Customer focus is an important aspect of the continuous improvement (CI) process. Organizations must develop proactive approaches that are aimed at satisfying the different needs of customers. This is executed by gathering data related to the needs of internal and external customers. A critical aspect of enhancing the CI process is customer relationship management (CRM). CRM has four major components namely complaint resolution, feedback, guarantees, and corrective action. When organizations receive feedback from customers, they address the various issues presented, and act appropriately to ensure that the services provide are improved to avoid complaints and other issues that dissatisfy customers.
Customer feedback provides information that helps organizations to determine the differences between desired levels of achievement and actual levels of achievement. As a result, firms can evaluate and determine their effectiveness and efficiency in providing quality services that enhance customer loyalty and retention. Focusing on customers enables organizations to effectively manage customer retention and loyalty. Customer retention is an indication of the levels of satisfaction, which determined by the quality of products and services provided. Therefore, providing quality services and products increases the number of customers who return for more services. The CI process primarily depends on customer feedback based on satisfaction levels. Organizations collect customer feedback through various methods that include focus groups, website inquiries, customer service surveys, customer research cards, and response lines.
The “GAPS” approach to service design is an important technique that is used in the CI process. The data used in the service quality model is gathered from customers who provide information about their past experiences. This model allows organizations to understand and compare the expected quality of service versus the actual quality of services as experienced by customers. The identification of gaps in service quality enables organizations to identify areas of improvement that could enhance customers’ perceptions and experiences. Identification of quality gaps by focusing on the experiences and perceptions of customers is important in the CI process. Focus on customer eliminates the need for organizations to anticipate customer needs regarding certain products and services that do not exist in the market.
After a company creates a product or service and offers it in the market, it is necessary to continue to provide the product in a manner that satisfies the needs of customers. Continuous improvement opportunities exist in the collection of customer feedback because the information provides knowledge and a better understanding of the quality of different products and services. A thorough understanding of customer needs enables organizations to improve their design processes and methods to provide products and services that satisfy customers’ needs. Customer loyalty and retention depends on the ability of products and services to satisfy customers’ needs. On the other hand, focusing on customers allows businesses to anticipate needs and design products and services that satisfy them. The CI process utilizes information gathered from customers regarding their perceptions and experiences.
CI tools and techniques
There are several tools and techniques used in the CI process. They include process maps, check sheets, histograms, scatter plots, control charts, cause and effect diagrams, and Pareto analysis. Process maps are pictorial representations of quality improvement activities and make up the first step of the CI process. The creation of maps utilizes simple symbols to represent various aspects of the process such as processing, input, output, and decisions. Detailed information is added to each of the components on the process map. This can be accomplished by interviewing people who perform the various activities that make up the process. The maps help to simplify work by facilitating the computation of the intrinsic value provided by each step.
Check sheets are data gathering tools that are presented in either tabular or schematic form. The information that they contain can be used to form histograms. Histograms represent data in a bar chart format and are usually used to show the pattern of data distribution. Scatter diagrams are used to examine relationships between variables and identify different organizational variables. They are easy to develop and use. For instance, a scatter diagram can be used to establish the relationship between employee absenteeism and the number of overtime hours worked by workers. One of the objectives of the CI process is to produce products or services that will satisfy the needs of customers. This objective is achieved by using control charts to determine whether a certain process will produce products or services with certain desired and measurable qualities.
Cause and effect diagrams are to determine the causes of certain events and as a result, enhance processes such as product design and quality improvement. Causes are grouped into different categories namely people, methods, machines, materials, measurements, and environment. The diagram is in the shape of a fish. The head represents the problem, individual ribs represent causes, and the smaller bones represent sub-causes. The diagram usually contains five levels of questioning depending on the industry. For instance, in the services industry, the five levels of questioning include suppliers, surroundings, systems, skills, and safety. Finally, Pareto analysis is a technique used to identify and prioritize problems based on principles of the 80/20 rule.
The analysis involves the selection of information based on defects, classification of data into groups, and construction of a frequency chart to reveal the prevalence of individual defects. Other tools that are used in the CI process include affinity diagram, tree diagram, prioritization matrices, matrix diagram, process decision program chart, interrelationship digraph, and the activity network diagram. The use of these tools is interrelated. Also, each tool plays a special role. Or instance, the Tree Diagram is used to identify the specific steps that are to be followed to solve a certain problem. The Matrix Diagram and the Process Decision Program Chart are tools used during brainstorming to evaluate possible solutions or outcomes to problems and events. Spider charts and dashboards are useful in measuring performance.
Management of CI
The management of CI should involve several aspects that include differentiation between services and manufacturing, SERVQUAL, design, and improvement of services transaction, service transaction analysis, and customer benefits packages. Differentiating between services and manufacturing is important in managing the CI process because it facilitates the design of quality services through understanding the various issues faced in each process. Manufacturing and service quality issues have similarities and differences. For example, dimensions of measuring quality are available in manufacturing and unavailable in services. That knowledge allows organizations to comprehend the importance of creating high-quality products and services the first time. Quality products are the major determinants of customer satisfaction levels and profit growth over time.
On the other hand, customer satisfaction is the most important aspect of both manufacturing and quality service issues. Management of CI should incorporate dimensions of quality that include tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance, and empathy. These aspects of assessing the quality of services are part of an approach referred to as SERVQUAL. This approach is reliable, economical, and consistent. It comprises two main parts namely customer expectations and customer perceptions. The management of the CI process should focus on the expectations and perceptions of customers because of the ad in the identification of gaps in the quality of services. The SERVQUAL survey reveals gaps in communication between employees and customers and their influence on customers’ perceptions regarding service quality.
There are five gaps that the analysis addresses. The first gap is the difference between top management’s idea of customer expectations and the actual customer expectations. The second gap is the difference between organizational service quality specifications and management perceptions of customer expectations. The third gap is the difference between service delivery and the specifications regarding quality. The fourth gap is the difference between service delivery and the mode of communication to customers. Finally, the fifth gap is the difference between expected service and the actual service received. Service blueprinting improves services transaction and it involves identifying processes, isolating points of weakness, establishing a time frame for each process, and analyzing profits. CI process management also includes the moments-of-truth concept that suggests that at certain times, customers expect certain occurrences to take place.
The management of the CI process should also include the design and improvement of services transactions that involve the use of fail-safe devices. Fail-safe devices have three components namely tasks, treatment provide to customers, and tangibles provide to the customer. The management of the CI process should include customer benefits packages (CBP). CBP had two main components that include tangibles and intangibles. Tangibles are features that define the purpose and nature of service while intangibles are features that make up the service. Service transaction analysis refers to the process of evaluating services to determine whether gaps exist between customer perceptions and the actual service design. Such gaps would help the organization to improve the quality of services by focusing time and resources on the CI process. In government, quality management is directly linked to employee satisfaction. Satisfied employees offer high-quality services while discontented employees offer low-quality services.