Quality — we talk about it lots. Customers are concerned about it — grain farmers that deliver grain to your elevator – where their grain is graded by quality; or livestock farmers that purchase feed from you in the feed business — where they want the highest quality feedstuffs to feed to their dairy cows, poultry, hogs or other livestock. When you sell grain, your customers are also concerned about grain quality of the wheat, corn, soybeans or other grain products that you ship out of your elevator, destined for domestic or international markets.
As managers you are concerned about it keeping track of inbound ingredients and outbound products, as well as exhorting your employees to do their best to turn out the finest products possible, and to try to minimize their on-the-job errors that affect product quality.
Why is quality important? Maintaining high quality can be the right thing to do. It keeps customers coming back and is good for public relations because you can become known for the quality of your products. However, it is one thing to talk about quality and another to put into practice, and get “buy in” from all of your employees.
Gary Vasilash, editor of Automotive Design and Production, states: “Isn’t it conceivable that because quality is considered “a given” that people take it for granted: They don’t pay as much attention to it as they should . . . After all, it may be a part of the fabric of the company. There are sensors and measuring machines. Policies and procedures. Plenty of trained people. Plenty of people collecting data. Companies organized so that “everyone is responsible for quality.” Everyone . . . or no one?” This is an interesting and disturbing thought. But we tend to agree with him. Unless you are a company that is large enough to have a quality control manager, the approach may be “everyone and no one.”
This month, we tackle this challenging issue of quality — and take a look at it from a variety of different angles. In researching background for this column, we came upon a GREAT resource the American Society for Quality (www.asq.org). They offer resources, training and thought provoking articles about quality. We draw on some of their resources as well as others for this column. We hope we give you some useful things to think about, work on and which will allow you to take a cue from Ford’s old slogan “Quality is Job One.”
While customer satisfaction is comprised of many components — customer service, pricing, the type and brand of products you sell, your billing policies as well as other things — quality is certainly a key part of this mix. Quality itself can have multiple aspects including product quality (the quality of the feed you produce or the grain that you ship out) and service quality (the things your people do; the value customers ascribe to your order desk; the service your sales and delivery people provide; and the way you followup on questions and concerns). The majority of our thoughts this month will focus on product quality, but there will be some recommendations relative to service quality.
Customer satisfaction can be tempered by trading off quality and price. These two are typically positively related — as quality goes up, price tends to go up and vice versa. Thus, it is possible that you can offer lower quality products as long as a lower price accompanies them. The thought here is that “you get what you pay for.” In addition, perceived value becomes part of the “package” as well.