One of the basic concepts of the TQM philosophy is continuous process improvement. This concept implies that there is no acceptable quality level because the customer’s needs, values and expectations are constantly changing and becoming more demanding.
Before making a major purchase, some people check consumer magazines that rate product quality. During the period 1980 to 1988, the quality of the product and its performance ranked first, the price was second and service was third. During the period 1989 to 1992, product quality remained the most important factor, but service ranked above the price in importance.
An American Society for Quality (ASQ) survey on end user perceptions of important factors that influenced purchases showed the following ranking:
The factors of performance, features, service and warranty are the parts of a product or service quality. Therefore, it is evident that product quality and service are more important than price. Although this information is based on the retail customer, it appears, to some extent, to be true to the commercial customer also.
Performance involves “fitness for use.” It is a phrase that indicates that the product and service are ready for the customers to use at the time of sale. Other considerations are as follows:
Availability which is the probability that a product will operate when needed
Reliability which is freedom from failure over time
Maintainability which is the ease of keeping the product operable
An emphasis on customer service is emerging as a method for organisations to give the customer added value. However, customer service is intangible, i.e. it is made up of many small things, all geared to changing the customer’s perception. Intangible characteristics are those traits that are though not quantifiable yet contribute greatly to customer satisfaction. Providing excellent customer service is different from and more difficult to achieve than excellent product quality. Organisations that emphasise service never stop looking for and finding ways to serve their customers better, even if their customers are not complaining. For instance, at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, FL, janitors, after cleaning a room, ask if there is anything they can do for the patient. Often patients will have a request for a window shade to be drawn or a door closed.