Friday, August 25, 2006

Toyota Takes Action to Improve Quality

Here's an interesting story from Yahoo about an automaker taking steps to deal with its quality problems:

Toyota May Delay Some New Models
OYAMA, Japan - Toyota may delay some of its new models, the company's president said Friday, as the world's No. 2 automaker tries to improve its quality control process in order to reduce a spate of recalls that is threatening its reputation.

(Read the full story here.)
As Toyota grows and adds an increasingly complex product line, there are bound to be some quality problems but it's encouraging to see an automaker take such public steps prior to introducing models to address potential quality issues. The U.S. automakers' approach seems to be to hide quality issues and address them behind closed doors after the fact.

I'm still mystified why Ford and GM are still so far behind the Japanese in quality, product design, reliability, fuel efficiency, etc. Many of the Japanese autos sold in the United States are designed and built here so I don't believe it's a cultural issue. What do you think? If you disagree, then explain the decline in market share--and there's more to it than rising gas prices.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Let's Blame China!

Here's two interesting headlines on the homepage of American Society for Quality's Web site today:

Dell’s Recall Sparks Worry About Foreign Manufacturing Quality

U.S. Automakers Closing Quality Gap; Dell Bounces Back After Service Slide

Just when Dell seemed to be "bouncing back," disaster strikes!

I think it's interesting that the first article puts the blame on "China" and not Dell or Sony, which had the batteries manufactured for it in China and then sold to Dell. Isn't it Dell's and Sony's responsibility to ensure that their suppliers are manufacturing according to specifications? Aren't they auditing their suppliers? Inspecting product? Testing product?

Another point in the first article that caught my eye: "An industry group is meeting in September to, among other things, examine ways to create industry-wide standards dealing with quality control." Hmm. I thought we had international groups that developed standards for quality. Haven't they heard of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Unrealistic/Undefined Customer Requirements?

The post below from Joe Gliksman is representative of a number of posts I've received about my Curmudgeon School post:

I think you missed a key point with this blog--quality is in the eye of the beholder or customer. To some, if it is cheap they are happy--to some, lowest price IS quality--a quality deal or experience no matter what else. To some, if it is fast, the rest does not matter, etc. Finally, some will never be happy and never find quality... the author maybe?

Although I agree with Joe that quality is defined by some people as "the lowest price," I think he (and many others) missed my point: There are certain basic customer requirements that organizations fail to recognize. As a customer, I expect a toy water gun to last more than two hours even if I have only paid $1 for it. I think that almost anyone who bought that toy would have the same expectations. The toy manufacturer has no excuse to be ignorant of these basic requirements. It's easy to survey customers, benchmark other manufacturers, and--yes--use common sense.

The only "lesson" that I have learned as a customer is that I shouldn't buy that toy (or other toys) from that company again. As a parent, I buy cheap toys for my kids all the time (we all do it). Most of them don't break after two hours. In fact, I usually throw them out or they get lost before they break. (McDonald's Happy Meal toys are practically indestructible.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Stellar Customer Service

As you may already know, I have little tolerance for poor customer service. In fact, I've been burned so many times that when I do have to call customer service to resolve a problem, I enter the conversation with fear and loathing. However, I recently had an experience with an online service that launched my feelings about their service into orbit.

Or should I say, "Orbitz," a leading online travel Web site. I use Orbitz four or five times a month to book travel for me or the trainers who work with Paton Press. I've always been impressed with the site's low fares and easy-to-navigate interface. Despite having purchased hundreds of airline tickets through the site, I never had an occasion to call customer service until recently. (I guess that in itself says something about the quality of the service I've received.)

While reviewing my last American Express statement, I noticed two charges for the same amount and the same itinerary. I knew that this was a mistake because I had only purchased one ticket. I logged onto the Orbitz site and looked at my past trips. I saw that there was only one booked itinerary for that person for that week. Orbitz had made a mistake.

I knew I would have to call the company to get the error corrected, and I began to experience that uneasy feeling I get whenever I have to call customer service. Where would my call get routed? Would they believe me? Had I made a $335 error?

I began the process by going to the Orbitz home page. I was impressed. At the top of the page in large, easy-to-read type was a tab that said "Customer Service." Probably a link to a "Frequently Asked Questions" database, I thought. To my surprise, when I clicked on the tab, there were three options: an FAQ database, an e-mail link and a toll-free number to call for help. The customer service department is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. This is impressive, especially when traveling. OK. This was looking good, but how would my call be answered?

I dialed the number and was immediately connected to the Orbitz voice mail system, which asked for my home phone number. Apparently, this let them know where I was calling from. After entering my phone number, I was led through a surprisingly quick and easy voice mail navigation system that divides calls by type of inquiry. I generally hate these kinds of voice mail systems, but Orbitz's system was painless. I was through it in a matter of seconds.

When I selected "help," my call was answered within a minute. A pleasant woman asked how she could help me. I explained that upon reviewing my American Express statement it appeared as though I had been double charged. Her first reaction was to apologize.

"I'm sorry you had a problem," she said. "Let's see what we can do to resolve it for you."

She asked me for some information and then asked me to hold while she checked on the problem. When she came back on the line after about two minutes, she apologized for leaving me on hold. The Orbitz system had indeed double charged me. She explained that Orbitz would refund my money and that it might take 30 to 60 days to show up on my American Express card statement, depending on when my statement was issued. She again apologized and asked if there was anything else she could do and if I was satisfied with the problem resolution.

About one week later, I received a letter from Orbitz apologizing for the problem with an explanation for what had occurred. The letter also included a $50 discount coupon toward my next Orbitz purchase.

Why was this a good experience? Orbitz did everything right:

It had an easy-to-find customer service area on its Web site. Many sites don't offer this. Check or, for example. I couldn't find a phone number on either of these sites, or a general customer service link.

It provided me with multiple options for getting help: an FAQ database, an e-mail link and a 24/7 toll-free phone number.

It quickly channeled my call to the correct person. I didn't feel like I was lost in voice mail hell.

Its customer service rep was a well-spoken, pleasant, sympathetic person. I didn't feel as if she were reading from a script. This woman genuinely wanted to make things right. Plus she told me that she could tell from my purchase history that I clearly knew how to use the site. (A good ego-stroke never hurts.)

It didn't leave me on hold for 15 minutes. The customer service rep was back on the line within two minutes with an answer and a solution to my problem.

Its solution was logical: A full refund. No arguments, no complicated explanations.

Its customer service rep summarized the problem and solution, and she made sure that I was happy with the resolution. In addition, she thanked me for being an Orbitz customer. This is so simple and yet so often overlooked.

It followed up a week later with a letter that included an apology, an explanation and an incentive to use the service again. Will I? You bet.

How about you? Post your thoughts on what makes customer service out of this world.