In the context of physical product form, quality is not as simple as it may first appear. In fact, the term quality means different things to different people. While everyone wants a quality product, not all may agree that a particular item or brand has all of the quality attributes desired. Quality is traditionally viewed in terms of eight different competitive dimensions.
Perhaps the most obvious aspect of quality from a customer’s viewpoint is performance, or how well the product actually performs in comparison to how it was designed to perform. For example, personal computers may be judged with respect to their processing speed; audio components, in terms of sound clarity and lack of noise; or dishwashers, relative to how clean and spotless the dishes. Superior performance in a product is generally an objective attribute, which can be compared between items and brands. Of course, an item may actually have several performance dimensions, which complicates comparison. The personal computer is judged not only in terms of processing speed but also by such characteristics as internal memory, hard disk capacity, and numerous other performance features.
Reliability refers to the likelihood that a product will perform throughout its expected life. It is also concerned with the number of breakdowns or repairs that a customer experiences after purchase. Consider, for example, Maytag’s slogan “The Dependability People” and long-running advertising campaign featuring a company repairman as “the loneliest person in town.” Maytag stresses its products are more reliable than those of competitors by showing that the Maytag repairman is never needed to fix a broken appliance. Like performance, reliability is a characteristic of quality that can be objectively measured.
While related to reliability, durability is a somewhat different attribute. It refers to the actual life expectancy of a product. An automobile with a life expectancy of 10 years may be judged by many consumers to be of higher durability than one with a projected 5-year life. Of course, life span may be extended through repair or preventive maintenance. Thus, durability and reliability are distinct but interrelated aspects of quality.
Conformance refers to whether a firm’s products actually meet the precise description or specifications as designed. It is frequently measured by looking at an organization’s scrap, rework, or rate of defects. Conformance quality measurement is usually internal in an organization. For example, if 95 percent of a firm’s products meet the specifications as designed, it has a 5 percent defect rate. Defective products may be scrapped or reworked to bring them into conformance. Features Customers frequently judge quality of specific products on the basis of the number of functions or tasks that they perform independent of reliability or durability. For example, a television receiver with features such as remote control, picture-in-picture, and on-screen programming is typically perceived to be of higher quality than a basic model. But, in general, the more features a product contains, the greater is the likelihood that another quality attribute may be lacking, such as reliability. Aesthetics Aesthetics, the styling and specific materials used in a product, is used by many consumers to judge quality. In clothing, cashmere sweaters are considered of higher quality than poly- ester fabrics. In automobiles, the use of leather rather than cloth for seats, wood or metal rather than plastic, is an aesthetic that implies quality. Included in aesthetics is the notion of fit and finish such as high-gloss paint on an automobile or seams having no overlap. Product designs that are unique or innovative are frequently regarded by customers to be of higher quality. Serviceability Serviceability, the ease of fixing or repairing a product that fails, is an important aspect of quality for some customers. Consider, for example, how some new appliances contain diagnostic capability, which alerts users or service technicians that a failure is about to occur. Ideally, serviceability would allow the customer to fix the product with little or no cost or time lost. In the absence of such serviceability, customers generally consider those items or brands that can be repaired quickest at least cost to have superior quality. Perceived Quality As noted earlier, customers are the ultimate judges of product quality through their perception of how well the product meets their requirements. Perceived quality is based on customers’ experience before, during, and after they purchase a product. Total product quality is a combination of the eight dimensions, how they are blended by an organization, and how that blend is perceived by the customer. It is perfectly plausible that two different customers may perceive two different brands as each having best quality, depending upon which blend of elements each considers most critical.