There are many aspects of successful total quality management (TQM) program implementation. First and foremost: it must involve every employee in your business--from the very top levels to the temporary, part-time staff. You must also obtain regular customer feedback and you must implement changes where warranted by that feedback. Just as you need to drive home the message of quality to every employees, you must also work with suppliers who meet your quality standards.
Every employee must be focused on quality
The smaller the company, the more visible the owner and top management are to all employees. Top management must not only commit to TQM and set daily examples, they must also give explicit permission to employees to act in the same manner. You staff may also need training and written guidelines to fully empower them. Not only does this help set and reinforce the important of the quality management program, it also reduces the personal risks of adapting new behavior within the company and toward customers.
What about employees who do not have direct customer contact?
Involving every employee means just that: every employee. Some company employees who do not have regular direct contact with customers (e.g., shipping and receiving, plant workers, financial analysts, etc.) may be confused about what their new role would be with a TQM/customer satisfaction program.
However, the day-to-day activities of an internal staff employee, who has never even spoken or met with your customers, will affects the quality of your company's products and services. And ultimately, all company employees affect customer value and satisfaction. For example, if customer invoices do not go out on time or there are shipping mistakes due to poor internal communications, you may not hear about the problem from your customer. Your customer may simply switch to a competitor as a way of solving this problem.
The more everyone in your company knows about your customer's business, needs, complaints, and sources of satisfaction with your company, the more motivated, productive, and efficient they will be. Therefore, owners or managers in a small company must commit to sharing and communicating customer information and customer feedback with all their company's personnel.
This information should consist of the customer's business description, personality, expectations, problems, opportunities, and periodic survey feedback (keeping in mind, of course, that your particular business may demand that certain information about customers should be kept confidential). Managers must also allow employees to share and discuss this same customer information, where confidentiality is not essential, to encourage fellow employees to improve quality and customer satisfaction.
Sales and sales support must be customer-focused.
Small companies are often sales-driven, instead of market-driven or customer-driven. Strong sales talent is the most common way a small company grows. So it is natural for a sales-driven company to think about TQM improvements in terms of "where it counts the most," in sales. But the sales force cannot succeed without good quality products and services that are distinct from and valued by customers when compared to what competitors provide.
Sales also needs good support from manufacturing and shipping in terms of correctly filling the order, on time, every time. Sales may need quality technical support to help obtain the sale and to service the customer after the sale. What about proper billing of invoices and credit terms from the accounting department? And does anyone assume the role of customer relations to follow up with the customer after the sale? Small companies are often too busy trying to find and close new customers. They may not think about or have the time to follow up on current customers to see if they are indeed satisfied.
Take necessary steps to involve every employee
It's not enough to simply adopt "quality" as a catchy slogan. You must actively design and implement a program that educates, empowers and supports every worker in your business. You must:
- provide specific programs, written guidelines, and training sessions for all company personnel
- allow for decision-making and mistakes by all company personnel
- provide a specific timetable for training, behavioral modification, and feedback
- commit to weeding out uncooperative company personnel
Involve employees in development your quality program.
To the degree possible, company personnel should be directly involved with the creation, modification, and writing of evolving quality guidelines and suggestions for improvement. Involvement may range from the simple suggestion box to written plan suggestions with preliminary cost savings/business increase analysis.
Encourage cross-functional communication.
It's important that people in different functions or departments are encouraged to talk with and get help from each other. For example, the shipping and receiving worker who has an idea on improving unloading of cargo by arranging pallets in the trucks should be allowed to discuss and obtain more information from the buyers who order the cargo, so he can configure pallet loads more efficiently from suppliers.
The more participation by company employees in quality programs and the more ways they think up to improve customer satisfaction, the better the quality! Once your people understand and accept new TQM programs, regular discussion sessions should be scheduled to discuss quality problems and opportunities at least once each month. Ideally, these discussion sessions should be held across functional or departmental boundaries.
