Thursday, 25 June 2015

What is quality?

Everyone talks about quality, whether it be a quality customer experience, or quality product, or even a quality process...still not sure what that is...but ask the question of "what is quality?" and you won't get a good answer.

There are two good places to start:
  1. Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
  2. John Guaspari's "I know it when I see it"
Anyone working in "quality" should have not just read but completely internalised both books before uttering a further word on the subject.

Interestingly, quality doesn't necessary mean expensive or the best - though being called the "best" occurs when you have quality.

For example, SAS actually have a "quality" long-haul economy product. This doesn't mean it is great, but they do their best to keep passengers (on an 11 hour flight) well fed and watered. Now just because I had a good experience and perceived their economy product to be of a high quality doesn't necessarily mean that they shouldn't improve on it. Trust me, there are LOTS of things SAS could do to improve on their economy product.

Airlines are abound with examples of quality: for example, Finnair vs Norwegian - the former just feels to be an expensive Ryanair but without the friendliness while the latter gives you what you need plus free Wifi (slow Wifi, but Wifi still). To me, Norwegian provides me with a quality product. Another example is Lufthansa: while their long-haul economy offering is poor from a seating point of view, their food (SAS take note, I get beer and wine for free with my meal!) and superb crews, plus the added advantage of using the A380 means I choose to fly Lufthansa when I can.

But today I came across something interesting while stopping at a cafe to buy ice-cream for my children. There is no doubt this particular cafe has good service, smiling and ample staff, and excellent ice-cream, though a bit pricey! But even with, I counted 3 members of staff and a manager present they couldn't actually keep the 10 or so tables clean. It really isn't pleasant to have to sit at a table with someone else's food still left there, or having to clean it up yourself.

While everything about this cafe says "we provide a quality product" this is let down by a very simple action of not cleaning up.

This got me thinking, especially when referring back to Pirsig's observation that even though you might have the most expensive and best built motorcycle, it only takes a single screw to become threaded, or the head to become ground away to reduce that most expensive of machines to being totally unfit for purpose - in Pirsig's case, unrepairable because of a single flaw in the cheapest, most innocuous of components.

Funny how a simple act such as clearing up a table can ruin a cafe's reputation; or, how a faulty IFE screen can ruin a flight. Sometimes it is just attitude that ruins everything...when a much respected company fails to ever ask of, or even respect even a semi-regular customer then the quality of the whole is reduce to nothing.

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