Quality counts – and here's how you do it. Getting the measure of customer service

Measuring Business Excellence

ISSN: 1368-3047

Article publication date: 1 September 2004



(2004), "Quality counts – and here's how you do it. Getting the measure of customer service", Measuring Business Excellence, Vol. 8 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/mbe.2004.26708cab.002



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Quality counts – and here's how you do it. Getting the measure of customer service

Quality counts – and here's how you do it. Getting the measure of customer service

Adapted from Silvestro, R. (2001), "Towards a contingency theory of TQM in services – how implementation varies on the basis of volume and variety", International Journal of Quality and Reliability Management, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 254-88. ISSN: 0265-671x.

Four disparate organizations get the TQM treatment

Memories can play strange tricks, and nostalgia often has a way of filtering out the "bad bits" of times gone by. That is why, when people look back at a time when the customer was king and service in shops, on buses, at the cinema or wherever, was much better than it is today, we should accept it as a fond thought rather than fact.

No doubt service in some of the things we did as we went about our daily life were better. But, just because we queue with a loaded shopping trolley at the supermarket check-out these days, rather than watch as a friendly, local shopkeeper picks our requirements off his shelves, and we make small talk about his family or ours, it does not mean the concept of serving the customer well has disappeared into the history books.

Far from it. Many organizations, large and small, are open to persuasion that such a personal thing as service can be monitored, studied, documented – and as a result of all those things, improved – by adopting the science that is known as TQM, total quality management.

Manufacturing organizations have been at it for a long time now, as TQM has, over the years, been improved and honed to assist in manufacturing processes. The undoubted success of TQM, successfully applied, has encouraged many in the service industries to feel that it might equally be of benefit to them.

Avoiding a "not my fault" culture

But people cannot be programmed, controlled and adapted in the way machines can, so it follows that applying TQM in services is a very different challenge, especially bearing in mind the huge variation of services even within the same business. What people can do, however, and manufacturing processes cannot, is understand the concept of what is happening. People can take pride in their work, feel satisfaction at a job well done, have sympathy and empathy with fellow human beings to whom they are providing whatever service it might be. And human beings can, by careful management of quality-control, accept that they themselves are responsible for the satisfaction or otherwise of the customer, and that they will not be allowed to (or even want to) have the opportunity to say "It wasn't my fault".

Being part of a huge organization does not mean you cannot have the same standards of quality and care that the friendly local grocer who knew you and your family used to have. But even if you are fortunate enough to have a workforce to whom this comes naturally, organizations still need to make TQM part of the business's culture – and consequently it has to be applied to, and understood by, everyone from bottom to top within the organization.

How do you know you are doing it right?

How do you know you are getting it right – or wrong? Well, it all has to do with how you measure the TQM as applied to your particular service (and even particular aspects of service within the service). It is a difficult challenge, but, as Rhian Silvestro demonstrates, useful applications can be made to the provision of service, which can in turn have measurements applied to them and from which useful – and diagrammatic – conclusions can be drawn.

There are, however, hazards. He says: "There is a need to reflect on the danger which comes in the wake of adopting any generic model of TQM: the tendency to develop a static and fixed view of TQM principles and management practices which all organizations should strive to implement regardless of their operational context".

Take four totally different organizations: 1. The field service of a manufacturer of electronic equipment in a fast-moving, technology-driven industry, providing installation and maintenance service equipment distributed throughout Europe. 2. A life assurance company selling policies through a network of independent financial advisors, the latter being the direct customers and the policyholders being end customers with little direct contact with the company. 3. The operator of a transport terminus in the private sector, providing terminus facilities and passenger-handling services to transport companies. 4. A large, public-sector distribution service.

A far-reaching study of all four, each of which had implemented TQM for at least four years, considered the volume and variety of services offered in these quite disparate organizations (including variations in volume and variety within each service), and indicated that:

  • implementation of customer orientation, continuous improvement and empowerment was more mature in the professional service and service shops than in the mass services;

  • implementation of elimination of waste and quality measurement was more mature in the service shops and mass services than in the professional service; and

  • facilitative managerial roles were more prevalent in the professional service and service shops than in the mass service, but in other respects implementation of the precept of leadership appeared not to vary on the basis of volume/variety characteristics.

