By Whitney Robare, Guest Contributor

Customer Focus

Have you ever felt ignored as a customer? Have you ever felt like quality wasn’t the company’s main objective? Tired of spending your hard-earned money on products that don’t cut the mustard? It’s safe to say that everyone has felt this way a time or two.

Companies sometimes forget they can never place too much emphasis on the customer. It’s the customer who will be the primary component of success. When businesses’ keep customer importance as a top priority in all stages from product design to marketing, they can almost guarantee customer satisfaction and repeat business.

A management tactic which concentrates on customer satisfaction and the importance of the customer is Quality Function Deployment.

History Lesson

Quality Function Deployment was developed by Japanese Professors Akao and Mizuno. This method was developed during a time when statistical quality became a major factor in Japanese manufacturing. During this time Japan had developed TQM, TQC, and other quality control mechanisms. The notion of streamlining processes and eliminating waste had been a revolutionary idea of the time. QFD may sound new, but it has been around for over 50 years. This method was developed in the late 1960s and later adopted in the US and Europe in the late 80s. The US and Europe began utilizing the QFD processes due to the popularity of Japanese vehicles in the late 70s. In order to compete the US joined the quality craze and mimicked the Japanese routines in the hopes of reclaiming their declining customer bases.

Purpose

The purpose of QFD is to bridge the gap between product design and customer satisfaction. QFD works in business process and in product design. Other popular quality methods of the time only dealt with quality issues and product defects after the fact. QFD places the focus on the customer and customer satisfaction before during and after product development and product production. In order to stand out, businesses needed to translate customer needs and expectations into actionable tasks and requirements. Placing the customer’s needs first and constantly and consistently circling back to the customer focus in the design phases and quality assurance milestones id the cornerstone of the QFD process. This ensures all requirements takes the customer into account. What makes this development different from the other quality control objectives of the time is that it is geared more toward design rather than post production. There are many important key by products of the QFD process examples being innovation, luxury, fun and ease of use.

“There is only one boss. The customer can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” ― Sam Walton

How does QFD work?

Just as the basic definition suggest to focus on the customer, the process begins with the customer. Typically, this customer interaction and contact is captured by way of surveys. Surveys serve as the voice of the customer letting corporations know what the customer desires and requires. After surveys are completed, the data is aggregated and reduced to specific items that are then ranked in importance. This ranking then gives way to technical requirements which will ultimately relate back to the voice of the customer. The technical requirements are placed into a fishbone diagram that can be referred to as the voice of the customer.

Voice of the Customer

Using the voice of the customer as a guiding light, helps to give confidence to the developers of the product or process that it is truly meeting the customers needs. QFD enables corporations to bring products to market that customers actually want to buy. Listening to the customer’s every need and desire and including it from the cradle to the grave drives the products subsequent success. This process does have it’s drawbacks:

  • It represents a culture shift which may seemingly undermine corporate cultures that are focused on profits and cost reductions
  • Having an intense focus on customers can sometimes drive costs up dramatically if not monitored
  • Also mentioned earlier was the focus of collecting data from customers via surveys. If these surveys are poorly designed and don’t capture the right types of data, this could potentially steer a company in the wrong direction and lead to product abandonment or costly retooling and reworking
  • Surveys also make it difficult to keep track of changes in a single customer’s need

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Now that we know what QFD is, lets discuss when it should be used. If steering a new development in the right direction from the beginning of the endeavor is important to you, QFD is a great system. QFD has many approaches, it can assist in technology, cost driven, competitor driven, regulatory driven, manufacturing, reliability, and knowledge based implementations. Let’s take a look at each example and see how each approach is helpful.

  • A new technology solution has been developed, QFD approach helps to find markets for that solution and perfect the solutions so customers feel like they need that product.
  • Looking at QFD from a cost driven approach, good products are often hindered by new markets or forced priced reduction due to competition. Cost driven QFD will identify which processes can be simplified without damaging customer satisfaction.
  • Competitor driven QFD can help to identify if that feature that your sales force says your product needs is really relevant. This practice helps to cut down on the use of gimmicks and other money and time wasters.
  • Manufacturing QFD will identify the impact on operational changes, while ensuring customer needs are still met.
  • Regulatory driven QFD can be useful when corporations wish to enter a different market. The regulatory QFD approach will identify which customer needs are driven by regulation and regulatory change.
  • If a company’s products have been in existence for years and the foundation upon which those products or process were built is crumbling, you may be losing several senior staff to retirement or slowly drifting away from what made the corporation successful. Knowledge QFD is a great way to capture and document that knowledge before senior staff departs or you completely separate from the old way of thinking.
  • If your products begin to experience failures and safety claims, the Reliability QFD approach can examine customer behaviors that could be contributing to failures.

Summary

QFD is a great way to make sure that you’re keeping your customer in mind. So many businesses forget that the customer base is a core piece of their business’s success. QFD is a great way to breed innovation luxury and other components that customers appreciate. Defining a customer’s needs and requirements and translating them into specific products will ensure that companies are bringing products to market that customers want to buy. Producing products that customers want to buy will ensure repeat business and aid in long-term profitability.

About Whitney Robare

Whitney is a military wife, mother of two, and an MBA student. She is a travel lover, a planner of all things, and a fitness enthusiast. When she isn’t coordinating her family’s busy schedules, trotting the globe on an adventure, or studying for exams; she works in Airport Operations Management and has done so off and on for the past 10 years. She earned her Bachelors Degree in Aviation Management from Hampton University and has served on their Aviation Advisory Board.

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References

What is QFD? (n.d). Retrieved from http://www.qfdi.org/what_is_qfd/qfd_approaches.html

What is Quality Function Deployment (QFD)? (n.d) Retrieved from https://asq.org/quality-resources/qfd-quality-function-deployment

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