As the worldwide quality revolution enters its fifth decade, demand
by customers for products of progressively higher quality continues to
accelerate (Desatnick, 1989, p. 24-26). The response by a growing number
of business firms worldwide in implementing quality improvement has
reinforced such expectations. However, while increasing numbers of
companies know that quality is important, Tom Peters reports that CEOs
seldom do anything about it (Peters, 1987). In a discussion on customer
satisfaction by a group of CEOs reported in Chief Executive (Sept.-Oct.,
1989, p. 78), one of the problems mentioned by the CEO of Square D
Corporation was the need to change from a product or engineering focus
to a focus on customer-driven quality.
This paper provides a definition of quality for total customer
satisfaction that serves as a bridge between manufacturer and customer.
Through the use of a simple process flow chart that identifies the
critical elements of quality for manufactured products and the
characteristics that closely define those elements, the definition of
quality developed by Garvin (1987) is both enhanced and made practical.
Our expanded definition provides a format for seeking information from
customers about those elements and characteristics that are specific to
the producer and for organizing them after they are received. It
addresses the second of Deming's fourteen points (1986, p. 58),
which calls for the adoption of the new philosophy of continuous
improvement, and provides a means to overcome his complaint that
"businesses seldom learn of their customer's
dissatisfaction." It does not address the means by which such
information is gathered, nor does it offer a theoretical basis for
applying such inputs in the workplace. This is left for later research.
As a matter of interest a brief description is included toward the end
of the definition's origin.
The definition, which recognizes that characteristics differ in
importance among producers, is consistent with the continuous
improvement philosophy in that it evolves and reinforces the need for
manufacturers to look beyond the production process for new strategic
opportunities. The definition is limited to products, because of the
apparent difference in definition required for services (see
Parasuraman, et al, 1985, or Zeithaml, et al, 1990, for one approach to
It is now commonly accepted that quality should apply company-wide.
However, neither researchers nor practitioners in quality have yet
supplied a definition that is easily operationalized. For example,
Deming (1986, p. 168-170) suggests that quality is defined by the
customer and has many measurement scales, one for each of the
characteristics the customer considers important. On the other hand,
Juran (1989, p. 15-19) defines quality as "fitness for use,"
with each product having multiple quality characteristics of two kinds:
customer-desired product features and freedom from deficiencies. While
both Deming's and Juran's definitions are customer-oriented,
they are not easily used in gaining customer input to the quality
improvement process. Crosby (1979, p. 14) comes closer to an operational
definition when he defines quality as "conformance to
requirements," because a set of specifications can often be created
that define the product from the viewpoint of the customer, serving as a
de facto means of feedback. If the product meets those specifications,
it conforms to requirements; hence, for Crosby, the ideal is "zero
defects" or meeting the specifications 100% of the time.
Present practices such as materials control, batch inspections,
stress tests, and the like reach their culmination in "traditional
quality control's most extreme form, a program called 'Zero
Defects'" (Garvin, 1987, p. 103). To Garvin who wants a more
"aggressive strategy to gain and hold markets with high quality as
a competitive linchpin" (1987, p. 101), "Quality means
pleasing customers, not just protecting them from annoyances"
(1987, p. 104). He wants to replace what he considers defensive quality
practiced by U.S. companies with a strategic approach based on eight
customer-related dimensions of quality. A company's strategic
choice is the combination of the dimensions it will emphasize in
defining quality for its products, which include, according to Garvin:
1) performance, a product's primary operating characteristics;
2) features, the "bells and whistles" that supplement basic
3) reliability, the probability of a product malfunctioning within a
specified time period (reliability may perhaps better be defined as the
probability of a product not malfunctioning);
4) conformity, the degree to which a product's design and
operating characteristics meet established standards;
5) durability, a measure of product life which also has an economic
6) serviceability, the speed, courtesy, competence, and ease of
repair of the product;
7) aesthetics, how a product looks, feels, tastes, sounds or smells;
8) perceived quality, the image or reputation of a product.
A Practical Definition
Garvin treats his quality characteristics or dimensions as "a
clear vocabulary with which to discuss quality as a strategy". We
propose to build on this with a process flow chart that classifies these
dimensions and follows the product from conception to customer. In doing
so, we include his dimensions and add several to make the definition
more complete. The process flow chart is the basis for both a
classification system for these quality dimensions and for a
customer-focused definition of quality that the manufacturer can
The chart, shown in Figure 1, identifies and organizes for the
manufacturer the dimensions of quality most important to the
customer's satisfaction and to his own success. It includes
elements of the quality process seen by the customer in his or her
experience with the product, as well as those that the customer never
sees but that define quality from the manufacturer's viewpoint.