The conclusion being that exploring the contingencies of TQM implementation, based on volume/variety characteristics of service operations, is a fruitful line of inquiry.

Responsibility without control

People are people, and commonsense conclusions have their value in forming strategies. For instance, the people most likely to come face to face with the customer are likely to be the ones most aware of the consequences of good or poor service, and they are the ones who have a vested interest in the quality concepts of the entire organization. It may also be commonsense to instill in all employees a sense of responsibility for the organization's service, even those over which they have no control. Dissatisfied customers tend not to care less about whose fault something is, so having your employees shifting the blame elsewhere (even to where it might belong) is not going to help your service quality.

But how do you apply a commonsense approach to customer satisfaction when the question is: "We want it, but how do we measure it?" TQM – sensibly adopted and adapted – provides some of the answers, and visual tools to help us understand them.

Just like the friendly folk in that corner shop of long ago, today's business leaders put a high value on service and customer satisfaction. A development of separate conceptualizations of TQM in different types or service might just help them out.


This review is based on "Towards a contingency theory of TQM in services – how implementation varies on the basis of volume and variety" by Rhian Silvestro. This academic approach to the application of total quality management techniques to service, rather than manufacturing, organizations draws conclusions from a case-study analysis of the implementation of six core TQM precepts to explore the differences between professional (low volume, customized) services, mass (high volume, standardized) services and service shops (positioned midway on the continua).


The impact of powerful and weak customers on quality assurance systems and quality improvement programmes

Groocock, J., The TQM Magazine (UK), 2000, Vol. 12 No. 6, Start page: 372, No. of pages: 17

Gives personal observations regarding customer influence on suppliers' quality control/assurance systems. Draws form a career in quality management ending with two senior corporate quality positions in multinational firms (ITT and TRW). Differentiates between powerful customers who can exercise control by insisting on a certain quality standard/assurance, e.g. a defense organization, and weak customers, whose only recourse is to change suppliers. Specifies consumers as a subclass of the former who have a monopolistic supplier. Expands on their individual characteristics. Discusses ways a powerful customer can specify what it requires and ensure the supplier conforms. Remarks on quality assurance systems and standards, and expounds on quality improvement programs to achieve better product perception by customers. Discourses on quality costs, outlining such programs at ITT and TRW. Concludes with related commentary on:

  • top management;

  • ISO 9000;

  • comparisons of quality control and quality assurance; and

  • quality supervision by regulators of the UK's National Health Service, Benefits Agency, schools, and industry.

From intangibility to tangibility on service quality perceptions: a comparison study between consumers and service providers in four service industries

Santos, J., Managing Service Quality (UK), 2002, Vol. 12 No. 5, Start page: 292, No. of pages: 11

Delves into the literature on the differences between tangibility and intangibility in the context of services and develops several hypotheses relating to the importance of tangible components of a service to perceptions of service quality; describes a research study to test these involving two stages, the first a telephone survey of consumers' perceptions, the second a survey of those of service providers in universities and airlines (essentially intangible services), motor insurance (adding value to a tangible product) and restaurants (services providing a tangible product). Reveals that the consumers and the providers did not always share the same perceptions of whether the tangible dimensions are important in achievement of service quality, and proposes a theoretical model based on the findings; muses on the implications for service managers who should no longer assume that tangible aspects can be ignored.

The relationship between management's perception of total quality service and customer perceptions of service quality

Sureshchandar, G.S., Rajendran, C. and Anantharaman, R.N., Total Quality Management (UK), January 2002, Vol. 13 No. 1, Start page: 69, No. of pages: 20

Overviews literature studies into relationships between total quality management (TQM) and business performance but notes comparatively little regarding total quality service (TQS) impact on customer-perceived quality. Establishes 12 dimensions to TQS and appends a questionnaire comprising 126 items used to validate these dimensions via management's perception of TQS. Lists five factors critical to customer perceptions of service quality (Sureshchandar et al., 2001) – core service/service product, human element of service delivery, systematization of service delivery, service tangibles, social responsibility – and appends a survey instrument for these. Analyses questionnaires' results from 43 Indian banks. Tables and discusses regression analyses outcomes regarding the customer core factors and the TQS dimensions. Finds that only people-oriented TQS elements are regarded as important. Concludes with thoughts as to why this is, and areas for future research.

