For any business organization, customers are by all means the most respected people hence businesses are always presented with a hard task of ensuring customer satisfaction. Pointedly, even with much research having been carried out on the topic of customer satisfaction, an accordant definition of the phrase “customer satisfaction, still has incessantly evaded the researchers; researchers are still yet to agree on the exact definition of customer satisfaction. Ideally, customer satisfaction implies the contentment of a customer after receiving a service or a product. Quality, therefore, emerges as the main facet in light of customer satisfaction hence the need to define quality, particularly customer-based quality while also striving to understand customer and business based practices and behavior with regards to customer satisfaction. It is also beneficial to note that customer satisfaction can be measured, and there are various tools that can be utilized for this purpose; measurements that are overly dependent on the customers’ voice.
Definition of Quality
Quality is a central element in business strategy and academic research; it is perhaps the most important and complex component of business strategy. While customers search for quality, firms strive to beat each other at providing the quality needed by customers, and it is this quality that transubstantiates markets. Quality is thence the main force that warrants cutstomer stsfaction which translates to profits realized by businesses hence economic growth (Golder, Mitra, & Moorman, 2012). Given this breadth, quality has roots in business practice and in many disciplines including marketing, management, economics, engineering, operations, strategy, and consumer research. In business practice, views of quality have evolved over the past 30 years through programs such as Total Quality Management (TQM), the Baldrige Awards, and Six Sigma, all of which have helped firms improve quality, particularly in manufactured goods (Choy, Lam, & Lee2012). Academic research has also contributed to our understanding of quality.
Leaders in the quality management literature believe that perceived quality is just one of many dimensions of quality (Ooi, Lin, Tan, & Chong, 2011).In operations and engineering, quality means conformance to design specifications or the reliability of internal processes, even though many customers do not find these processes meaningful (Nilsson, Johnson, Gustafsson, 2001). In another example, quality has been operationalized as or used interchangeably with customer satisfaction (Jeong & Oh, 1998).Given the lack of a common understanding across and within disciplines; it is not surprising that conceptual ambiguity about quality persists. On the basis of an exhaustive review of the quality literature, Reeves and Bednar (1994) conclude that “no universal, parsimonious, or all-encompassing definition or model of quality exists” (p. 436) and that “different definitions of quality are appropriate under different circumstances” (p. 419).
The quality evaluation process, which focuses on the customer, occurs when firms (alone or with customers) deliver attributes for customers to experience and customers perceive these attributes through the lens of their measurement knowledge and motivation, emotions, and expectations. In this process, there is translation from what the customer experiences (delivered attributes) to what the customer perceives. Customers will not perceive accurately all attributes they experience and will overlook some attributes entirely (Nilsson, Johnson, Gustafsson, 2001). Within this process, the state of experienced attribute quality is an offering’s delivered attribute performance relative to a customer’s ‘ideal’ expectation.
In today’s world of intense competition with ever-increasing demand from consumers in terms of service or product offers, quality has become the vanguard of customer service, especially in the front-end interface. The prominence of quality is further manifested by the growing recognition that delivery of high quality services can often lead to sustainable competitive advantage (Golder, Mitra, & Moorman, 2012).
Identifying the Customer, Business Characteristics, and Impact
Consider the effect of process orientation on customer satisfaction. Many services are not thoroughly tested prior to market introduction (Aguwa, Monplaisir, & Turgut, 2012).Consequently, the failure rate of services is high and there is a substantial variation in service delivery. Unlike products, where assembly plant managers are likely to carefully map out process details and rigorously adhere to the process maps, services are not subject to the same process discipline resulting in greater variation in the process (Golder et al, 2012).
Importantly, the production process is more visible to service customers than to product customers. As captured in Langeard and Englier’s ‘‘servuction’’ model (see Bateson & Hoffman, 1999), service firms and the service production process can be divided in two parts — one that is visible to the consumer and a second that is invisible (the ‘‘technical core’’). Because the production process is visible to service customers — indeed they are part of the process — process orientation should have a significant direct impact on customer satisfaction with services.
Satisfying customers requires the identification of customers’ needs (customer orientation) and translation of these needs into key process activities (process orientation) and people (employee management). In contrast, service customers are more directly intimate with and affected by a service organization’s downstream processes (Choy et al, 2012).
