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Quality service a cultural must

QUALITY has been a central part of organisational strategy for many years, dating back at least to Deming’s work in Japan after the Second World War and is a central construct in a long-term research program being undertaken at the University of Western Australian by Jill Sweeney and Geoff Soutar.

Ideas about total quality management (TQM) and quality assurance (QA) have been well developed over the past 40 years and are a central part of many organisations’ operations.

Recently, however, service organisations, have realised that quality is also an essential ingredient to their success.

Service organisations need to recognise the essential role of their “front line troops”, ensuring they have the capacity (ability and motivations) and the support systems support to carry out their work roles.

While service organisations have recognised they need to improve quality and some have introduced service quality programs, research suggests that service quality is still seen as a major problem by most consumers. There seem to be several reasons why quality continues to be such a problem.

Senior managers can have a short run view of business. Quality programmes cost money in the short term and this is a major problem when budgets are tight or when such programs require a redistribution of resources. However, as many people have pointed out, in the long term, “quality does not cost - a lack of quality does”.

Organisations tend to offer too many services. With a limited budget this often means nothing within the organisation is done “excellently”. Systems need to be instituted to remove unnecessary operations.

Reasonable status is not given to “front line troops”.

Support systems are inadequate, in which case even motivated staff cannot do their job effectively.

There is an “it’s not my job” syndrome within many organisations, which mean people try to avoid helping instead of providing appropriate support. Often this requires a major culture change, which can only come from the most senior managers in the organisation.

There is a “the customer is a nuisance” attitude (This would be a great job if it wasn’t for the customers!). Such attitudes are hard to change but success can be achieved when the central role of the customer is brought home to staff and when there are ongoing assessments of customer satisfaction that reinforce their importance to organisational effectiveness and individual performance and reward.

A small part of what the research program has found is that quality plays a significant role even in service organisations and that, for the reasons outlined, service quality is integrally tied an organisation’s internal service culture.

Businesses need to understand that external relationships are unlikely to work if their internal cultures are not supportive or if their systems are not well enough developed. Organisations that do not understand these lessons are likely to be less effective, at least in the long term, and the loyalty of their customers is likely to be reduced.

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