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Understanding Quality

I’m in my new Honda Accord (sport) on Lincoln Drive, a curvy stretch of road here in Philadelphia.  I bear left into a sharp curve ,leather steering wheel in hand, and I think to myself the ride is smooth but nothing like the 320 E Class Benz I used to own.

Then I remembered how trouble free my first Honda Accord was (which is why I leased a second time), and how the suspension rusted out of my E320 Mercedes.  In fact I don’t think during the three years I leased my Honda Crosstour I’d ever lifted up the hood of the car.   My Benz, BMW, and Audi were all beautiful dream cars, but they were service nightmares.

Considering how much we talk about quality of products, it’s surprising that there’s so much debate about what a quality really means.

What would you consider to be a higher quality automobile: a brand new Accord or a brand new Mercedes?  I think most consumers would choose the Benz.  However, there are at least two ways we can discuss quality, and the differences between them is what leads people to be confused.

Design Quality: Is how attractive, useful, appealing the product is that will cause someone to be willing to seek the product, pay a premium fee, and share their story.

Manufacture Quality: In ensuring the product performs the way both producer and consumer expect to perform.

A Honda Accord has a higher quality from a manufacture quality than a Mercedes Benz. But a Mercedes Benz is more beautiful & luxurious than the Accord and therefore excels in Design Quality.

Honda’s and other Asian brands have such better manufacture quality because of their early expectance and work with American Edward Deming.

Let’s consider Apple for a moment. Apple was wildly successful because it struck a balance between the manufacture and design quality.

Apple’s OS and other Apple software were easy to use, and performed better than consumers expected (few crashes, no viruses), and the design of the computers, and devices were absolutely astonishing.

If you trek over to George Town University you can grab a burger and fries at the Good Stuff Eatery. Four burgers and fries will cost you nearly $100, and you’ll wait 20 minutes or so to get your food.

But no one complains because Good Stuff has high quality of design. Fries get thyme and sea salt, burgers are served on buttery Pennsylvania Dutch buns, oh and Presidents frequent there. People aren’t there to get it fast.

On the flip side there’s McDonalds with a high quality of manufacture. No sea salt, thyme, or Pennsylvania Dutch buns, but everything is served really fast, cheap, and taste exactly the same regardless of where you order in the world. McDonalds is so good at it that they serve billions of them. You can have got four burgers, fries, and shakes for less than $20 in less than 5 minutes.

The Good Stuff burger customer pays 5 times more for a meal because fast and reliable is not that important to them. It’s the same for the ideal Mercedes client. Low cost maintenance, and reliability are not first on their list.

Philip Crosby taught us that quality is free; because the benefit of retaining customers is much smaller than the cost of aligning corporate culture with quality. It’s cheaper to design quality into a process than it is to work it in after lower than inspected performance, or your customers switch to your competition. And it’s cheaper to design in quality than it is to advertise.

If you’re a marketing agency what good is a beautifully designed report full of useless fluff.

What good is quality customer service once a customer gets a service rep on the line, if half the time a customer can’t get a service rep on the line. (hint AT&T).

Companies struggle because often because they can’t strike the right balance between both types of quality.

Honda’s work better than expected, but they are boring so they don’t have the market share they deserve. Mercedes Benz automobiles have unexpected and recurring maintenance issues, but they’re gorgeous so they have a higher market share than they deserve.

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