It is estimated that most organizations spend up to 25% of their collective effort on re-work, or fixing things that were not done correctly the first time. Poor product or service quality is one of the top 10 customer turnoffs and a key reason why many customers decide to take their business elsewhere.
When I lived in Orlando years ago, we were close enough to Cape Canaveral to see the space shuttle launches from our home. We always stayed informed regarding upcoming launches. Once, before a launch, a radio reporter did a live interview with an astronaut before takeoff. The reporter asked the mission commander, “how do you feel?” The commander paused for a minute and asked in return, “how do you think I feel? I am strapped on top of 150,000 parts, each one supplied by the lowest bidder.”
Getting It Right the First Time
Let’s remember what all customers want. They want the product or service that they ordered to be delivered on time and as promised. So why do we have such a problem doing things right the first time? The entire “Six Sigma” movement was centered around reducing the number of potential product defects. Defects or mistakes happen in two primary areas:
- Failure to gather requirements correctly or completely. If we were honest, most of us would admit that our listening skills could use some improvement. Whether you are taking an order for an expensive piece of equipment or a burger at a drive through restaurant, you need to focus on what the customer is requesting. Imagine you’re at the drive-thru of your favorite burger place. You place your order and have a special request for “no onions” on your burger. You receive your order and take off down the road. When you take the first bite of your burger you realize they added extra onions instead of leaving them off. Everything else may be perfect, but you are not a satisfied customer. I have several clients who manufacture technical equipment. Some products may have 30 or more configuration decisions that have to be made to assemble the final product. Getting just one element wrong could make the entire order, which is worth $100,000 or more, worthless for the client.
- Error in the process used to make the product. I’m sure you have played the “Telephone Game” as a child where you start on one end of a line of people and whisper a phrase in the ear of the person next to you. They then pass on what they thought you said to the next person, and so on down the row. Even when people honestly try to get it right, it rarely emerges on one end the same as it started on the other.
Often, a process will involve multiple departments or teams, all having to do their part exactly right for the final product to be created and delivered as ordered by the customer. Nine out of ten people touching a product could do their job flawlessly. But, one person could make a seemingly small mistake, such as drilling a hole ¼ inch off on a large panel or beam. The end result would be either shipping the product back for rework or sending someone to the field to make the correction. Either option is costly and diverts resources from producing revenue for your company.
Reducing Defects and Errors
We will never remove all defects from a product or process, but we can do the following to reduce their frequency.
- LISTEN! When speaking with your customer about what they want, make sure you are giving them your undivided attention. Even on a simple order, repeat back to them what you heard to make sure you got it right. If your business involves complicated products, summarize the order in writing in a follow up email. Ask for signoff that your understanding of the order matches their need and expectation.
- Utilize Checklists. Even when you work for a company that frequently makes the same thing, use process checklists to make sure that a new member of your team will do things correctly. A step by step checklist or quality control document can greatly improve your accuracy. Have a member of the team not responsible for the detailed work perform a quality check before the product ships to your customer.
- Use a Customer Feedback Loop. Do you have a process in place to solicit regular feedback from your customers? When you get that feedback and it involves a complaint or is pointing out an issue, does that feedback reach the team or person who can make a change to ensure it does not happen again? Most organizations have some feedback mechanism in place such as a “Voice of the Customer” program or a regular survey. Unfortunately, that’s where the “loop” stops for many. The feedback is not analyzed and is rarely used to make the needed improvements in the process.
Your customers may put up with an occasional mistake, but most will not continue to buy from someone who is a repeat offender. Ensure that your entire team is trained to do their job with perfection and then put practices in place to catch a problem quickly. Quality has a direct and significant relationship to the overall customer experience and is a huge impact on the bottom line.
Next week we will deal with Customer Turnoff #5: “Criticizing your organization, or your customers.”