Note that not every dimension applies to the same degree to every
product. For example, durability has less importance for nondurable
products. However, rather than assume which dimensions apply to which
products, the manufacturer should seek such information from customers.
The flow chart makes clear that the product is designed to fulfill
some customer need, is produced using some set of tools, techniques,
machinery, etc., is sold in a manner reflecting (and reflecting on) the
quality of the product, is delivered to the customer, and may require
service after the sale. Safety becomes a necessary part of each element
of the process relating to sale, delivery, and service, as well as the
more traditional functions of design and production. Customer
perceptions of quality are important at every stage of the flow chart,
but often relate to reputation when the physical quality of the
materials from which the final product is made is not well understood.
Finally, while the flow chart shows the stages in a conventional order,
it loses none of its relevance if that order is changed, such as if the
sale of a product occurs prior to its production.
Using the concept of the internal customer, the continuous
improvement philosophy assumes that each stage in the flow chart
provides feedback to all the preceding stages. That feedback becomes a
catalyst for change and establishes a framework for communicating with
the customer on the characteristics of quality thus far identified.
Quality in production historically has been the most important focus
of the manufacturer, with increasing attention being paid to design.
Adding the stages of sale, delivery, and postsale service, and
recognizing perceived quality and safety as important to all stages
force the manufacturer to think beyond those traditional concerns to
what happens to the product during and after its sale. If the
manufacturer wants to ensure total customer satisfaction, doing
everything right until the product leaves the factory is not enough.
Failure to perform to expectations on any one element will reflect on
the manufacturer, even when the company does not control all of the
stages of the flow chart.
With Garvin, we see the choice of where to place the emphasis among
quality dimensions as strategic. However, the philosophy of continuous
improvement teaches us that improvement of process quality for any
dimension at any stage of the flow chart increases both product quality
and customer assessment of that quality. What remains is for top
management to choose the dimensions of quality to emphasize for their
"After relegating design to the back seat in the 1970s, U.S.
manufacturers are once again discovering that it is the key to
industrial competitiveness. Design, they are relearning, is more than
skin deep. It is at the very heart of a product!" (Nussbaum and
Port, 1988, p. 102).
Our definitions for performance, reliability, durability, features,
and aesthetics in the design stage are in general agreement with
Garvin's. However, when taken together these dimensions are seen
not as independent quality characteristics but as interrelated
dimensions of quality.
"You don't market quality into a product. The true quality
of a product is judged by its user, not announced by its manufacturer.
All the commercials in the world won't do any good if the product
isn't built right" (Krumm, 1988, p. 14).
Production makes use of the outputs of the design stage and includes
all steps from raw materials choice up to leaving the factory. We define
the dimension of conformity in the production stage similarly to Garvin.
However, while he reminds us that conforming to specifications measures
the extent to which a product meets a standard as determined by the
customer, he does not mention that specifications must be derived from
the knowledge of how the product is to be used if they are to be made a
part of the product. This definition is intended to facilitate such
inquiry. "For example, a specification for sheet metal of a certain
composition and thickness is not sufficient for the inside door panel of
an automobile. The inside panel must undergo a considerable amount of
stretching and warping. If the supplier knows that the steel will be
used for the inside panel, he may be able to supply steel that will do
the job. Steel that merely meets the specifications can cause a lot of
trouble" (Deming, 1986, p. 139-140).
It makes little difference if the customer is pleased with the other
four stages if he or she is not satisfied with the sale process. The
sale is often the point of initial customer contact with the product and
the stage in the flow chart where the "distance" between
customer and manufacturer is smallest. As we enter an era when products
of superior design and production quality are taken for granted, the
sale process becomes increasingly important to the success of
manufacturing firms. We suggest three dimensions that effect the
customer's perception of the sale: the sales facility, the
communication process, and the transaction system.
The sales facility, what Parasuraman et al (1985, p. 47) call
"tangibles" and Lehtinen (1986, p. 56) refers to as
"physical quality," are the physical surroundings (the
environment) in which the sale occurs. This includes location, access,
parking, layout, decorating scheme, cleanliness, and lighting. To the
extent the manufacturer is perceived to control the sales facility, it
will reflect on the product and the company. For example, a man's
suit from Hart, Schaffner, & Marx may be perceived as of lesser
quality if the ambiance of the retail store is not luxurious enough.
The dimension of communication process describes the manner in which
the customer is dealt with by the people who operate the system. It
includes the availability and appearance of sales personnel, their
courtesy and knowledge of the product, communication skills, attitude
toward the customer, willingness to recognize the customer's
specific needs, and the ability to solve problems if they arise. These
characteristics may be of even greater consequence if the product is
sold prior to its manufacture, as is often the case with a new
automobile, since the sale may depend on the customer's reaction to
the sales person.
