If your customers pay for quality, you can't afford to give them inferior products or services. Quality control refers to any process that ensures what you're selling meets a desired standard. There are many quality control methods, and some of them are industry specific. A quality control procedure that works for a steelmaker may not apply to a fast-food chain or a newspaper.
Quality control procedures are specific to the industry and sector you work in. In sales, for example, you might establish procedures around how long the sales team takes to gathers lead, respond to proposals or close a sale.
Before adopting any quality control procedure, you need to be clear on why you're doing it. These are some common reasons to implement quality control procedures:
- Customers require that your products meet their standard for energy efficiency, purity, zero defects or whatever issue is important to them.
- Your products have too many defects, and your brand's reputation is hurting.
- You're losing customer loyalty and repeat business because your software wasn't debugged adequately.
- Your sales process is inferior. Salespeople don't track customer information, or they compete for the same customers, for instance.
- Customer service is inferior: for example, waiters delivering the wrong order to customers or waiting too long to serve them.
If you're instituting quality controls to meet your customers' requirements, they'll determine the level of quality for which to shoot. If it's for reasons internal to your company, you have more flexibility.
A quality control procedure isn't quite the same as quality assurance, though many companies employ both. Quality assurance (QA) programs are proactive; you design production to achieve the quality level you want. Quality control methods are reactive; you study the output to identify the problems or defects and work to fix them.
It helps to have both a quality assurance and quality control program in play. Quality assurance is more cost efficient, as it eliminates bad products before they're manufactured. If the QA program isn't effective, however, you'll need quality control testing to determine that.
Quality control requires the specific metric you're going to use to judge equality. In manufacturing, for example, you have several possible benchmarks:
- Failure rate
- Frequency of defects
- Does manufacturing come in under budget and under time?
- Are the processes reliable?
- If you make electronics, how often do they crash?
For customer phone service, the benchmarks might include how long the customer gets put on hold, how quickly calls get answered and how many times your employee has to transfer someone to get the issue resolved.
Once you know the benchmark you want to achieve, you can plan your quality control process steps:
- How many units will you test from each batch?
- Based on the test, how many units fail? How many customer calls go to voicemail? How many customer orders ship late?
- Are you grading on a pass/fail system where any defect equals failure, or will you have a sliding scale such as a 1 to 10 scale for evaluating the issues?
- How will you fix the problems you discover?
- Is your quality assurance program working, or do you need to upgrade it?
- What changes do you have to make to ensure things don't drop back to a subpar level as soon as you concentrate on some other problem?
- Once you implement the quality control procedure, how will you review the results?
- How will you improve the initial results?
Like any other business project, your quality control program may run up against your limits:
- How many resources can you devote to the quality control process steps?
- How much time can you devote to product or operations testing?
- Do you have the expertise available in house, or do you need to bring in an expert?
- How frequently can you afford to make tests?
- How will you archive the information so it's available to those who need to review it?
A good program balances the push for greater quality against the demands on your company's resources.
There's no shortage of different quality control methods, though they aren't universally used. Sampling material is an effective quality control procedure for a manufacturer, but it doesn't do much good if you're evaluating a customer help desk.
- You can measure manufacturing output, whether it's ceramic mugs or asphalt for road construction. The types of quality control could include testing for defects, durability, weight or chemical composition.
- You can smell and taste food as well as evaluate it for how attractive it looks.
- You can use questionnaires or interviews to evaluate the quality of services you provide to customers.
- For medical supplies, quality control methods include checking that packaging is intact, that chemical composition has been verified by a pharmacist and that any necessary documentation is available. If the drug requires refrigeration, checking storage conditions would be an added quality control procedure.
Suppose you're offering a line of supplements, and you want to assure your customers that they're top quality with no contaminants. Your quality assurance program works to see that your manufacturing lives up to that, and then you use quality control methods to check your performance.
- The lab making the supplements sends samples to you for testing from each batch manufactured. Your quality control team decides whether the batch meets the standards you set.
- When the supplements are packaged, the team checks that the boxes have all necessary information, lot numbers and expiration dates. The team also checks that the tamper-proof seals are in place and that the right product is in the right box.
- The team checks that the manufacturer has whatever records are required and that they're all in order.
If your goal is to improve sales performance, you want a quality control procedure that measures salespeople against a benchmark. You can use customer surveys and employee interviews to get the information:
- What methods of prospecting do your sales team use to gather leads?
- How fast do your people respond if a potential customer asks for a sales proposal?
- How much time do your salespeople take to close a sale? How much time do they spend on potential sales that never happen?
- How many sales fall through at the last minute?
- How much repeat business or referral business comes from each successful sale?
- What does your sales team think of the process? Are there obstacles of which you're not aware? Is the problem motivation, the size of commissions or that the team is handling too many customers per person?
Look for flaws outside the actual sales process. It's possible that the problem is not with the sales team but with the way the company supports them:
- Does the company bog things down with paperwork?
- Is it easy for the sales team to find answers to technical questions from customers?
- Do your brochures or website provide clear information about what products you have available?
Restaurants are an industry where the quality of the product and the quality of the service are both important. Bad food or an unfriendly wait person can both lead to a nasty online review. Quality control methods can help evaluate both.
- How good is the food? Even if you're competing on price and not quality, customers still have standards.
- How attentive are your wait staff, bartenders and other employees?
- Does the restaurant look clean? Do employees clean off tables thoroughly and efficiently?
- Are the restrooms clean?