When building a product, or delivering a service, quality is a very big contributor to buyer/user satisfaction. Anyone who has ever sought zero defects in either a manufacturing or service delivery context will tell you it is not possible. True, custom one offs can get pretty close -- but I would argue that a volume of one unit does not a manufacturing process make.
I am sure there is a study out there (let me know if you have one) that shows the increasing investment required to capture each additional percent of quality. I would bet that once you get over 90% the cost curve turns up pretty hard, that over 95% it is too steep to climb, and that as it approaches 100% it goes nearly vertical.
So knowing that the extreme cost prevents an outright avoidance of defects, what next? Here are three ideas:
- Communicate that you know the facts of life. It is hard to be credible while saying that you strive for 100% quality. Such statements do not empower the people in your organization that handle the exceptions. If five of every 100 products is returned -- just say so.
- Don't pocket all of the money. Cutting back on the pursuit of 100% quality can sometimes lead to a budget windfall. After all, each percentage point on the way back down the quality cost curve will reduce costs dramatically. Make sure to invest some of that money in other customer satisfaction initiatives. You could even reward customers for finding defects -- i.e. shifting QA cost to the customer.
- Be extraordinary at exception handling. Nordstrom accepts returns of products they don't even sell, Costo accepts returns on electronic items, make sure that when the roulette wheel of defects calls your customer's number -- you are there to make the experience as good as possible.
Customers know products or services cannot be 100% defect free. They can be satisfied with an exception handling process. Just admit the problem, give them something, and do it like a pro.