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Many companies are putting more emphasis to product and service quality and customer satisfaction for various reasons, ranging from increased competition to deregulation (Ostrom and Grayson, 1995).
The new millennium dictates that corporations and organizations will be involved much more in searching new tools, techniques and strategic paradigms in order to meet and, where possible, exceed the ever-increasing customer expectations (Motwani and Sower, 2006).
The modern customers are not just satisfied with the low-cost products and services being offered in the market but also they are demanding high quality products and services, high variety products and also fast delivery of the products, all at the lowest possible cost (Motwani and Sower, 2006). In essence, these requirements will conflict since each one shows the potential to drain resources at the expense of the other.
As a result, there has been a dire need to develop optimizing tools that can be used in providing guidance as far as planning and budgeting process in an organization is concerned with aim to satisfy the numerous and varying needs of the customers (Motwani and Sower, 2006).
Quality is a concept gaining a lot of attention in many organizations, for instance, Lacobucci, Ostrom and Grayson (1995) note that customer needs and expectations drive the improvement of new modified products and services to the market.
In addition, emphasis on customer has become so critical to concept of quality management due to the fact that the customer remains at central position in shaping the level of quality to be delivered (Jablonski, 1992).
When the improvements undertaken fail to identify customer satisfaction and needs, they largely fail to qualify the test of quality, and such quality can be seen as to start and finish the role of ensuring customer’s needs are satisfied.
Purpose of this study
Quality is a concept that modern companies and organization cannot assume or bypass. New millennium market battle grounds are being fought using quality to leverage the market competitive advantage.
Companies with better quality products and services are more confident navigating the murky waters of market competition. Therefore, as a way of improving and enhancing the concept of quality it is necessary to identify, analyze and evaluate some of the quality management techniques being used by many companies today.
As it is well known, there exists many quality measure techniques but it is the uniqueness of benchmarking and voice of market and customer that is drawing much attention of modern managers and other professionals. Hence, the aim of this paper will be to identify, analyze, and evaluate how quality can be achieved through these key quality techniques: benchmarking and understanding of the voice of market and the voice of customers.
Sukhija (2009) writes that it is a complex process to get customers to define what they want so that companies can effectively adhere to their demands and needs.
Further, the author postulates that when companies engage in the process of defining quality to the customers, there are numerous mistakes likely to be incurred and hence the author poses a question, how companies can avoid the common mistakes of defining quality for the customer (Sukhija, 2009).
The issue of quality and the various questions associated with the concept may appear ambiguous but their ambiguity has to be solved if business entities want to survive in the market, hence much emphasis has been paid to the solution techniques that have been employed in finding answers to these questions.
Moreover, the process of designing solution techniques has resulted into quality management techniques or tools. primarily, Raman Sukhija notes that when concerted efforts are employed to define quality, the aim is largely centered on key question of, “what do customers like about the company’s present or future products or services” (Sukhija, 2009, p.6).
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Quality management is what characterizes many companies and other organizations today, where senior management in many companies are establishing and adopting quality management frameworks geared towards improved performance, and as such, key principles guide quality management process.
These principles are: customer focus, leadership, involvement of people, process approach, system approach to management, continual improvement, factual approach to decision making and mutually beneficial supplier relationships (Sukhija, 2009, p.12).
Each of these principles has the ability to influence and direct quality management in a company differently but in an interdependence relationship. The basic idea of quality management is that there should be definition of good standards, then a concerted effort to meet those standards through quality management processes.
Some of the quality management processes and techniques that have been widely used to identify and modify quality of products and services in a company include: benchmarking and understanding the voice of the market and the voice of customers.
Since quality is concerned with fulfilling customer needs and wants through improvement and provision of superior value, it is always necessary to understand those needs clearly; therefore, customer voice refers to the customer’s needs both in intrinsic and extrinsic nature (Crow, 2002, p.1).
To capture consumer voice, various methods are used that include “direct discussion or interviews, surveys, focus groups, customer specifications, observation, warranty data, field reports and many more” (Crow, 2002, p.1).
On the other hand, benchmarking in terms of quality has generally involved planned efforts to make comparison of the company to the others in the field, examining how they have been able to achieve their quality objectives and goals (Griffin, 2006).
As such, benchmarking is evolving as a technique whose usefulness is steadily growing in terms of identifying and analyzing improvements, which can be undertaken in an organization, and in the process improve quality.
Lastly, understanding the voice of the market is implicated in the voice of the consumer whereby when the customers’ needs are identified it becomes possible to know and supply the market with the necessary products or services.
Erick Reidenbach observes that the voice of market in defining quality provides somehow guesswork, but more importantly is the fact that it is essential in creating a roadmap that is useful in directing major initiatives of a company in order to realize the best in market as far as quality is concerned.
