What sets you apart from your competition? Chances are, one key differentiator is the quality of your products or services. Even in an era where quality is supposedly a "given," your customers nonetheless value your offerings because of their consistently high quality. They have attained that special status of "repeat customer," knowing they can depend on you to provide only the best for their money.
But even great companies experience low points from time to time. Or—if you're engaged in a start-up or other early-phase business—quality can sometimes be an issue. If so, taking key action steps can correct the problem and help solidify your reputation and high-standing in the marketplace. Such action steps include:
1. Document how things get done. For many small businesses, growth occurs organically and the business owner doesn't ever get around to documenting essential processes. But the more customers you take on, the more important it is to ensure things are done right, every time, and that's only possible if there's a standardized, documented path to production and distribution. This is even more urgent if your business is subject to any sort of state or federal oversight (like OSHA).
2. Incorporate testing at the start of the process, not at the end. Discovering a quality issue at the end of the manufacturing (or customer service) process is often too costly or damaging for an easy fix. That’s why iterative testing is so important. Problems that arise at any stage of the testing cycle should be addressed as soon as possible. By immediately resolving issues related to either quality or a defect in production, you can save significant time and resources over the long run.
3. Correct quality control issues without casting blame. Sometimes, in the course of doing his or her job, an employee is first to spot a quality issue within the organization. Unfortunately, there are times when a company is reluctant to acknowledge the issue, whether due to constraints involving time or resources and instead chooses to "blame the messenger."
To better ensure quality, the opposite approach is preferable. "Companies are all too often surprised when they routinely chastise people who raise quality concerns and then find that people hide these issues," note management consultants Doug and Polly White. The key is rewarding employees "who identify quality issues, don't punish them."
4. Train employees to focus on quality from day one. Not all employees understand their individual role in ensuring the quality of your products or services. But they're often the ones best positioned to pinpoint quality issues or other shortcomings in various systems—if they've been trained (and empowered) to prioritize and identify those issues.
A focus on quality can be incorporated into employee training from their first days on the job. Look for ways to share details of the history of your business, emphasizing how valuable it's been for employees to determine where shortcomings or obstacles have undermined product (or service) quality. Make sure your employees, both veterans and new hires, understand how attention to detail in their daily jobs has a direct impact on the company's overall success.
5. Look to your customers for feedback and insights. Quality-conscious businesses actively solicit feedback from their customers. Whether through surveys, focus groups or personal interaction, check in with your valued customers and ask them to describe the quality and consistency of their experience with your business. If problems seem to repeatedly crop up, it's safe to say there's an issue with quality that should be addressed and resolved ASAP.
As small business coach Melinda Emerson says, "Consistency and quality walk hand-in-hand. Without consistency, quality doesn't matter because your customers won't know what to expect."
Want more advice on boosting quality or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!