Nota Aicex: tutte le aziende ritengono di fornire servizi di qualità. Come facciamo a dimostrarlo? Come possiamo sapere se la qualità fornita è migliore o peggiore rispetto al passato? Ken Grady ci insegna 5 modi per garantire un’esperienza memorabile.
“When Americans say it was great, I know it was good. When they say it was good, I know it was okay. When they say it was okay, I know it was bad.” Laura Klos Sokol
We all provide quality services. We know that, because we tell everyone we provide quality services. No one has shown us a convincing argument to the contrary, so we must be right. But how do we demonstrate that we really provide quality services? How do we know our quality is improving or, shudder, declining? We always want to find ways to demonstrate the value of what we do, but demonstrating quality service is a tough one.
When I moved from being a service provider to companies to being a service provider inside a company, my boss gave me his view on how our business clients evaluated the quality of our services. I have tested his theory over the years, and realized he was on to something.
Measuring Quality by Proxy
He explained that our clients had great difficulty objectively measuring the quality of our work. As lawyers in corporations, we were solution providers. Our solutions came in the form of documents and advice. When we wrote a contract, it typically went in a drawer. Our clients might refer to it from time to time, for example to renew the agreement or to terminate the relationship. But, unless a dispute arose, our clients assumed the contract was good. Even if a dispute arose, they often wouldn’t know if the contract was good or bad and even then their evaluation came many years after the contract was written.
This same story played out many ways. We would give legal advice and our clients would (more or less) follow it. It was the unusual situation that would lead our clients to conclude the advice was not so good. Lawsuits were complicated – was it the facts or some legal work that led to a bad settlement or loss?
Given all the challenges in directly evaluating our services, my boss concluded, clients used proxies to measure the quality of our services. They looked at the finished product. Was the contract clear? Was it free of typos? Did it cover all the issues they wanted covered? If we used lawyers from a law firm to help us, did the work come in at or under budget?
Our clients looked at other indicia. Was the contract finished when we said it would be, or was it late? What was the experience like working with the lawyers? Were the lawyers always saying “no” or did they come up with creative solutions? In his view, the clients found ways of evaluating the lawyers and used those ways as proxies for measuring the quality of our services.
Quality from the Client’s Perspective
Initially, this approach of measuring the quality of services through proxies seemed a bit strange, and even unfair. Having come from an environment, which prided itself on quality services, I focused on the work product itself. We did the research, left no stone unturned, and polished the language. Seniors reviewed what juniors had done, and through cycles of review we generated a high quality product. However, the more I worked in corporations and thought about the issue, and the more I saw how companies evaluated quality, the more I realized quality could have a broader definition.
For the same reasons that measuring the quality of a contract or bit of advice was difficult, looking solely to that measure was not useful. If contracts and advice infrequently were part of disputes, then measuring their quality alone was not that valuable. Measuring the quality of the service experience was a more meaningful measure. A great contract delivered late meant less than an acceptable contract delivered on time. Very accurate advice resulting in “no you can’t do it” was not as meaningful as “there is some risk, but here is a way to do it.” Quality was more about satisfying the client’s needs within an acceptable time frame and at an acceptable risk level.
I selected five ways I could do more than say I provided quality services, I could show I was delivering quality services.
1) Get it done when you say you’ll get it done. One of the most common quality errors is promising we will get something done by a certain date, and then not meeting that promise. The domino effect then sets in. Our client inevitably has promised her work product to someone else based on when she was going to get our work product. That person made a similar promise, and so go the dominoes. It is much better to be accurate than over promise and under deliver. I found that not making my timing promise on the spot, but saying something like “I’ll have a date for you by the end of the day” greatly improved my accuracy. Taking even a few moments to think about a project gave me time to fit the pieces together.
2) Deliver what you said you would deliver. If missing deadlines is the greatest sin, then not delivering what the client expected is the next in line. You tell your client when they will get your work product, you miss the date, and then you give them something other than what you promised. Things may change once you dive into the project, but talk with your client immediately and agree on the new work product definition.
3) Provide solutions, not problems. No matter what services you provide, it is unlikely your client woke up in the morning with a burning need for your services. They woke up with a problem. After some thought, your services seemed like the best way to make their problem go away so they came to you. As you work on their issue, new challenges may arise. That should not be your cue to show how adept you are at problem spotting. Your client wants their problem to go away, so show your skills at problem solving. Find a way to overcome the challenges and, if appropriate, go further. Instead of “there is a scheduling issue” find a way to say “I called and we can adjust the timing so you won’t have a scheduling issue.”
4) Meet (beat) the budget. Good news! My work product is done on time and I am providing what we agreed upon. Now if you would just pay my bill which, ahem, is twice what I estimated. No, this isn’t just an outside service provider issue. Within many corporations, using services from another department results in a charge to your department. Sometimes, that other department must go outside and get freelance help to meet your requirements. Any way you look at it, a budget surprise is not a delightful surprise. Many service providers have difficulty with this point. Once you agree on the parameters of a project and set the budget, the risk should transfer to the service provider. If things don’t change, then charge what you agreed upon – no more.
5) Smile. Yes, I mean this literally not just figuratively. Your department is in disarray, things are coming at you from all directions, and now you have this client who wants what by when? Smile, you are in the service business. The temptation is almost overwhelming (for me, it was overwhelming at times) to share your problems with the client – but always, of course, in the form of explaining why you couldn’t do what they wanted. They just don’t care. They have a problem and they want you to help solve it. If you smile and then take that extra time before answering what you can deliver when, several things happen. Your client believes you really did think about what you could do for them. Even if you still can’t meet their deadline, it feels more like you tried. Given the extra time you took, you also may find a way you can meet the deadline, but with an adjustment to what otherwise would have been the budget (e.g., using more outside resources than in-house resources). Finally, smiling will make you feel better.
As I broadened my quality horizon, using proxies to measure quality really became using criteria relevant to my client to measure quality. I used the same approach when measuring the quality of services I received. A visit to the doctor was measured based on whether I had a long wait, whether the doctor was attentive or rushed, and whether I left feeling my medical needs had been met. I could not directly evaluate the quality of his medical work. When I took my car to the dealer for service, I measured quality on the cost, how quickly I got my car back, whether it was clean or dirty when it was returned, and the interactions I had with the service personnel. I could not directly measure the quality of the work done on my car.
Good is Still Good and Great is Still Great
Using this broader quality definition did not mean abandoning other quality measures. I did not want our clients walking away satisfied only to have the company face a series of lawsuits because contract terms were poorly drafted. I used measures (such ask the total cost of all disputes divided by total legal spending) to keep track of general quality levels. I found, however, that client quality measures were more meaningful in determining whether the law department was meeting the organization’s needs.
I also found that using the same approach to measuring the quality of services provided by those outside the company was helpful. I retained some excellent service providers to help my clients. But sometimes, my clients would argue that the organization was not receiving acceptable quality services from those firms. The more I dug, the more I found that the perceived lack of quality was not tied to the work product. Rather, it was tied to cost, timeliness, meeting budgets, creativeness, and other factors that formed a part of the services delivery. Even colleagues joining the company directly from outside firms would start using these measures after a short period.