Giving Quality Initiatives the Respect They Deserve

CRM and service executives can enhance the payoff of quality initiatives by providing voice of the customer and proactive customer service, according to insights from ASQ's "Global State of Quality: Discoveries 2013" study. The report, which surveyed more than 2,000 companies in 22 countries, measured the state of quality in manufacturing and services and looked at approaches to management, outcomes and measures, training, and even fostering a culture of quality.

The study suggests that quality executives are very concerned about product and service quality and the close alignment of quality and customers—a concept termed "QustomerTM." But it's clear that organizations have not yet embraced the revenue and word-of-mouth implications of the end-to-end customer experience.

Report respondents provided a 10-part definition of quality, which includes acting as promised, adding value, meeting and exceeding expectations through world-class products, services and support. However, marketing and finance, revenue growth, and word-of-mouth enhancement—which should be major champions of investment in quality—are not addressed within the definitions. CRM and service executives need to support setting quality priorities based on customer feedback and then guide improvement of the end-to-end customer experience. For instance, I recently spoke with the head of quality for one of the major North American auto companies, and he bemoaned the fact that consumers do not read manuals and don't understand the majority of the electronic functions now available on the average car.

This customer befuddlement with complex products is a major opportunity for CRM, customer experience, and service executives. Customers need just-in-time education and training using a diverse set of communication channels tailored to the customer segment and how they are using the product. This is the domain of CRM and service. Quality can be an advocate for your role in these activities.

The quality function is a source of rich analytical horsepower and a major market for your services, because most quality functions need assistance demonstrating a compelling link of quality to customer loyalty and word of mouth to marketing and finance.

I recently surveyed chief customer officer/service strategy executives at 160 companies on whether their CFO bought into the business case for an improved customer experience. The one-third of respondents who had CFO buy-in had twice the sustained year-over-year improvement in customer satisfaction. Further, their voice-of-the-customer process had five times the impact on getting issues fixed than companies without CFO support.

On the other hand, contact centers especially are starved for analytical resources beyond what is needed to maintain basic operations quality. On many occasions, the broader strategic VoC analysis received little or no analytical support. Many quality departments have bright analysts versed in Lean Six Sigma, social science research, experimentation, and analysis using "dirty data." They can be of tremendous help to whoever is creating and presenting the voice of the customer.

This study should be your excuse to visit your corporate quality department and work together to enhance the overall customer experience. You should join with them to:

  • Demonstrate to the finance department the link between improved quality and enhanced revenue and margins, as well as positive word of mouth.
  • Show the marketing department that word of mouth and word of "mouse" (on the Web) are the most powerful and cost-effective marketing tools. Companies such as Cheesecake Factory and Harley Davidson have significantly lower marketing expenses than their peers due to customers doing their selling for them.
  • Use CRM technology to anticipate customers' information needs and proactively help customers avoid problems. Recently, SoCal Edison used 10 days of smart meter data to warn 30,000 customers that their bills were going to be higher than expected. More than 50 percent opened the email, and both satisfaction and conservation efforts jumped.
  • Focus quality improvement on marketing and sales quality in the same way that product and operational quality are addressed. Sales and marketing complaints create four times the damage to loyalty on a per problem basis as traditional product quality problems, but are articulated by customers only one-fourth as much due to fear of alienating sales reps.
  • Make the Web site an effective service channel. Is it not ironic that the most critical channel of communication with customers, the Web site, is administered by the IT department, which usually is not known for customer focus?

Make the case for creation of a Customer Experience Council to coordinate the end-to-end customer experience. This will prevent many of the problems that service spends time cleaning up after the fact. The following are appropriate roles for a Customer Experience Council:

  • Overseeing mapping and analysis of all customer-touching processes
  • Gathering unified voice of the customer data regarding process performance
  • Facilitating identification of key points of pain and opportunities for value adds
  • Creating the economic imperative for action
  • Deciding which function should take the lead in addressing the problems
  • Measuring progress in attacking issues, thereby creating accountability
  • Acting as an advocate for customers to top management, quantifying the cost of inaction

The two functions that it should not be responsible for are managing for the satisfaction and loyalty indices and fixing quality and service.

The quality function in most companies has the ear of executives and significant resources. They are frustrated by causes of dissatisfaction beyond the boundaries of the plant and operations, but they often lack the customer data to suggest and justify changes. CRM and service are perfectly positioned and equipped to provide data in exchange for their support, and as a team, manage and enhance the customer experience.

For more on the ASQ Global State of Quality study, visit The ASQ Global State of Quality Research: Discoveries 2013 report. 

John Goodman is vice chairman of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting. His latest book, Strategic Customer Service, is published by AMACOM.

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