Identify whether your business is providing quality services.
qual'·i·ty (kwol'-i-te) n. 1. A high level of service that meets or exceeds a client's expectations.
I was recently meeting with an advisor to define how we might better work together. So, we clarified roles and responsibilities, developed a standard agenda for our meetings, and set tasks and due dates for each of us – and left, feeling good about the new mutual commitments we made about working together. I later received an email from her, saying how much she appreciated my commitment to "total quality."
Definition of Quality
That comment brought to mind a definition of "quality" I had heard many years ago. Quality is Free, by Philip Crosby, contains this deceptively simple definition – "Quality is conformance to requirements." For me, I use "expectations" or "needs" synonymously with "requirements." The author illustrates this idea through an automobile buyer – the expectations for a luxury car are different from those of a basic car, but both can be of high quality, as long as they conform to expectations.
Who Defines Expectations, Buyer or Seller?
The key here is "expectations" – and these can only be defined by the buyer. Not by the seller. Not by the design team, or the engineering team, or the manufacturing employees. Only the buyer. Why? Because the buyer trades money only for items meeting or exceeding expectations.
It's amazing how often people seem to forget this. A recent conference call involved several client personnel, the owner of a software company that develops and supports the business system used by this client, and me. The goal was to address the issues my client had using this software, implemented over 2 years ago. The owner had forgotten – or perhaps never realized – who defines quality. As the call progressed, he became defensive about his business practices, which were out of step with the software industry. He failed to acknowledge his client's frustrations, approaching things from a technical standpoint instead of a client service standpoint. The result? My client began to doubt that their concerns were heard and would be addressed.
Were this the only example of poor quality I have seen recently! Common themes in all of them:
- Agreements between parties seemed clear – but really were not.
- Items or services were delivered that did not conform to client expectations.
- The provider had not done a good job communicating status and issues to the client.
Fortunately, there are still companies that deliver high quality products and services. When I needed to purchase a specialized magnetic white board, I came across a company called Magnatag. While a similar white board was available elsewhere at a comparable price, what I really needed was Magnatag's wide selection of specialized accessories. Their helpful customer service representative guided me in making the right choices so that my needs – my expectations of how I would actually use and benefit from this board and accessories – were truly met.
In our work, we always strive to deliver services that meet or exceed expectations. Our formula for quality may seem old-fashioned and obvious:
- Understand what your client truly wants.
- Demonstrate your understanding in writing – email, memo, or formal engagement letter.
- Adjust items, as necessary, until you and your client are in agreement
- Do your best to deliver what you have arranged.
- Keep your client informed of progress and issues along the way.
Is this common sense as to what constitutes client service? It would seem so – but our approach appears to distinguish us in the business community. As one client recently told me, "Todd, you seem to know what I need better than I do myself."
So, if you think a current service provider doesn't "get it," you might want to remind them who defines "quality." If they still don't "get it," then maybe it's time to find someone who does.
Todd L. Herman
Client Project Update:
I am pleased to provide you with an update on our client projects. Projects we have completed over this period are...
Systems and Process Cleanup
Provided direction and project management for the cleanup of the information systems, financial records, and operational processes for this national organization, allowing management and the Board of Directors to regain trust in the information from the operational and financial systems.
Developed extensions to the Sales Reporting capabilities of JD Edwards OneWorld, providing this furniture client the capabilities to better analyze its sales information.
Managing Rollout and Post-Implementation
Managed the rollout and post-implementation phases of this system customization project, permitting critical fabrication operations to continue while identifying, triaging, and resolving issues.
Process Improvements and Systems Implications
Reviewed the key business processes for this manufacturing company, identifying improvements to achieve improved efficiency and assessing whether existing systems will support further potential improvements.
Interim IS Management
Served as interim Information Systems Manager for this specialty textile-related company, bringing technology experience and industry knowledge to help assess and address business systems issues constraining process improvement.
Reviewed the major processes and multiple systems for this distributor and installer of electronic products, defining requirements for a new business system and identifying candidate systems to meet an aggressive implementation goal.
Managing Software Improvement Requirements
Worked with a client's business system vendor to identify and resolve issues in a transaction processing extract, ensuring compliance with auditing requirements.
Future projects we are planning include...
Develop management analyses and reports from a large transaction database, providing executives the ability to monitor and measure progress toward key objectives.
Defining Staffing Needs
Work with the management of this national organization to assess the current and longer-term financial and administrative workloads, helping develop criteria for candidate skills and experience.
Assess the knowledge management requirements for this processor of specialty crops, identifying options to easily and securely share proprietary and other information inside the company.
Conducting Post-Implementation Review
Conduct a post-implementation review for a division of a company that recently implemented a new ERP package, identifying processes that need to be changed to take advantage of new technology and thus improve the return on the ERP investment.
Manage the implementation of an inventory management system (IMS) leveraging wireless data collection and bar codes, to enable this specialty manufacturer to have better visibility of inventory, allowing them to ship orders more quickly and accurately.
Assessing System Needs
Assess the business processes and information needs of this custom manufacturer in order to identify suitable business system packages, helping management to make an informed decision on their system investment.
Wrapping Up Post-Implementation Process
Complete the post-implementation phase of this system customization project, allowing this client to move into support mode for their newly customized system.