Focus on books

Customers are People … the Human Touch

John McKean John Wiley and Sons 2003 313 pages ISBN: 0-470-84889-8 £18.99, hardback

John McKean, the Executive Director of the Center for Information Based Competition, points out that the next era of competition will be based on treating customers as people. In this insightful book he clearly illustrates, with the aid of concrete examples, how to create customer loyalty by humanizing interactions with customers.

The book comprises nine main chapters and a two-page concluding chapter. In chapter 1, John traces "customer evolution" from pre-1980s to 2000 as moving from treating customers as a homogenous group of consumers to customers as human beings in every customer reaction. Also, he very briefly describes the eight major areas on which businesses should focus in implementing this "human touch approach", which are covered in depth in the following eight chapters.

In chapter 2, titled "Leading the human firm", John explains how to select the right people and develop them with care and provide an environment where the employees are empowered with responsibility and authority to fulfill customer needs. He emphasizes, with examples, that satisfying employees' need for acknowledgment, respect and trust, is as important as satisfying the same three human needs of customers, which have to be met to gain and retain customers.

In chapter 3, John explains how to satisfy the needs of customers by acknowledging their existence, their importance, their individuality and their needs and feelings. How to treat customers with respect forms the theme of chapter 4. The importance of honoring people's dignity, time, differences, freedom, and personal space is briefly explained. Also emphasized is the need for consistency in showing this respect without any discrimination based on sex, social standing, the way customers behave, or their immediate importance to the business.

Chapter 5 deals with the importance of building trust with customers, which forms the foundation of every purchase by every customer. John explains that building customer trust involves delivering the best product/service at a fair price and interacting with the customer as a human being. According to John, being honest about the pricing strategy, being ethical, and even sending customers to ones competitors (who is better suited to meet customer's needs) can all help in building a customer's trust.

How to communicate humanly with customers forms the topic of chapter 6. It is pointed out that listening is one of the weak points of most businesses in communicating the knowledge of acknowledgement, respect and trust. Some insights into the art of listening are given followed by a brief explanation of the art of effectively sending messages, both verbal (voice and intonation) and nonverbal (smile and body positioning). The importance of designing proper physical spaces and machine interfaces are also covered.

Chapter 7 on human touch is based on the ongoing work of Ray Kordupleski (2003) and the "customer value added" (CVA) approach adopted at Suncorp, an Australian bank/insurance company. In this chapter, it is explained how a customer views a business as a series of nine cascading interactions. The three steps involved in implementing a CVA approach, viz. choosing the right value proposition, managing its delivery, and successfully communicating it to the customers, are dealt with in some detail. Nine distinct human action attributes that aid customer acknowledgment, respecting customers and building their trust are covered. It is emphasized that merely being good at human touch has little impact and that the customers must rate the interaction ability as excellent.

How Ritz-Carlton hotel has successfully implemented human touch as a customer caring process by defining and measuring the soft aspects of caring and incorporating continuous improving processes is dealt with in detail. It is pointed out that the foundation for their success is the careful selection of staff, training and empowering them, and respecting them as individuals. A number of graphs and tables are included to illustrate the statistics collected by Ritz-Carlton, which were included in their application to the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award.

In chapter 9, four basic approaches for the application of technology to humanize (not dehumanize) interactions with customers are dealt with. The first two areas to focus on are gaining real-time modeling capability to creating to enable acknowledging customers; and applying technology to free employees from routine tasks so that they can focus on human elements of interaction. The other two areas to focus on are applying technology to simplify the customer's life and increase the choices of how and when to interact with the organization.

The book clearly illustrates why some customer relations management do not succeed, and how acknowledging, respecting and creating trust can transform customers who may shop around to become loyal customers.