The transaction system encompasses the clerical and administrative
routines established by management, and describes the procedures of the
sale, particularly those involving the customer. It may include
paperwork, exchange of money, recording of the sale in a cash register
or point-of-sale system, verification of credit, and arrangement for
delivery. It is critical to the success of the sale, since it is a part
of the process the customer often finds burdensome and intimidating.
"What we all want is a vendor that will produce all of the parts
defect-free and deliver them just in time" (Stoner, 1984, p. 38).
After the product is sold, it must be delivered to the customer. The
delivery dimensions of quantity, on-time, and place are becoming
increasingly important to customers. Delivery innovations such as
just-in-time inventory systems are evidence that the manufacturer as
customer wants the exact number of parts, delivered at the right time,
and to the precise location on the assembly line. It is assumed that
they conformed to specifications when they left the factory but must
also be in good condition when they arrive. Similarly, when building a
new home, a contractor wants the exact number of windows delivered to
the building site when it is time to enclose the structure. Too many or
too few windows delivered early or late or to the wrong site will not
serve the contractor's schedule. Requiring their suppliers to
respond to the delivery element of the definition allows the
manufacturer or contractor to be more responsive to delivery
requirements from their customers. While it is sometimes possible to
convince the customer that a product of high quality in design and
production is worth waiting for, such an approach illustrates the
failure of the manufacturer to control the delivery quality, resulting
in the loss of goodwill and sometimes even the sale.
"A company with the best distribution system and the best
service will win all the marbles, because you can't keep an
advantage in other areas for long" (Iacocca, 1988, p. 7).
The quality of service to the customer after the sale is often as
important as the quality of the good itself (Takeuchi and Quelch, 1983,
p. 142). One group "gave poor after-sales support as their primary
reason for switching away from a brand when the time came to replace
equipment" (Lele and Sheth, 1987, p. 179). Also, as Desatnick
(1989, p. 24) suggests, "To attempt to compete solely on the basis
of product or price is insufficient. You must compete on service."
To put it another way, if a company is going to have repeat business and
be recommended by one customer to others, it is after the sale that the
real sale is made.
There are two types of services after the sale for manufactured
products: anticipated services and unanticipated services. Anticipated
services are those that the customer plans for, such as installation,
training, written instructions, maintenance, and upgrading. As products
become more complex, manufacturers are under increasing pressure to
provide the services necessary to their functioning. As with the sale
stage, the customer will not absolve the manufacturer of responsibility
for what happens to the product after its design and production, and so
the manufacturer must extend control of the process beyond the point of
sale by making certain that needed services are provided. When the
customer bought a record player years ago, she or he took it home,
plugged it in, and played a record on it. With today's highly
complex stereo systems the seller often must deliver the system to the
customer's home, set it up, and spend time explaining the proper
use of its many features to the customer. If that kind of service does
not occur, customers are apt to be as critical of the product, and
indirectly the manufacturer, as of the recalcitrant retailer.
Unanticipated services are those services that the customer does not
plan for (which is the same as Garvin's dimension of
serviceability), such as repairs, returns, replacements, and questions
that need to be answered. Even the most reliable computer system will
malfunction occasionally and need quick and competent service. This may
range from getting a question answered about an unexpected problem to
the repair of a breakdown. The expensive nature of such equipment or of
computer downtime makes that imperative. It is in the
manufacturer's best interests to make certain that unanticipated
service needs are met satisfactorily by either the company or the
seller, or the manufacturer may be held accountable.
Safety and Security
Safety is becoming increasingly important in these litigious times.
As an example, if safety is not made an integral part of product design,
what will result may be a well made but potentially unsafe product, even
if it conforms to exacting specifications. Witness the thousands of
lawnmowers that took a terrible toll on their human operators before the
addition of a control bar that shuts off the mower when released.
Problems of customer safety resulting from the production process may
occur when products do not meet specifications. This is demonstrated by
the recent court case over bogus bolts which occurred primarily because
the bolts did not conform to specifications and were not discovered
Safety during the sale requires, for example, attention to the secure
location and hazard-free condition of the sales facility. Sale delivery
means, among other things, that the bottom does not fall out of the box,
allowing the TV set to fall to the ground, and also that you trust the
delivery person in your home. Finally, after the sale the customer wants
safe repair, such as automobile brakes that continue to function after
the pads are replaced. Like perceived quality, safety as a dimension is
unique in its relevance to all five stages of the definition.
Our definition of perceived quality is the same as Garvin's with
this addition: the customer's perceptions of quality for the final
product depend upon, among other things, the quality of the
manufacturer's choice of inputs in all five stages of the quality
definition. For instance, for a new car the perceived quality of the car
dealer reflects on the manufacturer. Such perceptions often lag behind
actual input quality and are confirmed or denied by the customer's
experience with the product.