The first and most important of the TQ principles is customer focus; the primary goal of the business is to provide customers with of goods and services that meets or exceed their needs. Attaining customer satisfaction is cerebrated to be having a positive impact in the returns of a business organization by decreasing costs (especially costs that are related to returns) while at the same time increasing revenue through enhancing customer loyalty (Naik et al, 2010). The TQ principle of customer focus affects the work activities of employees because, logically, this principle requires that employees anticipate customers’ expectations. Because both fellow employees and purchasers of the firms’ products and services are considered to be customers, each employee needs to be aware of the reactions of these customers to the work operations which are controlled by him/her and, if necessary, use this information to alter these operations (Nilsson et al, 2001). In other words, the TQ principle of customer focus emphasizes that the customer is the key factor in determining standards and for measuring performance of work activities (Choy et al, 2012).
Voice of the Customer
Customer satisfaction can be defined as a person’s felt state; either pleasure or discontent, ensuing from comparing a product’s perceived performance (or outcome) in relation to the person’s expectations (Aguwa, et al, 2012). Customer satisfaction has long been acknowledged as one of the critical success factor in today’s competitive business environment as it affects companies’ market share and customer retention. (Golder et al, 2012). Voice of the customer (VOC) analysis challenges can be attributed to lack of intelligent systems that can interpret and provide conclusive data that empowers leaders to take action. Manufacturing is a sector that can greatly benefit from a detailed VOC analysis. Capturing the needs of customers is a difficult task since customer input is subjective. However, if subjective claims have a high frequency of repetition, this is an issue that needs to be addressed. The methodology developed to analyze customer comments will provide decision makers with a crisp value that can be further evaluated based on the range spectrum under which it falls through the use of data mining software and project architecture while taking into account cost parameters (Golder et al, 2012).
The key idea of capturing and analyzing the voice of the customer is to be able to provide vital information for the product development process and understand how the product development process works so that the best approach for capturing and analyzing the voice of the customer can be accomplished (Golder et al, 2012).The beginning of research on VOC originated from Parasuraman’s research. He mentioned that VOC could be collected from customer’s recognition and customer surveys. Since it highly affects the analysis phase he emphasized the importance of the method of collecting VOC (Aguwa, et al, 2012). Customer feedback is not only vital for design engineers, but also for marketing experts to make targeted interventions to pricing policies (Aguwa, et al, 2012).The Quality Function Deployment (QFD) is a total-quality-management process in which VOC is organized throughout the engineering and manufacturing process during product development. The House of Quality (HOQ) is one of the matrices of the QFD. The HOQ is often utilized to understand customer requirements and translate those requirements into the voice of the engineer (Naik et al, 2010).
Customer-Driven Organizational/Management Practices
The way of doing business has shifted dramatically over the years. More organizations have started to emphasize more on providing services to their customers than merely producing products(Golder et al, 2012).This can be seen from the world development indicators where services contributed almost two-third of the world’s total output. The significant shift from being product-oriented to service-centered consumption pattern is the result of pressure from the increased number of demanding customers (Golder et al, 2012). Hence, it is essential for the organizations to offer them superior service quality in order to enjoy significant strategic benefits such as better productivity, rising market share, and sustained customer loyalty. Being customers, they prefer to buy high quality products or services. They often judge organization performance using quality as the indicator. Since quality has influence on customers’ perception and their buying behaviors, it becomes a key success factor for organizations. Today, the survival of any business is directly tied to the ability of the business to produce goods or provide services that meet customers’ needs. Survival is even more guaranteed to businesses provides goods and services that exceed client needs. (Aguwa, et al, 2012). Because of this, businesses are incessantly looking for amicable ways of transforming inputs into outputs that meet of exceed customer expectations. Ideally, TQM is famed for its ability to enable businesses meet or exceed customer expectations perhaps due to the fact that it focuses on customer gratification (Aguwa, et al, 2012). TQM’s primary focus of customer satisfaction, measured by an organization’s ability to meet and exceed its customer’ expectations, often requires TQM organizations to maintain close contact with customers through post-purchase surveys, sales people, marketing, and customer relations departments (Aguwa, et al, 2012).
Measuring Customer Satisfaction
The quality evaluation process occurs when customer compare an offering’s perceived attributes with their expectations to form summary judgments of quality and then satisfaction. These expectations are determined by accumulated information consisting of stored customer knowledge accrued from a customer’s own experiences, other customers’ experiences, firm strategies (e.g., Customer relationship and brand strategies), media reports, and quality signals associated with each attribute (Aguwa, et al, 2012). Within this process, the state of evaluated aggregate quality is the aggregation across attributes of an offering’s perceived attribute performance relative to a customer’s ‘ideal’ expectation. Although this state resides in customers, firms benefit from measuring it (Choy et al, 2012). Customers gauge the quality of a product by comparing their anticipations before using a product and their experiences after using a product. Excellent products of services exceed customer expectation while inferior products do not exceed customer expectations(Choy et al, 2012). The customer satisfaction concept is composed of a plethora of components which have variant sources (Nilsson et al, 2001).