The author continues to state that in order to realize successful quality initiatives, there needs to be a clear understanding of what quality is (Reidenbach, n.d, p.1). For instance, the author believes that people are the ones who possess the ability to know what quality is, since they are the ones who make judgments about quality before deciding to make purchasing decisions.
In this way, people rely on the forces of the market hence being able to listen to the voice of the market. Voice of the market starts with identification of a key process known as critical to quality elements (CTQs).
As a first step, CTQs starts by discovering a product and the subsequent and potential markets the company seems to be targeting, and according to the philosophy of the concept, “the better the focus, the clearer the understanding of how that product or market defines quality” (Reidenbach, n.d, p.1).
When products are poorly defined, there will be overall poor results in CTQs that demonstrates potentiability of being less actionable, and as a consequence, the information becomes unworkable (Reidenbach, n.d, p.1).
When the above procedure is completed, it becomes the role of the organization to organize focus groups of consumers who are drawn from the targets, and the main aim with this activity is to find out how consumers define quality and value.
One key aspect not to forget here is that when constituting the focus groups the company should not discriminate on those of its competitors and the end objective should be to generate a set of performance criteria that constitutes an overall quality construct (Reidenbach, n.d, p.1).
Upon fulfilling the above process, the company should proceed and construct questionnaire that should be presented to the current and likely buyers from the target markets, while the buyers should also be drawn from the competitors.
The aim here should be to instruct the respondents to rate the performance of their suppliers on the provided scale (Reidenbach, n.d, p.1). After this process, the result should be subjected to factor analysis to identify the numerous set of attributes through placing them into smaller factors also known as latent dimension.
Mohamed Zairi identifies quality function deployment (QFD) as a new and fast spreading technique used to bring the voice of the customer into decision making process of any given company (Zairi, 1994).
QFD has been defined as, “a technique that can improve the process of developing and producing products” (Zairi, 1994, p.44). At the same time, the technique has been defined as a way or method of designing and optimizing the entire process of developing new products with a lot of focus on customer needs.
The author further notes that QFD has the ability to accelerate business delivery process through transparency and functions through the various pierces by dismantling the existing barriers and making sure that all the functions are aligned, and all of them are in a good position to work and deliver customer wants.
QFD works by following key processes where the initial point is to understand the customer requirements, a phase that will later constitute design requirements. After this, the process is enhanced by converting the technical specifications into proper elements with major objective being to create an end product that is capable of performing to the customer requirements (Zairi, 1994).
The third step of QFD is making decision by determining how the expected design of the product or service can be changed in order to benefit the end customer. The last step of QFD is where there is planning and scheduling of the various operational activities. In essence, the entire process of QFD is categorized into four phases: “product or service planning, design, process planning and operational activities” (Zairi, 1994, p.44).
Quality has further been associated with benchmarking where it is seen as a modern activity which at the same time is a continuous process. Defining benchmarking, Zairi (1994, p.61) states that it is,” the search for the best industry practices that will lead to superior performance”.
In essence, benchmarking constitutes the ability to change the minds of the people while at the same time instill in them a permanent inquisitiveness and a constant inquiry about methods of work, process management and control and the application of knowledge of ingenuity.
Zairi, identifies four types of benchmarking: internal benchmarking, whereby there is comparison of internal operations between two or more sister companies; competitive benchmarking, which involves comparing the company to other competitor companies using particular product or function of interest; functional benchmarking, whereby a comparison between similar functions within the same company is carried out; and lastly, generic benchmarking, which constitute a process of establishing comparison of the company functions or procedures which appear to be more similar (Zairi, 1994).
On how to detect the voice of the customer in quality issues, Webber and Wallace (2007) observe that if customers were to leave the organization, then the organization would subsequently stop to function.
As a prerequisite, companies and corporations are required to meet their customers’ needs and expectations, and the ability to identify customers’ likes and dislikes helps the company to continue to provide the necessary product or service to the customer and in the process ensure the company survives (Webber and Wallace, 2007).
The author discovers that in quality control issues, companies need to dynamically seek the voice of the customers since such efforts will provide numerous benefits to the company.
Such benefits may include: a company showing its customers it cares as far as their needs are concerned, it provides useful intelligence reports on the competitors of the company, informs customers about the company’s new products and services that customers were not aware of, reinforce the importance of the voice of the customer to the company’s employees and makes the company’s employees have a feeling that the company is actively involved in meeting their needs (Webber and Wallace, 2007).
Findings and analysis
As the literature has explored the concepts of benchmarking, customer voice, and market voice, the concentration has largely been in exploring the concepts with no such efforts to analyze the concepts deeper and their linkage to quality. Little information exist as to what constitutes ways of listening to the voices of consumer and market, how can benchmarking be carried out to generative productive results.
