May 9, 2010

Defects and emotions

I went to Florence last week and fulfilled my dream of seeing the leather school at Santa Croce, and splurging on something made with care, the best materials (leather produced in Italy), and attention to detail. I picked out a leather jacket with a distinctive smocked effect. The sleeves were too long, but Vito assured me that they could shorten them immediately and I could pick the coat up that afternoon.

I agonized over how much it cost, being a very frugal person, and not given to buying the luxuries I often covet. This coat was producing a lot of deep feelings. Call me silly, but that's the truth.

When I picked up the coat, however, I noticed that the new seam on one of the sleeves was a tiny bit crooked and made an undesirable tuck in the smocked material. It's something most people would probably not notice, but I immediately felt a pang. I was in an emotional state, I was pressed for time, and I didn't want to complain. I wanted to believe that this was the most wonderful leather-working organization ever. My mind started working on how I could rework the piece myself without leaving needle holes showing.

I've gone through the "should haves" over and over again. I should have insisted on a coat without the defect, and waited a little longer or refused to take it. I'm not the only customer who has accepted a product with a defect and gone away disappointed and disillusioned about all the things an organization has done to create its reputation.

I felt so let down that I couldn't open the bag later to look at the coat. I took the unopened bag through the airline check-in and hand-baggage approval, through Italian customs to get my VAT refund approved, through numberless security checks, on two airplanes, through American customs, and home. It took me three days to open the bag and take out the jacket. All the feelings I wanted to have were crushed by this defect that they allowed and I accepted. I haven't cried over it, but I might.

This is an extreme reaction to a product defect, but think of all the people working in systems that allow defects to occur and how powerless they may feel to prevent them. No one comes to work to do a bad job. People get hardened to the knowledge that customers get defective products, but I think they have deep emotions tied to it.

That's why mistake proofing, quality at the source, training, and consistent standards are so important. Everything must be in place so the customer gets perfection. Every employee must be confident that they produce the best.

When it all works right, you can have the hearts and minds of employees and loyalty of your customers. When it doesn't, you betray them, and they know it.

5 comments:

Kerry O'Malley said...

Love this post, Karen. What a great way to emphasize a point! If everyone made up their mind to give their job 110% every day and not accept less from themeselves, what a wonderful world it would be! (hope you find a solution for that leather jacket. I can totally relate!)

Joe said...

Terrific post, Karen. You captured the emotional component of quality problems, which we technical types usually overlook.

We may use this story to help drive the point home.

BTW, isn't Florence amazing?? I was there 18 months ago and still am reveling in it. Santa Croce is amazing. Glad you got to be there!

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Chet Frame said...

Great post, Karen.

I loved Florence and I have leather goods that I have purchased there.

Beyond quality of product-think about the quality of personal relationships or the relationship between you and a co-worker or you and your boss. A missed promise, a report not quite right, a project that was not the best. These play in the heart and the psyche of all of us as much as the poor stitching in that now infamous seam. After years in manufacturing we are concerned about quality issues, but we are not viscerally moved. Broken promises, shoddy workmanship from trusted associates, and a lack of respect from management are visceral impacts of poor quality where we are most susceptible.

Karen Wilhelm said...

It's easy to ignore the emotional context of work, isn't it? Many of the engineers I know have had a little difficulty discovering their emotional sides, but emotions are always working under the surface. I read of a study that said that when someone completes a project successfully, they experience real satisfaction on the job, outweighing pay, awards, pats on the backs and everything. Teams work on sensitivity and sincerity. Fear mucks everything up. Customer-supplier relationships can be angry or friendly, focused or superficial. Our business culture discounts emotion while feelings are at work all the time.

To my friends who took the time to read and comment on this post, thanks for your regard. That's what makes writing the blog worthwhile. (This is me experiencing a little peak of satisfaction.)

Robert Drescher said...

Karen it is nice to see that someone realizes, that real quality is not just a physical attribute to a product. Real quality is the experience of touching something that someone who cared made, it in fact becomes a feeling that you get rewarded with. I went through a similar experience with a computer, it took three months before they finally got me a working computer, I know, I will never do business with them again, because of the whole experience. Poor quality products and services are insulting to your customers.

Being 50+ I have seen many things change, and some companies have lost me as a customer forever because of mistakes. When you produce a product that is less than right, you are saying to the consumer "you do not matter" and "you do not care about them." Many businesses wonder why brand loyalty is at an all time low, well it is not hard to understand why, if you realize that everytime you ship a defective product you slap the consumer in the face and call them an idiot for buying it, many companies even compound the matter afterward with even more pathetic customer service procedures, so not ony did the person get an unwanted defect they also get made jump through hoops to get it fixed.

I was most businesses would learn that poor quality is in fact saying to the customer "you do not matter."

Thank you again for pointing out quality is more than about just cost, poor quality carries greater costs than the ones that show on income statements.

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