Aggressively deal with employees who are not committed to quality
Once your company's TQM program training is underway, careful attention to each employee's commitment level and TQM actions is necessary. If problems occur with some individuals resisting or actively sabotaging adoption of TQM, you must take action. Although it is a cliche, it is also true that one bad apple can spoil the entire barrel. Few situations undermine employee morale and employee loyalty, than a malcontent. If you have such an individual, schedule meetings and counselings session with the problem employee. Written documentation of each meeting and the actions taken is recommended. If the problem is not resolved in a suitable period of time, a decision will have to be made on the future tenure of the problem employee.
The personnel in a small company are analogous to the famous "20-mule team" that pulled Borax raw materials out of Death Valley. If a single team member is not doing his or her best, the performance of the entire team is negatively affected. Quality and customer satisfaction is everyone's job! There is no place to hide a problem employee in a company committed to quality and customer satisfaction.
Concern for customer satisfaction must permeate every company function
Although every employee must be involved, never forget that total company commitment begins at the top. The head of the company must commit to total quality marketing and customer satisfaction, live it every day, and institute procedures and information systems to ensure all employees do the same. Customer service, customer satisfaction, and customer commitment must become the top company priorities. The entire company must work to support the sales staff and customers. For example, Nordstrom Department store personnel will never be criticized for doing too much for customers. They will be criticized for doing too little!
When was the last time you sat down with any of your customers and presented your company mission or values? Do you have a written list of services that customers can expect of your company? Quill Corporation has a one-page "Customer Bill of Rights" that was created in the early days of the company by the founders. Every company employee must read and commit to providing these "customer rights." Quill is as well-known for its customer service as its extensive office products, competitive prices, and frequent promotions.
It is essential that you actively seek customer feedback on performance on a regular basis. It is not enough for you to believe that your business is doing a better job with your customers than the competition is doing. Your customers must also think so! And, the only way to be sure your performance is meeting the customer's needs and expectations is to solicit regular feedback.
Leverage your employees to obtain information regarding customer satisfaction.
Your employees interact with customers day-in and day-out. Don't waste those opportunities to learn more about your customers and their opinions on the quality of products and service that you provide.A short one-page or half-page form can be used by all employees to note customer satisfaction events or problems that need to be addressed, as they happen each day. This form should be circulated to all appropriate departments within one week. Circulation of the form within one day may be possible for small companies.
Tools to use
Check the Tools & Forms area for a customer service action form and accompanying instructions that can be used by your employees to record and take action when customers aren't satisfied with your products or services.
Remember to communicate to your employees, if you want them to continue to provide you with quality information and insights. A summary of these internal company department comments on improving customer satisfaction (or solving customer problems) should be circulated each week to all employees to inform, educate, and improve total company problem-solving for customers.
Obtain feedback directly from your customers.
Do you have a regular feedback method to confirm when your company is doing its job well with customers, or to detect problems when it is not? How timely is the feedback? Is it actionable? Once customers know that you are interested in feedback, your company must act on what they say and then provide status reports or presentations on the successful disposition of each problem or opportunity.
Tools to use
The Tools & Forms area contains a survey that can be sent to your customers to gather their input on how well your business is satisfying their needs.
In addition to a survey, consider staging a quarterly review with your key customers to provide:
- a summary of sales information for year-to-date and previous years, along with an analysis of the business
- a summary of current customer service problems and how they were addressed by your company
- a summary of customer service improvements
- a forum for candid customer feedback, with a short, one-page form
Total quality management involves your suppliers
You can maintain and deliver the quality of your products and services only if all personnel and all companies involved in your chain of suppliers are quality-oriented and customer-oriented. By definition, superior quality and customer satisfaction compared to your competition depend upon the exceptional. You and your suppliers will have to go above and beyond normal procedures, delivery dates, lead times, and other standards to maintain quality and provide superior customer satisfaction.
This may be required occasionally, or all the time, depending upon the customer and type of industry and business. For example, Micron Computers ships all computers by Federal Express, with overnight service. They use Federal Express because of the impressive speed of delivery from order and the confidence that Federal Express will provide superior handling for their fragile products. The increased costs of overnight shipment is offset by increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and decreased product damage.
Only suppliers committed to the same attitudes about quality and customer satisfaction will be able to support you and your company under exceptional circumstances and demands by customers. Companies committed to quality and customer satisfaction have the dual responsibility of seeking suppliers who are like-minded and maintaining their commitment.