol. 12 (1990) page 1)
In accordance with the conceptual model of service quality, gaps may
appear between the clients’ expectations and the perceived service received.
The magnitude and direction of the gaps, will contribute to an understanding
of the expected level of satisfaction demanded by customers. .”(NZ.J.B.
Vol. 12 (1990)
1. Encourage teamwork and flatten barriers between departments :
2. Formulate a mission statement that reflects the shared values and operationally defines the vision of the company: Employees must understand their role in accomplishing the mission statement as is will become company policy. Identifying internal customers will increase internal efficiency and define tasks more clearly, it will also empower employees to cope with their environment, which they have control over.
3. Empower employees instead of threatening them.
4. Pay more attention to your customers and suppliers.
5. Begin slowly and do not create unrealistic expectations.
6. Anticipate and continually adapt to change
VOICE OF THE CUSTOMER (VOC) SYSTEM
2. Gathering the VOC (identifying needs)
3. Understanding the VOC (collect and understand customer information)
Information gathered should be communicated to the entire company. Reporting customer feedback is vital for purpose of collective improvement, not retaliation. This will be ongoing proof that company supports its staff, and in turn will allow a strong organisational culture to build. Everyone in the organisation should know who their customers are, what the customer needs and expectations are, and how service and other performance areas are perceived. Employees should be surveyed as to the effectiveness of the new system, as they are equally as important as customers are. However, the principle purpose of the system is action; how well it helps keep customers and increases the sales and profits.
Its critical that management take responsibility to drive improvement activities, as the actions of top management will have a trickle down effect to making the system a success. Because consumer needs and expectations are ever changing its vital that the company acts on customer input as soon as possible. (M. Lowenstein, Customer Retention)
The costs involved in setting up a customer measurement system, internal and external communication, and the follow through on improvement activities are considerable. These costs will need to be justified, and that is why its necessary to have high initial investment. To ensure the system is implemented successfully. (M. Lowenstein, Customer Retention)
2. Stage two: decide
3. Stage Three: expand
4. Stage Four: analyse
5. Stage Five: specify
Successful service leaders in the 1990’s are never completely satisfied with their progress. Only better is better! If your company is not constantly striving to improve, you are simply giving a chance to the competition to catch up. (C. DeVrye, page 79).
The main focus of the organisation should be on the customer, understanding the needs and expectations of the customer are paramount in providing quality service. Quality improvement is everybody’s responsibility, and every employee should have the knowledge, resources and the authority to provide the best possible service. When designing new services, quality should be built in right from the start, with internal procedures to continually change with its customers expectations and needs.
Continuous improvement is a preventative measure, this means developing
an organisation to prevent mistakes from happening, as opposed to discovering
mistakes on inspection. This improvement will increase productivity, profitability,
Benchmarking should be used to learn from others, not a means to copy,
as the organisation should be focusing on improvement of service for its
customers, not keeping in line with its competitors. As a result the organisation
will end up with a service superior to its competitors.
Finally striving for continuous improvement is an ongoing challenge within an organisation there is always room for improvement, especially as customer expectations and needs are ever changing.
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Milakovich M. E. (1995) Improving service Quality. St. Lucie Press, Delray Beach, Florida
Imai, M. (1986). Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success, McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, New York NY
DeVrye C. (1994) Good service is good business, Prentice Hall, Australia
Dutka A. (1994) AMA Handbook for customer satisfaction, NTC Publishing Group, Illinois USA.
Lowenstein M. W. (1995) Customer Retention. ASQC Quality Press, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.
The Journal of Services Marketing. Volume 3, Number 4, Fall (1989) Focusing on Customer problems to improve service quality. Page 5.
Managing Service Quality. Volume 5, Number 1 (1995) Improving customer service and satisfaction at London Underground. Page 26-29.
Managing Service Quality. Volume 6, Number 1 (1996) Making service – quality improvements work. Pages 49 – 52
New Zealand Journal of Business. Volume 12 (1990) Managing service quality for improved competitive performance. Pages 1-12
Managing Service Quality. Volume 5, Number 3 (1995) Improving quality in professional service organisations : a review of the key issues. Pages 34-44
The Journal of Services Marketing. Volume 2, Number 2 Spring (1988) Guiding principles for improving customer service. Pages 37-43
Managing Service Quality. Volume 6, Number 4 (1996) Westminster City Council: improving quality through complaint management. Pages 20-22.
Managing Service Quality. Volume 5, Number 3 (1995) Quality improvements in the NHS. Pages 20-22.