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Quality is regarded as a very important part of life today, which has become necessary for businesses to compete effectively in the market (Dhillon, 2005, p.123). Generally, product quality directly affects consumer loyalty and company profitability (Mital, et al. 2008, p.78).
The concept is both vital in both manufacturing and service sectors, and has continuously played an important role in providing assurance to the safety of customers (Sower 2010, p.3). In addition, quality of a product or service has often being defined as ‘fitness for purpose’ (Chitale and Gupta 2007, p.332).
This definition provides the impression that, for any industry or enterprise to be successful and accomplish its set goals effectively it has to possess the ability to supply products of excellent quality at minimal cost and also at minimum waiting time for the customer.
Khanna sees quality as “the totality of features of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy the customer’s stated or implied needs” (Khanna, 2007, p.64). The author further believes that quality has the sole responsibility of providing satisfaction to both actual and perceived needs.
Upon the inception of the concept of quality, the concern in many industries rested on checking raw materials before production and finished goods after production in order to attain quality objectives (Chitale and Gupta, 2007, p.332).
But today, quality has become important to both the customer and the supplier whereby if a product is largely inadequate, it usually incurs additional costs for inspection, testing, scrap, rework and the handling of numerous complaints and this often heap many claims on the part of the supplier.
Further, on the part of service industries, errors, checking enquiries and complaint handling always lead to loss of efficiency and productivity, thus affecting the repeat sales and future markets. Therefore, quality has become a vital element in industries and it has to be ensured in all key areas of marketing, design, purchasing, production or operation and distribution.
Quality of design
Most industries adopt different product design strategies where the ultimate goal becomes that of satisfying the customers. But it becomes necessary that the design of a product or service should integrate the features and attributes that provide satisfaction to the customer needs. Design quality essentially gives value to a product in the market place and hence graduates to be regarded as an important strategic issue (Khanna, 2007, p.65).
With regards to this, the most vital feature of the design in relation to quality is the specification which, in general terms, describes the product in a more comprehensive manner of all the aspects that are required to give full satisfaction to the customer’s needs. Therefore, specification becomes the benchmark upon which the maximum tolerable variations that can be accepted from the particular attribute (Khanna, 2007).
Design quality has numerous dimensions that are employed in understanding the concept of product and service better:
- Performance, performance in this case constitute the basic operating characteristics of a product where the customers have the opportunity to evaluate the quality of a product by making comparison between the performance of the product or service with another similar products which are available in the market and given by the competitors (Khanna, 2007);
- Features, these vital elements constitute secondary characteristics which supplement the primary characteristics as outlined under performance. These characteristics often influence the perception held by the consumer concerning quality;
- Reliability, reliability in Product and service design refers to the probability of a product failing within a specified period of time. Many customers have come to show preferences to products with high reliability as compared to the products with low reliability and this particular phenomenon is always exhibited to products and services of high value;
- Durability, durability in this case is used to indicate the operational life of a product whereby some particular products are prone to complete failure after some period of time and hence have to be replaced fully while others may experience partial failure and therefore restored to their original performance through repairs (Khanna, 2007);
- Serviceability, serviceability is an indicator that shows the easiness with which a product can be repaired upon experiencing failure and from this if a product has the ability to be repaired easily and speedily, the availability of the product improves while at the same time leading to reduction in repair costs.
On the other hand, the dimensions of quality for a service are somehow different from those of a product whereby the service quality is evaluated with regard to time taken to make the service available and also the manner in which there is the interaction between the service provider and the customer. In this case therefore, the dimensions of service quality will largely include:
- Timeliness, which is the assurance that the service will be available at the appropriate and desired time;
- Completeness, which generally indicated the degree to which the customer is provided with almost everything he or she asks for;
- Courtesy, which largely measures how customers are treated by the service employees;
- Consistency, whereby it becomes necessary to provide the same level of service to each customer each time;
- Accessibility and convenience – this particular aspect refers to the ease with which a service can be made available; and lastly
- Accuracy, which is the correctness with which the service is able to be provided (Khanna, 2007).
The role of quality in product and service design
The key to success in business lies in establishing what the consumers need and, in cost effective way, providing the products and services that give satisfaction and happiness to them (Jackson and Frigon, 1998, p.20). Products and services usually get description basing on attributes with regards to performance but at the same time, customers will frequently review the quality of a product or service in terms of their reaction to their experience with the particular product or service.
From this, it becomes vital for the business to participate in a thorough evaluation of presales, sales, delivery operation and post sales with the view of defining the appropriate product or service (Jackson and Frigon 1998, p.20). Moreover, data collected concerning the products and services provided a particular business which largely reflects the customer and the marketplace operation is refereed to us, the Voice of the Customer (VOC).
Today, businesses are pressure to ‘listen’ to the Voice of the Customer which enables the particular business to learn the attributes of the entire customer experience in accordance to the products or services consumed by the customer. From these data, the business is able to determine what needs to be done in order to achieve customer satisfaction and essentially in most instances customer satisfaction is achieved through combining elements of performance, schedule and price (Quality, Schedule and Cost).