The Definition in Evolution
The definition of quality here is not static but evolves over the
life of the product. First, each dimension of the definition changes as
a result of continuous improvement efforts by the manufacturer which are
carried out in response to the demands of customers and the actions of
competitors. Also, the pace of evolution is increasing as demand from
customers for improvements gives the entire process, from design through
post-sale service, the appearance of being in motion. Finally, the
emphasis among dimensions is changing, with stages or dimensions, once
ignored, becoming prominent, because a competitor takes a new strategic
Developing the Definition
In our consulting, we applied an earlier version of the definition to
a manufacturer of nonferrous metal fasteners. In implementing the
process of continuous improvement in quality over a period of three
years, a TQC process was employed relying on the teachings of Deming,
Ishikawa, Shingo, Nakajima and others with a view to making the company
the highest-quality, lowest-cost producer in the industry. Training in
continuous improvement philosophies and methods, including the
definition of quality, helped the transformation process to occur. This
earlier version contained only 11 of the 16 dimensions and four of the
five stages, leaving out the three dimensions of the sale stage,
perceived quality, and not differentiating between anticipated and
Historically, this product was sold primarily through distributors as
a commodity. The controversy over bogus bolts led this company to make
their bolts with the company logo and with a batch number for
traceability. Today they sell much of their output directly to
manufacturers at a premium. The customer base was expanded to include
many smaller firms who ordered in smaller lots. This meant that the
temporary loss of one large customer, the U.S. government, to the
distractions of the Persian Gulf War did not cause severe dislocation.
Neither did the presence of a recession that affected greatly the New
England area where the manufacturer is located. Although in every
earlier recession a layoff was a standard response, this time the
broader customer base and the emphasis on reduction of setup time
allowed the company to make smaller orders profitably.
For this company, the most important pieces of the earlier version of
the definition of quality included on-time delivery through reduction of
set-up time, conformity in production which required a new emphasis on
raw materials specifications, and traceability as part of after-the-sale
service. In addition, a surprising emphasis on aesthetics by the work
force was discovered. The machine operators wanted to produce a fastener
that looked good, one they could be proud of, reinforcing Deming's
emphasis on "pride of workmanship."
Principals in the firm offered the opinion that the definition would
apply differently to producers depending on the product and the process.
No attempt has been made to date to quantify precisely the financial
implications for any aspect of the firm's activities of the
application of the definition.
Summary and Conclusions
It has been clear, at least since Feigenbaum wrote his 1951 version
of Total Quality Control, that quality is critical to every phase of
every operation in an organization. Prior to this, Deming had
demonstrated how input quality was reflected in the quality of the final
product. In the coming years, American manufacturing firms increasingly
will turn to quality as a strategy out of competitive necessity. This
article describes a definition of quality that follows the natural
progression of the product from manufacturer to customer. The definition
provides a context for evaluating and reacting to the responses of
customers and requires managers to expand their thinking about quality.
It identifies for both manufacturer and customer the critical stages and
dimensions of quality and reminds us, once again, that the manufacturer
must perform well continuously in every one of those stages to assure a
favorable assessment of quality by the customer. It points to strategic
opportunities after the product leaves the organization and proceeds to
the intermediate stages of dealers and distributors, where customer
satisfaction can be further enhanced. Rather than a necessary evil,
these intermediate stages become ways to differentiate the organization
from its competitors.
At the same time, our definition encourages customer contact and
makes clear how both customer and manufacturer can benefit from it. The
definition must be recognized as evolving, as something constantly in
motion and being driven by the demands of customers. Where manufacturers
recognize the need to change to remain ahead of their customers on the
five elements of the definition, they will be more successful than their
competitors. As the manufacturer's role in the commercial process
expands to include all five elements of the quality definition, the
distance to the customer is decreased, shortening the total process time
and making it necessary to determine precise customer needs and to react
to them quickly.
Our list of the elements of the definition of quality and their
dimensions is not meant to be exhaustive. As manufacturers seek new
avenues of competitive advantage, they will identify additional elements
and dimensions of quality, and increasingly sophisticated customers will
either validate or reject them.
This process will be abetted by research into how the definition for
products offered here might be extended to services, with an examination
of their differences and similarities. A clearer picture is needed also
of how to make operational the definition for services, how the elements
and dimensions interact, and whether any dimension confers a competitive
advantage on the manufacturer prior to the recognition of its importance
by the customer. Finally, new concepts such as time as a strategy and
the strategic nature of the definition itself must be better understood.
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Chief of Executive. Sept.-Oct., 1989, 72-82.
Dr. Sparks has taught and researched the concept of continuous
quality improvement in academic life and in his own consulting firm; Dr.
Legault teaches operations management, management science, quality and
productivity improvement, consults for private industry, and previously
held management positions with several manufacturing firms.