Improve Quality at Your Business

 

The business world is full of quality experts and quality programs, but for most small to midsize businesses, an extensive quality program utilizing higher-level mathematics is not going to be the best solution.

 1. Document your processes

For small and midsize businesses to improve quality, processes must be consistent across the organization and over time. This can best be accomplished documenting your processes and ensuring that the way the work is actually done matches the documentation. Documenting your processes is not glamorous work, but quality improvement requires that things be done consistently.

2. Identify quality issues

Employees and management must embrace quality issues as opportunities to improve. Management must take extra care not to “shoot the messenger.”

No company wants to discover that quality issues exist in its processes. However, companies must view raising the issues that do exist as a positive thing. They should not sweep them under the carpet. Companies are all too often surprised when they routinely chastise people who raise quality concerns and then find that people hide these issues.

Reward employees who identify quality issues, don’t punish them.

3. Fix the problem for the customer

Mistakes happen. Most people understand that. The issue is how you deal with the problem when one occurs. Handled poorly, the mistake can result in the loss of a customer. Handled well, the result can be a loyal customer who feels well cared for. The key is to accept full responsibility and ensure that you treat the customer more than fairly.

When a problem occurs, resolving the issue for the customer must always be the top priority.

4. Ensure that the problem doesn’t reoccur

Having executed the three prior steps, too many companies call the issue closed. After all, the customer has been satisfied.

The urgent issue is resolved, but this approach misses the opportunity to prevent future quality problems. It is imperative to ask, “What caused this problem, and what do we need to do to ensure that it never happens again?” Once you have answered these questions, you can correct the process.

This is why having well documented processes is the first step to quality improvement. When a flaw in the process is identified, the fix can quickly be rolled out across the entire organization only if everyone is doing things in the same way.

While following this course of action sounds simple, it requires a disciplined approach and getting the nuances right can be critical. Properly executed, it will put your enterprise on the path to continuous improvement. In the long run, the rewards will be well worth the effort

Startup to Do a Better Job

On Shark Tank, Mark Cuban often says that you have to run a business like there is someone working 24 hours a day to catch you. For many entrepreneurs and small-business owners, this is easy to imagine.

Tablets are promoted with the claim that “thinner is better” or that “higher resolution is better.” Smartphone shoppers are directed to not to settle for the 8-megapixel camera, but to opt for one with 16. By throwing all these metrics at us, consumer-products companies try to differentiate themselves and drive demand.

 For small businesses, however, offering a standout product requires an understanding of what the customer wants — and delivering it.

Don’t fall into the trap of designing your business product according to these three myths:

Myth No. 1: Bigger is better. As Walmart has exemplified, a certain convenience to customers is associated with size. Offering a wide range of products at low prices, Walmart has carved out a very large segment of the market. But bigger is not necessarily better.

For many service-oriented businesses, being bigger can impose a burden. Some customers are looking for a level of service that large manufacturers struggle to provide. Customers (even those who work at large businesses themselves) want to interact with decision-makers. They want to know that their needs are at the forefront and that the right ears are receiving their requests. Large organizations often inspire unneeded bureaucracy, taking a toll on the ability of large firms to be responsive.

And though being large can help in certain ways (by being able to provide a wide range of products), smaller, more nimble and even privately held companies can do well by trying to understand customer needs and reinvesting in growth. Such reinvestments grant firms the opportunity to add additional services or products that customers want, in a natural way.

Myth No. 2: Self-service is better. In this age of self-service, businesses across sectors are offering automation, from online banking to mobile chats, as a way to provide convenience. The challenge is that if you serve customers as a faceless, nameless robot, your value proposition can disappear.

In Chicago, regional supermarket chain Jewel-Osco announced last year that it would discontinue self-checkout lanes. The self-checkout lanes seem to have hurt the company’s customer service. Many customers did not interact with staff — and those going through the normal checkout lanes were perhaps subject to long lines. I suspect that the company decided that the perceived convenience of self-checkout was not an actual convenience. The solution it came up with? Additional quick checkout lanes were added where the self-service lanes had been.

Although online and automated options can be valuable for small businesses to embrace, when a customer needs to troubleshoot an issue or find a representative, it is critical that they are able to do so.

Myth No. 3: Faster is better. As consumers, we are used to getting what we want, when we want it. Amazon has made a business out of being the fastest company to deliver products purchased online. Indeed Amazon is so fast that products can be delivered to our door on the same day (and perhaps in the future by drones). While this can work in the commodities business, most entrepreneurs should shun the “faster is better” mantra.

As small-business owners, we have to look at our work not as a race, but rather as part of a relay. At Ideal, the 90-year-old manufacturer that I run with my brother Yale and our dad, Steve, we manufacture corrugated boxes and point-of-purchase displays, requiring project management, graphic and structural design elements and logistics skills. If one of those aspects is off, then it doesn’t matter how fast the manufacturing plant churn out displays and boxes.

Get back to basics. The reality is that better is better —  and better depends on your core customers’ needs. Customers will always care about size, breadth of services, convenience and speed, but those factors are rarely the primary concern. Provide a great product at a fair price. When small businesses return to this central focus, they will get to “better.”