K. Narasimhan

Learning and Teaching Fellow, Bolton Institute, UK

Fundamental concepts of quality improvement

Hartman, M.G. (Ed.) American Society for Quality 2002 ISBN: 0873895258 $40.00 Book

Collects together 27 previously published articles on the subject of quality from Quality Progress and the American Society for Quality's Annual Quality Congress and Annual Quality Audit conference. Deals with quality basics, teams, continuous improvement and integrated case studies in quality improvement applications. Contains some articles which are very basic and not useful but others are interesting. Targets anyone who is in the process of creating or maintaining the improvement process within his or her organization.

Reference: MBR/28/743

Quality Progress (USA), July 2002

Service quality management in hospitality, tourism and leisure

Kandampully, J., Mok, C. and Sparks, B. (Eds) Hayworth Hospitality Press 2002 ISBN: 0789007266 £58.29 Book

Examines nascent understanding, approaches and strategies pertinent to the management of service quality in hospitality, tourism and leisure organizations. Discusses such topics as the role of the service encounter, the relationship between service quality and customer satisfaction, the quality context in the UK, service quality monitoring and feedback systems, managing service failure, empowerment and its effect on service quality, managing and marketing internal relationships, cross-cultural issues, and the impact of technology on service quality. Contains some duplication among authors and chapters, but overall, this is a very worthwhile publication from both the academic and the professional perspectives: whereas its in-depth coverage of the topic will appeal to academicians, the book's practical applicability to the tourism, hospitality and leisure areas will entice practitioners. Presents some interesting new ideas and views on managing service quality, and should be on the bookshelves of instructors, graduate students and managers in the field.

Reference: MBR/28/794

Journal of Travel Research (USA), August 2002, Vol. 41


First International Conference on Six Sigma (16-17 December 2004)

Conference theme: Optimizing your bottom line savings through six sigma


Organized by: Caledonian Business School, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

This conference is aimed at both the academic and industrial community to envisage what the future holds for six sigma as a business improvement strategy. This conference is not only intended for those who are in the journey of achieving and sustaining significant financial savings to the bottom-line using six sigma, but also equally applicable to those organizations who would like to embark on this journey towards best-in-class management practice. The keynote speakers and workshop leaders of this international event are pioneers and leading practitioners of both six sigma and lean production strategies.

Please direct all queries to the Conference Chairman:

Dr Jiju Antony Division of Management Caledonian Business School Glasgow Caledonian University Glasgow, G4 0BA Scotland, UK Tel: 0141 331 8475 Fax: 0141 331 8496 E-mail: j.antony@gcal.ac.uk

Focus on the Web



Electronic publisher The OutsourcingCenter's ever-expanding suite of resources corresponds directly with the expansion and growth of outsourcing culture. OutsourcingBenchmarking.com is another in the publisher's list that is almost replete in its coverage of outsourced business practice. Stresses that, to outsource effectively, you must benchmark current practices first – knowledge of strengths and weaknesses of its own company assists the organization to develop a successful relationship with an outsourcer. Takes visitors through the reasons for outsourcing and how and why benchmarking the existing business is so crucial before going outside. Provides assistance on what to benchmark, tools and tips, and the benefits yielded. Invites visitors to join a discussion group to share benchmarking knowledge and scenarios, check out prospective outsourcers and get answers to benchmarking FAQs. With all information accessible from the home page, navigation is a breeze.



The QPR proprietary site promotes its wide range of software products, all of which are targeted toward performance and quality management. QPR's products can be tailored to performance measurement efforts that include balanced scorecard, six sigma, activity-based costing, the management of quality compliant to ISO standards, and even the measurement of corporate intellectual capital. Visitors can sign up for free online trial of QPR software products and download free evaluation versions. The site is not restricted to the promotion of these software products, however, and also includes free access to white papers and case studies on some of the performance measurement methods that it advocates. A generally useful tool for getting acquainted with performance measurement techniques.

The Quality Management Principle Site


This site developed by Krister Forsberg provides a clear and concise definition of the principles of quality management, the ISO 9000 family of international quality standards and states how to apply the principles to existing management practices. This well designed site also incorporates a "forum" discussion area and encourages participation and discussion of quality issues.

Quality Management Links Collection


Access to a large collection of quality information including some great online texts. Pages do contain a large amount of graphics so if you accessing over a slow connection, things may take a while to download. The pages contain some great pointers to begin some research. This site is one for the bookmarks file.

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