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Customer focus is one of the principles codified by ISO 9001: 2008. While it is commonly believed to enhance the quality of products and services provided by the company, the effect is only achievable when the critical success factors responsible for its success are acknowledged. The following paper overviews the critical success factors for the customer focus principle.
Customer-focused organizations are more likely to satisfy the quality standards set by ISO 9001: 2008. First, the principle in question serves to enhance the product development cycle. Strong orientation towards the interests and values of customers sustains the research and development process by providing crucial information on the needs of the market (Yaya, Marimon & Casadesus, 2014).
By extension, customer-focused organizations are able to introduce products or services that are better aligned with the expectations of the market and whose quality is not compromised by the misguided assumptions. In addition, the principle requires the organization to maintain close contact with the core customers.
The feedback made possible by this collaboration allows the organization to adjust their products and services in order to account for the changes in the customers’ expectations and, more importantly, timely detect and address the flaws that hinder the quality of the products already present on the market (Manders, de Vries & Blind 2016). In other words, customer focus allows the quality improvements both at the launch phase of the product and throughout its lifespan.
The principle is also associated with increased customer loyalty, which, in turn, has an indirect effect on quality. Specifically, a loyal customer base makes the product development more predictable and reliant on market research in the long run (Yaya, Marimon & Casadesus, 2014). In addition to providing the opportunity of cutting the costs R&D process, this effect decreases the likelihood of introducing a product of inferior quality by failing to detect a flaw.
Finally, customer-focused organizations enjoy greater financial stability. More specifically, higher customer retention rates, the possibility to tap into new audiences, and the ability to differentiate the organizations’ products or services from those of competitors increase the revenues and sustain customer satisfaction rate. It is important to note that the effect is only observable in the long run and requires a significant initial investment, which may discourage the management (Yaya, Marimon & Casadesus, 2014).
While this parameter does not relate directly to the quality of their products or services, it would be reasonable to expect a positive indirect effect associated with increased stability. In other words, the organizations with stronger positions on the market are less likely to pursue short-term objectives and seek compromises where quality is sacrificed in favor of decreased expenses.
Numerous critical success factors (CSFs) have been identified that influence the outcomes of implementing customer focus principles. Some of these CSFs are more suitable for the individual application, while others are scalable and can be equally relevant on the organizational level.
One of the most fundamental success factors is the ability to timely react to the feedback received from the customers (Ismyrlis, Moschidis & Tsiotras 2015). The reports from the customers contain useful information that enables the managers to adjust the organization’s functioning in accordance with the expectations displayed by the respondents. However, if the organization is slow to deliver the required change on time, the usefulness of the received information is significantly decreased.
First, the gap between the reception of the issue and the respective adjustment opens up the possibility for the competitors to gain superiority at the market. Even more importantly, the core customers who are aware of the customer-centered approach may expect a timely reaction from the company and, in some cases, depend on it. In such a scenario, the trust between the organization and the customer will be compromised if the former fails to react appropriately to the feedback or reinforced if the latter observes the desired result on time.
Two secondary CSFs are marginally related to timeliness. Active listening is required to facilitate a proper customer focus, and empathy is considered a factor that enhances its effect (Ismyrlis, Moschidis & Tsiotras 2015). While both factors are commonly brought up in the context of individual managers who interact with customers directly, they are equally applicable on the organizational scale.
In this case, active listening is the ability to arrive at meaningful conclusions based on the correctly interpreted data, which, in turn, would eliminate quality setbacks. Empathy, on the other hand, can be effectively adopted as a part of the customer policy for the organizations that interact with customers directly, which would enhance the emotional bond, facilitate trust, and, by extension, improve the perceived quality of the provided services.
Finally, dependability is a critical success factor that drives quality. Once it is clear what needs to be changed in the product or service, the planned change should be specified and communicated to the stakeholders, preferably with as much detail as possible. This approach would further boost the trust of the customers and, more importantly, serve as a roadmap for the company employees (Ismyrlis, Moschidis & Tsiotras 2015). The alignment of operations with the expectations of the customers will make the outcome more predictable for both sides and establish the level of quality for the organization to pursue.
Customer focus holds great potential for the improvement of the company’s products and services. Sufficient understanding of the mechanisms of its influence and the critical success factors associated with it provides a solid basis for managers planning to integrate it into their organization’s strategy. Therefore, the timeliness, dependability, empathy, and active listening are to be maintained throughout the production cycle in order to establish and sustain the desired level of quality.
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Ismyrlis, V, Moschidis, O & Tsiotras, G 2015, ‘Critical success factors examined in ISO 9001: 2008-certified Greek companies using multidimensional statistics’, International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 114-131.
Manders, B, de Vries, H J & Blind, K 2016, ‘ISO 9001 and product innovation: a literature review and research framework’, Technovation, vol. 48, pp. 41-55.
Yaya, L H P, Marimon, F & Casadesus, M 2014, ‘The revitalising effect of ISO 9001 on dissatisfied customers’, Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, vol. 25, no. 7-8, pp. 856-864.