Business owners who don't continually take their offerings to the next level risk being swallowed by competition. How can owners improve product quality and make it a routine part of operations?
Sustained efforts to improve product quality are no longer nice-to-haves, they are must-haves. Especially in today's world, product quality is continuously evaluated via customer satisfaction ratings and online reviews. Businesses that don't pay attention to it may have a harder time generating sales, growing their existing clientele and soliciting new customers.
—Gene Swank, co-founder, Propellant Labs
“You could offer terrific customer service, a user-friendly website, and have an amazing marketing campaign, but if you sell an inferior product, that is a recipe for disaster," says Anthony Saladino, CEO of Kitchen Cabinet Kings, a New York City-based retailer of kitchen and bathroom cabinets.
“You have to move with the market," Saladino says. "As an example, construction features such as soft close doors/drawers were optional five years ago, now they are part of our standard construction because the market spoke."
Make Feedback-Based Enhancements
Both Saladino and Gene Swank, co-founder of California-based startup accelerator Propellant Labs and educational technology company Screen Time Solutions, have taken specific steps to improve product quality.
“We run vigorous quality assurance and quality control testing to identify not only the bugs in the software, but also to address any inconveniences in the user interfaces. For both physical and software products, we send out email blasts to our customer base, offering a small reward for their invaluable feedback," says Swank.
“It's important to improve product quality by testing the products and putting yourself in the customer's shoes," adds Saladino. “Would you be happy if you were the customer? How do competitor products compare? Do they offer more features or better materials at the same price point? If they do, you need to improve product quality."
Undertake Regular Reviews
Owners who seek to improve product quality should make it part of business as usual.
“Establish channels that customers can use to communicate with your company, and ensure that you have tracking systems in place to capture customer feedback," suggests Swank. “Set up weekly, monthly or quarterly reviews to analyze that feedback, as well as your own personal experience with the product. Act on the takeaways you believe will have the most impact."
“Make everyone focus a portion of their time on what the customers are saying about the products you are selling. For instance, insist that all employees, regardless of function, spend an hour a week reading customer reviews/comments and listening in on customer support calls," says Saladino.
Analyze Competitive Offerings
Taking an ongoing look at competitive products is important too.
“Find at least one to five companies selling a similar product and build a chart outlining side-by-side feature comparisons," Saladino says. “For example, in my organization, if we see that a cabinet is made from inferior materials or that other products use more substantial parts, it's time to upgrade. We do have to remember not to upgrade a product past its price point, however."
Embed Quality In Your Culture
Finally, it's important to understand that there is no single definition of quality. For some, a quality product is the best one produced at the lowest cost. For others, the product is top of the line. Align managers on what quality means in your organization, and prepare them to hold fast to that message in the midst of difficult situations. If they can do this, employees will learn to emphasize quality performance and it will be more likely to become part of the culture.
Of course, there will always be gray areas. Once employees comprehend the larger quality message and also how quality directly relates to their individual responsibilities, owners and managers should empower them to use their own judgment and intuition to handle ambiguous or tricky situations. This means that in many cases, owners and managers take a hands-off approach and allow employees the freedom to raise concerns if certain policies and procedures take away from their ability to pursue quality.
Provided it's on your radar, a goal to improve product quality is attainable with a little help from loyal customers and employees who believe in your offering and want to see it succeed.
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