Saturday, March 23, 2013

Magnet for Poor Quality and Quality in Unexpected places


We have come to expect that some things will happen ‘right’ all the time and others won’t. We expect our electricity and water bills to be delivered on time also expect that if have a complaint it wont be resolved till we actually give up. Quality works well in some cases and doesn't in others. For most people.

I have, however, now confirmed my belief that as part of a large conspiracy of the universe all companies that I seek a service from ‘identify’ me as the recipient of their poor quality service. If they have to make just one mistake in the year – it has to be with me. I am a very good magnet for such poor quality.

Why do I say this? I have been at the receiving end of poor service with an amazing range of service providers, some repeatedly and over a long period of time. There must be something fascinating about me! Phone, Internet, Airlines, Insurance, Identity cards, Taxi operators – you name it.

I have often wondered is it because I complete forms incorrectly or ask for some special service which messes up their process. Am I unreasonable? Conclusion – no I am not.

Are there any services where I don’t attract poor quality? A few. And that brings me to the question Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, posed earlier this month on his blog – have we seen Quality in unexpected places? Here are three of my favorite quality success stories.

Indian Railway Ticketing system – Surprise Surprise! The Indian Railways is Asia’s largest train network and the world’s largest train system under one management.  

I have seen and been part of some complex systems. But this one is the most amazing combination of things that can go wrong. Only – they never go wrong. You can book from anywhere to anywhere. You can get a ‘soft e-ticket’. You get your refund immediately. All this is still not possible in many ‘developed’ countries. They respond to feedback and improve their processes regularly. Many of us India have come to accept a very high standard from this ticketing system. The rest of the Indian Railways system is not much to write about. With almost everything around them falling apart, the Ticketing team has maintained world class levels. For over 20 years now!

Maruti Suzuki is the biggest car manufacturer in India. General perception is with increase in quantity, quality falls. Not at Maruti. I have never been disappointed with their service support. They deliver the serviced car before time and 9 out of 10 times the actual bill will be less than the estimate. While waiting for my car to be delivered I have often ventured around to see how they operate. I have seen simple process maps, job allocation boards, delivery status boards, excellent implementation of 5S, and more. While quality in car service is not totally unexpected but the high levels of performance Maruti delivers is surely unexpected.

Early in my career I used to travel a lot across to client sites. Many of these clients (Textiles and Cement!) were in place you wouldn't want to send you’re your worst enemies to. So, hotels are out of the equation. All these clients had Guest Houses or mini Hotels of their own. The guest houses of Aditya Birla Group (among India’s leading business houses) would always stand apart for their upkeep and customer service. When I would expect basic service I would be delighted with customized service. I still recall a guest house where I visited after 4 months. The staff serving tea remembered how I like my tea! And there were others who would remember what I liked for dinner etc. That’s quality. All the guest houses (and I visited atleast 15) were of an amazingly clean standard. Always consistent.

How were they doing it? Being the curious (a few people use more dramatic adjectives!) type I inquired  I was told, to my pleasant surprise, that the Group had implemented principles of TQM in their guest houses as well. No wonder, feedback forms were taken seriously. I noticed cleaning checklists in rest room. Red-tag for out of service equipment. And a lot more.

I am sure you have many more stories of quality in unexpected places. Please share them around. We talk and write a lot about what doesn’t work. The things that work deserve more of our attention.

3 comments:

Baskar Venkat said...

Nice one sir, just adding a thought. Maybe we have become so conscious of quality in everything we receive that anything below par alone seems different and gets noticed, whereas something of really good quality is accepted as "status quo". Hence neither noticed, nor shared !

Narayana said...

As Mr. Baskar mentioned the quality requirement becomes unstated needs. If organisations look each and every product / service requirement from these angle, I think organisation will be successful.
I would like to share good story. Every day I wonder how the entire team can provide best service.It is about our coffee vendor in my office. How the owner of coffee vendor in our office able to hire/train people to provide best service. There are 2 boys they serve coffee to approx 3000 staff every day from 7 am to 7 pm.. Specialty is these boys knows individual's taste, change pending etc.. Also while serving coffee they engage you a lot.

Ashok Vaishnav said...

The example of Indian Railway Ticketing system, particularly when the whole operations were amanual, is simply an astounding exmaple of clearly laid down procedures, being followed, too metuiculously. However, the one flaw still continues the subversion of the ssytem for 'out=of-turn- - tatakal- tickets. Of course,even, there the (other!) system does work flawlessly!