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Week of 16 October 2017: When your reputation for quality is horrible

Email Jim at jthompson@taii.com

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If your reputation for quality is horrible, there is only one choice--fix it. But to reach that one choice, you must first be willing to accept the feedback that your reputation for quality is poor. This is a hurdle for many organizations; they are dismissive of customer feedback, and say to themselves, "It is only a single case" or "customers are not willing to pay for quality."

I know of three organizations that have met this challenge head-on and done something about it.

The first is Sprint. Even though I have been a Sprint customer for a very long time, I used to hate to go into their stores. The employees were surly, distracted and generally left the impression they would rather be anywhere than at work. That's all changed in the past few years. You are greeted with a smile by someone who has a function much like a concierge. Sprint heard the complaints, saw the challenge and rose to meet it.

The second is Huyndai. At one point in time, Huyndai had the worst reputation in the auto market (well, maybe not the worst; there was always Yugo). Again, they heard what the customers had to say and went about fixing it. How did they fix it? With the best warranty in the business--10 years. This is putting your money where your mouth is. Many have taken a risk on Huyndai's and Kia's cars since this change. The company's assembly plants in Georgia and Alabama are cranking out the cars.

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The third is the Emory University Hospital System. The doctors, nurses and professional staff have always been great. It was the gatekeepers--the staff that checked you in, the staff that set appointments that left you feel like they would rather not see you. Emory jumped on this problem, went through a massive training program, and has conquered this problem. They also automatically seek feedback on every visit.

The first step is recognizing that your quality is horrible. The next step is recognizing that you have no choice but to fix it. Then, engage in the process. You'll probably need forceful outsiders to help you do this (all three of the above companies engaged professionals to help them). You will need this because your own people are clinging to too many sacred cows.

All of this needs to be done with haste, but not so much haste that it is executed poorly. Senior management getting motivated and moving is the toughest step. After that, with professional help, the job that needs to be done can be done.

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An example of an organization that has never fixed its quality is Amtrak, the US passenger train operation. Not surprisingly, Amtrak has lost money nearly every year it has been in existence, and this goes back to 1971. Of course, Amtrak does not make money because it does not need to do so, it merely goes to the US Congress and ask for a bailout when it is in trouble. The threat of going out of business due to poor quality is a great motivator--Amtrak does not have this.

How do you measure the quality of your emergency services? Do you have any metrics you follow for your EMT's, fire brigade or other similar functions? Yes, it is right to focus on your safety metrics--never have an injury, never have a fire--but it doesn't hurt to gauge and measure those services that provide help when you need them.

Be safe and we will talk next week.

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