Looking back at my piece on ServQual, and gap 5 in particular, we might try to equate satisfaction with quality and could conclude that “quality” is as much, or even more, in the selling as in the performance. In other words “Quality isn’t what you do, it’s what customers think you do.”There is a saying, well known in some circles that goes “happiness is wanting what you get, not getting what you want.”
There are many definitions of “quality” but, after many years of debate and argument, we still don’t have one we can all agree on. The one that I like best, the one that seems most appropriate most of the time is “meeting the specification”. It’s the shortest and seems to be the easiest to understand – but that is misleading, for it begs the question of “what is the specification?” And defining the specification is no easy task. Some believe that should be ISO9001 – meet that and you achieve “quality”. Rubbish! Meeting ISO9001 is no indicator of quality beyond some vague measure of an organisation’s management system. Nor is the specification something written down in another ISO, BS, ANSI, etc. specification – nor, necessarily totally what is written in a lengthy customer contract specification.
The specification has to be the sum total of what the recipients (customer, end-users and other direct beneficiaries) expect and need. We could shorten the list to say just “stakeholders” but we can sometimes forget people by using a too wide ranging collective – or end up losing focus. For example, we include employees, company investors and others in a “stakeholder” grouping, and they certainly have an interest in quality, but that makes a difficult task impossible by bringing in contradictory needs.
Quality must focus on what the recipient is expecting and satisfaction will only come when we deliver what is expected, bearing in mind that the customer may not always be able to clearly define what that is. Whilst, contractually, we can largely limit our responsibility to meeting the explicitly declared requirements (I say “largely” because there will be legal requirements to be met that may not be explicitly defined in the customer:supplier communication) we cannot hide behind that when it comes to satisfaction. A customer will rarely be satisfied if what is delivered meets what was asked for but doesn’t actually meet the need; the fact that it was the customer’s mistake or misunderstanding may discharge contractual obligations but it’s unlikely to lead to satisfaction.
Realising this doesn’t make the task easier – but it makes us more likely to succeed.