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The attributes that add to customer satisfaction are always categorized into four types; expectors, spoken, unspoken and exciters (Jackson and Frigon 1998, p.21).
Expectors are attributes which customers regard less important but if they are omitted they result into customer dissatisfaction, spoken characteristics are the ones the customer species and always appear in written descriptions expressing quality elements that the customer would prefer, on the other hand the unspoken characteristics have same importance as the spoken characteristics but largely constitute those elements that the customer forgot about, did not know about or did not want to talk about, the last type of characteristics are those that excite customers and customers rarely talk about them and also rarely thing about them but will be talked possibly in vague terms by the customer and they will largely be satisfiers and not dissatisfiers (Jackson and Frigon 1998, p.21).
Role of quality in product design is essential in that it should reflect on the specific customer needs (Evans 2007, p.123). Customer expectations need to be identified correctly with no misinterpretation for the final product to be regarded as of high quality (Evans 2007, p.123).
The importance of systematic processes to design has been attached to product improvements and also the processes that establish them. Customer needs should be identified and used for the purposes of product planning.
For majority of firms’ product design has been regarded as a key value creation process and therefore there is need for firms to have efficient processes that can be used to translate customer needs into product requirements through the processes of selecting key process performance elements considering customer needs, addressing quality needs early in the process of design, coordinating and integrating designs with production and delivery systems.
Techniques used to measure quality
ISO 9000 Standard provided a comprehensive definition of quality by stating that quality is essentially concerned by the customers’ needs and the ability to satisfy them in the most efficient ways (Mishra 2009, p.237; Webber and Wallace 2007). Customers are regarded to have the capability to evaluate whether a product meets the specifications that have been outlined and from this, quality is concerning with fulfilling the needs of the customer.
In most cases there has been the existence of two main principal approaches that have been utilized with aim of ensuring that products and services fulfill the needs of the customer (Mishra 2009, p.237). The approaches generally used are, quality control and quality assurance. Quality control constitutes techniques that are employed in identifying products that falls short of the required specification (Mishra 2009, p.237).
The technique usually carry out inspections after the production of the product has been done and at the same time, the technique can result in very high costs as huge resources would have been used to bring about the products that do not meet the required specifications.
In eliminating or reducing on the high costs of the quality control technique, a second approach in measuring quality is adopted. The technique is known as quality assurance whereby the technique pays attention to the processes that give rise to the product and not on the product itself (Mishra 2009).
The interest on the processes that give rise to the product ensures that only products and services that fulfill customer needs are created and the approach aims to get rid of the underlying weaknesses in the process that may lead to defective products and services.
These descriptions give the picture of quality assurance as largely interested in prevention and not remedial actions especially after the defects have occurred (Mishra 2009). In achieving the goals of quality assurance, it is necessary that the needs of the customer are adequately understood and an effective and reliable quality system designed.
Integrating Quality Function Deployment approach (QFD)
Quality Function Deployment (QFD) provides a method for listening to the Voice of the Customer and providing adequate answers to it. QFD aims at maximizing customer satisfaction and eliminating dissatisfaction (Bolt and Mazur 1999). The methodology has been accepted by many countries in developing products and services by enhancing ability to give answers to the Voice of the Customer and in cost effective way, providing the desired products and services on time, every time.
Major firms have reported that using QFD has enabled them to put reduction to the product development cycle time by almost 75 per cent while at the same time realizing positive improvement in customer satisfaction (Jackson and Frigon 1998, p.33).
Hence, using QFD has become advantageous for firms especially for competitive reasons, profit realization and growth of wealth; furthermore, QFD has graduated as a method for listening to customers, thereby optimizing design, materials and processes with aim of ensuring customers expectations are fully satisfied and quality becomes to be evaluated on the basis of the customer’s satisfaction with a particular product or service.
To this end implementing QFD will requires resources of the Voice of the Customer in all functional areas of research and development, engineering, sales and marketing, purchasing, quality operations, manufacturing, packaging and after-market support and this sequence ensures the specific firm operates collaboratively in support of designing, developing, producing and servicing its products and services.
The modern world of doing business is becoming challenging in terms of competition while customers, who are consumers of most products and services, are becoming more educated and informed. Customers are having unchallenged desire to have the best possible ‘bargain’ for the money and time they invest in obtaining particular products and services.
These desires and other vital factors have exerted pressure on firms to adopt effective approaches that are intended to ensure quality management for their products and services. In addition, firms are vigorously participating in producing products and services that are of good quality that provide satisfaction to the consumers.
Moreover, consumers’ preferences therefore are going to dictate the quality standards of most firms in terms of producing the required products and services and hence for the firms to remain competitive and realize growth, they need to embrace efficient and effective quality management techniques and approaches in their product and service design.
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