Measuring Customer Satisfaction QFD and TQM
Bicknell and Bicknell (1995) deﬁnes QFD as a systematic approach mapping the customer needs into definable and measurable product and process parameters, using matrices and other quantitative and qualitative techniques (Jeong & Oh,1998). As implied in the deﬁnition, QFD translates market demands (i.e., customer needs) into functions implementable in management decision processes. Furthermore, QFD bases its general model building process on both qualitative and quantitative customer research and close cooperation among the functional units of the organization. In essence, QFD takes into account not only the customers but also the organizational process. Distinction should be made among related concepts. QFD can be viewed as one of the key techniques in the TQM process (Jeong & Oh,1998). While TQM focuses ensuring customer satisfaction though amelioration of input-output, QFD is simply an application of the philosophy of TQM in the production of new products and services (Naik et al, 2010). QFD also differs from recently introduced service quality and customer satisfaction research paradigms such as SERVQUAL (Naik et al, 2010) in that it provides structured guidelines for re-designing services as well as developing new products, rather than simply describing or measuring service quality and customer satisfaction.
The overall process of QFD is based on its core matrix framework, called the house of quality, which is used to intertwine customer needs, service design/management requirements, target design goals, and competitive product/service evaluations. The impact of TQM practices on customer satisfaction is less disputed than its impact on plant performance results. Both Deming (1986) and Juran (1986) promoted customer satisfaction as the ultimate goal of TQM (Naik et al, 2010). Deming suggested that the goal of firms should be to constantly improve their services and products for the customers, and Juran defined quality as fitness for use, or the ability of a service or product to satisfy a customer’s needs (Naik et al, 2010). Simply stated, a satisfied customer will repeat his or her purchases of the goods or services, increasing a firm’s market share and profits. Therefore, there appears to be support for a positive relationship between TQM practices and customer satisfaction.
Measuring Indices and Tools
Within the existing literature on customer satisfaction research, various customer satisfaction models were developed based on a cumulative view of satisfaction. To this end, a number of customer satisfaction indices (CSIs) were designed with most prominent of those being Swedish Customer Satisfaction Barometer (SCSB), the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) and European Customer Satisfaction Index (ECSI). The ECSI is a structural model based on the assumptions that customer satisfaction is derived by a number of factors such as perceived quality, perceived value, customers anticipations, and how the firm is perceived; factors that according to Ooi et. al. (2011) are the greatest determinant of customer satisfaction.
Measuring customer satisfaction is a growing concern to business organizations throughout the world. The concept that you cannot manage what you cannot measure is one of the main principles of management science, since measurement is one of the five key functions of managers. Indeed, the idea of measurement is fundamental to the scientific method, and it is arguably the bedrock of human knowledge. The most important benefits of a customer satisfaction program can be summated as follows:
- Measurement provides a sense of achievement and accomplishment
- Measurement provides a possible standard of excellence
- Measurement offers an immediate meaningful and objective feedback
- Measurement indicates what should be improved and the ways through which this improvement can be achieved
- Measurement motivates people to perform and achieve higher levels of productivity
It should also be noted that it is not an easy task meeting customers needs expecially when there is a conflict between perceived internal quality and external measures which are always based on customer perceptual experience. The translation runs all the way from customer needs, to product and service attributes, through design, to production and service maintenance processes, and to customer satisfaction (Ooi et al 2011). Engineers have become increasingly customer focused and strive to incorporate the voice of the customer into quality improvement models and methods, as evidenced by the growing use of quality function deployment and its house of quality. Similarly, externally focused market and consumer researchers have become more internally focused as they strive to translate customer needs and satisfaction into action implications. Simply put, both engineers and marketers are learning to wear multiple hats in a cooperative effort to increase business performance. Bridging the gap between customer needs, product quality, and customer satisfaction requires translated into internal means of accomplishment. Existing translation tools and methods capture some, but not all, of this translation process.
The relationship between product criteria and customer satisfaction has mostly been assumed to be linear—the higher the perceived criteria quality, the higher the customer’s satisfaction and vice versa. However, from the viewpoint of current theory, this relationship may be non-linear. Continuous improvement in some criteria, without considering what customers actually desire, may not be sufficient to enhance satisfaction. Conventional weight determination methods may not be able to completely illustrate the relationship between quality criteria and customer satisfaction levels.
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