Customer-focused quality goes beyond the development and testing divisions within organizations. Every employee is a stakeholder in the quality process. I like to look at all functions within an organization as dots connected to a circle. The success of a company’s product, services, and ultimately the entire organization, is interlinked. When any of these dots are neglected there is a risk of collapsing the circle, alienating customers, and ultimately losing business.
For example – if case studies aren’t written and published in a professional manner, the quality of the marketing department suffers; if invoices are repeatedly sent late or not sent, the quality of the finance department is diminished; if deadlines and timelines are consistently missed, the quality of the production team is diminished, and so on.
To be successful in developing and implementing a customer-focused quality program, you need to ask your customers how they define quality with respect to your products. Some requirements could be based on the following:
- Ease of use
- Defect tolerance, frequency and impact
- Service and support
- Internal processes
- Compliance and audit requirements
Identify past, current and prospective customers to interview to obtain your requirements. Customers should be from all industries- globally – and include a selection of all sizes of business. How unique products are will affect the quality definitions your customers provide. The definitions may be more strict based on the objectives, goals and outcomes your customers expect to achieve by using your products and services. Interview results may reveal that some customers may:
- Want software with “plug and play” versions that are easy to install and use. Interfaces may need to be easily integrated with minimal customization that do not impact day-to-day business.
- Define quality within product documentation and how easy/technical it needs to be for them. Some want step by step instructions that will allow minimal support calls, others want detailed and hand holding support calls as installations and upgrades occur. Product management, and marketing materials that are published as well.
- Define quality based on defects, the frequency and the impact it will have on their business. Some are ok with intermittent disruption, some are not. (Many organizations use the 6S metric 3.4 defects per million in defect tolerance as a quality requirement).
- Define quality based on the depth of service and support they receive.
- Define quality based on the internal processes that are in place and followed (e.g. how often audits occur with publication of results).
Once you have gathered the customer requirements attributes, you can begin to develop the quality program metrics. Carefully and thoughtfully developing and implementing quality metrics will allow you to measure and identify gaps across all functions within the program, as well as assist in gathering feedback to improve processes and products. By placing customer requirements ahead of internal requirements and by involving the customer from the beginning of the development process, through delivery and maintenance, you maximize your ability to satisfy their quality requirements.
Place customers first, involve them in every step, let them know you are placing their interests ahead of yours, you not only will satisfy them, you will gain a devoted and loyal customer.
As with the development and implementation of any new program, ask yourself “Are we doing this to satisfy customer quality requirements? If not, where else might our investment be made that will allow us to achieve greater results with respect to satisfying their quality requirements?”