For the nth time, one of the elevators broke down. The three (3) elevators at the office building had just been rehabilitated. But a few weeks after the elevator contractor’s technicians packed up their tools and left, the elevators had begun to show problems.
The elevator contractor who did the rehab arrived every time to fix the elevators. He did so again for this latest one. But something had to be done. The breakdowns were too frequent. Worse, a passenger got trapped in this latest incident. The lady had to wait more than an hour to be rescued. This was getting out of hand.
A day before, the building administrator reported that the contractor pointed to worn out parts in the elevators which were causing the breakdowns. Wait a minute, I said, the elevators were just rehabilitated. Weren’t all parts replaced?
It turns out, no, not all were replaced. The elevator contractor replaced only parts that they assessed were in need to be changed. They didn’t change all of them. Why, I asked, didn’t they change all the parts? Was that not the point of the rehabilitation? The Board of Trustees of the office building, I said, had resolved to have the elevators overhauled such that they would come out like brand new. The Board, I added, also resolved to support the rehabilitation with a hefty budget. Quality would trump cost. We wanted elevators that would be good as new.
The administrator replied that the elevator contractor felt that some of the parts were still in good condition such that they didn’t need replacement. The parts that had been breaking down in the recent days were some of those un-replaced parts.
The elevator contractor, despite the mandate of his customer to rehabilitate the elevators to be like brand new, had his own strategy—one which was based on his standards, and not of his customer’s.
To add insult to injury, the elevator contractor notified the building administrator that he would bill the replacement of the parts since they were not covered by the warranty of the rehabilitation. Unbelievable!
This is a classic example of how we misunderstand quality.
Many of us would say we know what quality is and we would say it’s about:
- Meeting customer specifications and service requirements;
- Exceeding expectations;
- Selling a product that doesn’t have defects;
- Receiving no complaints from customers;
- Marketing products that are superior versus the competition;
- Selling products and services that work and are affordable;
- Making products that comply with stringent international standards and qualify for certificates of excellence.
In short, we’d say quality is about having a very good product that stands out.
But where do we base the standards of quality on?
Do we base it on our own standards or on the standards of our customers?
I have seen executives argue with customers about the quality of products and services. A car buyer would argue with an automobile dealer that the car the former bought isn’t of good quality. The dealer would stand by the quality of the car he sold and dismiss the customer. More often than not, the dealer would say the car buyer doesn’t know what he or she’s talking about. If the buyer already bought the car, the dealer would just dismiss the buyer as an ingrate.
And this is exactly what was happening with the elevators at the office building. The contractor stood by the quality of his work in rehabilitating the elevators of the office building. Never mind that his rehab strategy left out a few hundred parts that he felt didn’t need replacement.
Quality is about meeting the standards of customers, not of the ones providing the products and services.
Enterprises sometimes trade off customer expectations with their own. They then develop strategies and policies that would cater to their perspectives instead of the ones who buy the products and services.
There are enterprises who dominate markets and have not much in the way of competition. Customers would patronize the products and services of these domineering enterprises especially if there are not many other competing choices.
Such situations would only last so long if the products and services don’t meet customer expectations. Customers would be ready to switch once a competitor shows up that does a better job. It also won’t stop customers from grumbling and complaining about the enterprise’s substandard products and services.
Enterprises may ignore complaints if there is no effect on the business. But things have a tendency to catch up with enterprises sooner or later.
And when that time comes, customers would abandon these enterprises. Customers do not remain loyal to enterprises who don’t meet their expectations
For the elevator contractor, the office building’s board will have no sympathy, much less any loyalty. The board will pay him for his services but not without a fight. Too bad. I thought he did a very good job. Turned out it wasn’t.