To understand total quality, we must first understand quality. Customers that are businesses will define quality very clearly using specifications, standards, and other measures. This makes the point that quality can be defined and measured. Although few consumers could define quality if asked, all know it when they see it. This makes the critical point that quality is in the eye of the beholder. With the total quality approach, customers ultimately define quality.
People deal with the issue of quality continually in their daily lives. We concern ourselves with quality when we are shopping groceries, eating in a restaurant, and making a major purchase, such as an automobile, a home, a television, or a personal computer. Perceived quality is a major factor by which people make distinctions in the marketplace. Whether we articulate them openly or keep them in the back of our minds, we all apply a number of criteria when making a purchase. The extent to which a purchase meets these criteria determines its quality in our eyes.
One way to understand quality as a consumer-driven concept is to consider the example of eating at a restaurant. How will you judge the quality of the restaurant? Most people apply such criteria as the following:
- Response time
- Food preparation
- Environment or atmosphere
This example gets at one aspect of quality—the results aspect. Does the product or service meet or exceed customer expectations? This is a critical aspect of quality, but it is not the only one. Total quality is a much broader concept that encompasses not just the results aspect but also the quality of people and the quality of processes.
Quality has been defined in a number of different ways by a number of different people and organizations. Consider the following definitions:
- Performance that meets or exceeds expectations.
- Performance that meets the customer’s needs.
- Consistently meeting customer needs and expectations.
- Satisfying the customer today and getting better tomorrow.
Although there is no universally accepted definition of quality, enough similarity does exist among the definitions that common elements can be extracted:
- Quality involves meeting or exceeding customer expectations.
- Quality applies to products, services, people, processes, and environments.
- Quality is an ever-changing state (i.e., what is considered quality today may not be good enough to be considered quality tomorrow).
With these common elements extracted, the following definition of quality can be set forth:
Quality is a dynamic state associated with products, services, people, processes, and environments that meets or exceeds expectations and helps produce superior value.