Managing quality during a pandemic

Managing quality during a pandemic

Written on 08/17/2020
SHEQ Management

Quality management is a crucial element in any organisation. It should be approached like a dance, making customer satisfaction a priority, while monitoring and measuring the efficiency of processes



The Irish playwright critic, polemicist and political activist George Bernard Shaw once said: “The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”

Every organisation interacts with various stakeholders and, as a result, a set of standards are established. Keeping high standards of quality management has become even more important, and challenging, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Managing customer expectations
If you’ve ever watched or participated in a tango, you’ll know that physical closeness between the dancers is required. However, an outstanding tango needs more than closeness.

It requires collaboration, among other skills.

Despite the uncertainty created by the pandemic, customers still expect a dependable delivery of services or products. For example, during level 5 of the lockdown, customers were permitted to visit their local supermarket to buy essential items. Some products were flying off the shelves – a situation that was triggered by a high demand as well as anticipated bottlenecks in the supply chain. To ensure continuity of supply, the supermarkets and the logistics service providers had to swiftly and expertly perform the equivalent of a tango.

Making customer satisfaction a priority
The global demand for alcohol-based hand sanitisers and face masks has created numerous business opportunities. Some of these products on the market are of inferior quality, however, and organisations could raise consumer awareness of quality by highlighting which of their products comply with the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) Mark Scheme.

For example, alcohol-based hand sanitiser manufacturers may apply to the SABS to have their products tested and certified against the requirements of the South African National Standards (SANS), “SANS 490:2013 Disinfectant alcohol-based handrub”.

It is not enough just to know what the customer wants now; customer perceptions should be monitored regularly.

In his book Creating a Customer-Centered Culture: Leadership in Quality, Innovation, and Speed, Robin Lawton describes customer satisfaction as depending on three criteria.

These are:
1. Performance of the service or manufactured product, defined by objective criteria. The focus is on the product’s information.
2. Perception of the product and related subjective criteria. Focus is on appeal or subjective experience.
3. Outcome or results obtained by using the service or manufactured product.
Every organisation will have a different set of criteria for measuring customer satisfaction, but Lawton’s three criteria provide a useful yardstick.

Monitoring and measuring processes

What is the current state of our processes? Do they still deliver value to our customers? Paying attention to what customers are experiencing is one way to assess opportunities for improvement.

As an example from my own experience, I recently received an email from my Internet Service Provider (ISP), notifying me that, because of the backlog caused by the lockdown, there would be a delay in its response to a query I had.

The ISP was clearly concerned about the time taken to resolve customer queries. Monitoring and measuring that time was part of its service operations.  

A renewed focus
 
Organisations are facing a period of huge adjustment as they implement measures to withstand the pandemic, while internal and external business contexts are disrupted.
Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, once said: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”
So, ensure that you stay abreast of your customers’ needs, manage quality during the pandemic … and work on your tango.