Therefore, this section will explore key identified issues and how they can be utilized to improve quality. First, with regard to customer voice, listening to customers enables an organization to identify key areas to conduct quality control; the basic question is how can listening to customers be promoted?
When a company is involved in listening to the voices of customers, the key aim is to generate critical marketing and sales information, customer engagement data, product market performance and complaint data.
To have this information, the company may use surveys, formal and informal feedback, customer account histories, complaints, fields’ reports, win/loss analysis, customer referral rates, and transaction completion rates (Blazey, 2009).
The generated information can help the company to enhance its quality control measures since the organization is able to gain knowledge on its current and future customers and markets.
When future customers and markets are known the company embarks on a process of producing quality products and services. Further, the company is able to analyze and gain knowledge on the emerging customer requirements; needs and expectations, hence keep pace with changing market demands and changing business methods.
Further, voice of the customer and voice of the market information need to be analyzed by a powerful tool for concrete and dependable results to be realized. Identified tool for the synthesis of this information is the Pugh Matrix (George, 2003).
The tool works in a way whereby, information from customer and market voices is weighed on criteria using the Analytical Hierarchy Process. In such way, the company is able to determine the strengths and weaknesses and appropriately work on strengths.
Quality Function Deployment (QFD) is another tool used by companies for purposes of quality. The technique described to be a structured way of defining the needs and wants of consumers and later changing them into particular set plans in order to generate specific products to fulfill the customers’ needs (Crow, 2002).
QFD has been regarded as one of the best communication tool but the problem has emanated from the fact that most companies have utilized the technique as an end instead of using it as a means. As such, Crow observes that the real value of QFD is when the technique is regarded as a process used to communicate and make decisions (Crow, 2002).
In this way, QFD should not operate in isolation but need to utilize knowledge and experience from a team of people from other fields who are involved in developing products. These people may be from the fields of: “marketing, design engineering, quality assurance, manufacturing and manufacturing engineering, test engineering, finance, product support, and many more” (Crow, 2002, p.1).
From literature review, it was evident that benchmarking as a tool used to realize improvements in organizations was widely being used, but to most organizations, much emphasis had been put on internal benchmarking with little emphasis on competitive benchmarking. Benchmarking aims to identify the existence of gaps and suggest the ways of filling the gaps.
Competitive benchmarking is necessary in the modern business world; and as competition continues to intensify, the consumer population continues to undergo changes. Competitive benchmarking is what will shed light on how the company can go about the issue of quality by using first hand information collected from customers and competitors.
Further, effective benchmark tools will provide an organization with accurate information as far as matters of quality are concerned.
To ensure accuracy of data and information, benchmarking tools have to pass the same test where standardization of the tools is critical where the company should have standard definitions for the various events, the standard protocol for collecting data, which should include how and when, and lastly, a defined set of procedures for carrying out monitoring and evaluation.
Management team at Select Knowledge Company notes that in order to improve the usefulness of the application of benchmarking tools in the various processes of the company, there is need for a systematic approach where the company’s result needs to be compared against its major competitors.
After the comparison has been done, there should be an analysis of the results and a comparison of processes that lead to improvement of quality (Select Knowledge Company, n.d).
Further, the management team advices that before a company can initiate a benchmarking exercise, it is always important to collect as much intelligence in advance as possible since it is through such initiative that due consideration will be given to all the relevant facts
Modern business performance has come to be directed by the customer’s perspective, which in turn continues to dictate the designing, production, storage, transportation, and distribution of products and services. Customers have their own image of what the business products or services should be and as a result, most customers have become sensitive to the issue of time, quality, service, and cost of products and services.
Quality is the specific element turning out to outdo the others. Today, despite greater concentration on producing low-cost products and services, companies have been forced to accelerate the quality standards of their products and services. Earlier, quality decisions in most companies were an internal generated decision where less involvement of the customers was seen.
This kind of decisions as time would show ended up failing since many errors were committed by the companies’ management. In other worlds, companies generated wrong decision about the market.
Faced with such instances, companies had to discover the importance of generating information from the external environment, where it meant that market, customers and competitors were to be the key sources for company information.
The process of retrieving and analyzing information from these sources could not be done with the usual techniques that existed but rather needed more advanced techniques if useful and accurate information was to be generated.
Much of the collected information largely became vital in company improvement decisions specifically the issue to do with quality. As such, quality techniques such as benchmarking and listening to Market Voice and Customer Voice became key tools in generating information and data that could be used to improve quality of products and services.
These techniques have provided many companies with the opportunity to analyze the market, the customers and also the competitors. The techniques are not static but rather dynamic where they are under constant improvement with regard to changing competition and operation management.
What is necessary is that when using the techniques to investigate and access quality information and data, it is always necessary to follow due procedures and ensure the accuracy of information is guaranteed.
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