Perception can be reality when it comes to manufacturing quality

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Modern manufacturing has come a long way in employing rigorous quality initiatives, but when a defective toy, electronic – or even a baby diaper – does slip past the quality initiatives, the current customer sentiment climate can make the situation go from bad to worse very quickly.

It isn’t easy to get quality right given the explosion of data sources, far-flung global operations and complex supply chains. Add to this the increased velocity of product life cycles, product line extensions and increasingly elevated customer expectations; it is no wonder that quality is once again front and center.

And customer expectations matter, more so than ever. Manufacturers have always endeavored to gain insight and understanding of how customers are using their products and how the products are performing. The difficulty has been gathering sufficient data and making sense of it quickly enough to make a difference. But today’s consumer signals their satisfaction and usage of products in hypervelocity through blogs, Twitter, Facebook and many other social media outlets. Conversely, quality knowledge - whether in manufacturing or marketing or after-market support - is locked up in silos of data and experience that is not accessible, collaborative or timely. The new view of quality has expanded. Quality has always had two sides one could argue: actual quality and perceived quality. Often the latter takes longer to detect and is harder to change so manufacturers concentrate on real quality. Actual or “real” quality is what most manufacturers have focused on using a parade of alphabet soup approaches like TQM, SPC and Lean Six Sigma. However, Toyota’s vaunted TPS system failed to protect them from a more than $5 billion loss due to actual and perceived product quality realities. Famous for its product quality, how could the world’s largest car manufacturer have fallen so quickly? What would have been different if Toyota had a robust perceived quality program built around social media that was as world class as their manufacturing quality system? What if that perceived quality measurement was integrated with their real quality system?

Perceptual quality analyzes customer sentiment by canvassing the social networks with customer “listening posts” to gather and evaluate perceptions of the brand, product or service. It then allows the manufacturer to analyze and define potential drivers of the perceptions and suggest alternatives to address the problem and the perceptions.

What will take organizations into higher elevations of customer satisfaction and market-share growth while continually driving out costs? These five capabilities must be present in a comprehensive approach to customer-driven quality for both real and perceived quality, all of which can be implemented with readily available information technology:

  1. An up-to-the-minute, unified view of all relevant data: structured and unstructured, real and perceived.
  2. A rigorous framework for historical analysis.
  3. Tools for collaborative, proactive analysis and action.
  4. A living archive of collective knowledge.
  5. Availability of knowledge to all stakeholders.

Today’s organizations need a single, integrated version of the truth that spans the organization’s processes – from inputs to outputs, ideally from upstream suppliers to downstream customers. They need a way to not only assess what was, but predict what will be. And they need a way to share these insights across organizational and functional boundaries – and among stakeholders at various levels, such as customers, suppliers, process and product specialists, managers and executives.

At the highest levels, CEOs are realizing that quality is not just a necessary manufacturing program but is, in the end, all about the customer. They must gather, analyze and act on all the intelligence available in a timely, effective, cross-disciplinary way to enter the world of customer-driven quality.

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About Author

Michael Newkirk

Director, Industry Practices, Global Sales Support and Enablement

As Director, SAS Industry Practices, Mike Newkirk’s team is responsible for driving the development of industry-specific strategies, enablement, messaging and positioning of SAS solutions in the Government, Education and Financial Services sectors.

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