The two most commonly used words in business advertising probably are quality and service. In practice they might be among the most neglected.
This dichotomy still shows in surveys of American corporate practices, even though the consequences are well understood by management and labor, having caused them serious problems in the past.Further evidence comes in an analysis of 105 responses to a survey of Fortune 500 companies by Organizational Dynamics Inc., a management consulting and training company based in Burlington, Mass.
The survey found executives are virtually unanimous in their belief that responsibility for quality must be shared by everyone in the company. Almost all agreed that "everyone in the company affects customer satisfaction."
The questioning continued, leading to this finding:
In the typical company surveyed, just 25 percent of workers were involved in quality improvement activities. Only 17 percent of the respondents said their company involves more than half its employees.
The results underscore what many quality improvement specialists have been saying for years, that one of the major quality defects of American industry is the failure to follow through on corporate goals.
The problem isn't one of recognition. Almost every executive will explain that quality and service are foremost among corporate goals. Awareness probably has never been higher. The consequences of poor quality are known.
In fact, the current emphasis on quality arises directly from the painful experience American industry had with poor quality during the 1960s, when U.S. companies began losing entire markets to the Japanese, who embraced quality.
Oddly, much of the quality control practiced by the Japanese emerged from the U.S. experience, and from Americans who had raised it to the level of a science, including W. Edwards Deming and Armand V. Feigenbaum.
Oddly, some major American corporations intentionally let quality deteriorate, contending it was more cost-effective to allow flawed products to leave the factory, to be fixed later by service departments.
It didn't work, largely because after-sale service was likewise flawed. That is, the quality of service was as bad as the quality of the product, and customers quickly became aware of it. Why not? They sensed they were being exploited.
Much of the subsequent recovery of U.S. industry, now showing up as a resurgence of manufacturing, productivity gains, improved trade statistics and healthier profits, is a consequence of efforts to improve quality and service.
But survey after survey shows that the notion of quality and service is more deeply imbedded than the practice. Everyone cheers for improvements, but not nearly as many go to work after the cheering stops.
In the Organizational Dynamics survey, respondents agreed that quality and service control are matters that involve employees at all levels, but only one-third said they shared customer satisfaction data with all employees.
As one of the foremost authorities on quality control, Philip B. Crosby, has stated often - he even wrote a book about it - "quality is free."
It may not cost even a penny to begin with, he says, but if it costs anything at all the cost comes back many times in higher sales.
Underlying his assumption is faith in human beings to do superior work if given the direction and the motivation, and if given a return on their efforts to contribute.