Quality and User Expectations

Businesses are constantly having to make choices as to when to ship their products (or services), how much each of it should do, and how well it should do it. It’s a struggle across just about every industry.

A few years ago Daimler Benz (it probably was a part of Daimler Chrysler by then already) made a conscious decision not to over-engineer their cars. This was based on the assumption that a slight drop in quality from their default overzealous attention to detail wouldn’t be noticed by its customers.

How wrong they were.

It wasn’t long before car publications around the globe were criticising the company for the drop in quality; their ratings in quality and customer service surveys fell like a rock.

Since then it’s taken a sustained effort from the company to rebuild its quality assurance systems, and ensure that overall product quality is on the same level as before, if not better.

Drop your quality – either consciously or unconsciously – and the market will punish you.

However in my view this does not always apply to everyone and every organisation.

Any discussion regarding quality of a service or product is never complete without taking into account user expectations. It’s the user that has certain expectations. And these expectations are based on many things, some of which are past experiences with the same product or company, competing products, and financial capability.

There are too many factors to name and the complex relationships. But hopefully this excellent ‘experience map’ can cover some of these.

Taking the Daimler Benz example further, it’s clear that their users expected certain qualities from their products. They expected attention to detail, reliability, and good service. And they were willing to pay a high price to get it. The moment there any compromises in any of these expectations, there is a revolt. And getting that trust back is a long, hard process.

Google gets a lot of flak for releasing early and keeping their products in Beta for months, and in some cases – years. Apple gets slated the moment there are reports of hardware malfunctions or buggy software updates. Microsoft gets snickered at by just about everyone, all the time.

Google’s users are usually the more technically confident. An email service that is still in beta does not stop them from signing up to it. They are more than happy to try it for non-critical email correspondences like mailing lists and newsletter subscriptions. However, you’d never find someone that isn’t a technology enthusiast jumping at the chance to use Gmail, and move all their contacts and emails built up over the last few years on Hotmail.

It’s the user expectations that Google manages here. They know who the people are that are going to sign up. Their product feature set is geared towards such users. Their communication (mainly via official blogs) is also geared towards such users.

Apple has built its reputation on quality, and aims to release products only once it believes they’re ready for end users. The expectation is that the hardware is extremely well engineered and has a luxury item feel to it, and any software accompanying it is thoughtfully designed and free of any show stopper bugs.

Any divergence from this – no matter how trivial – is picked on, and rightly so. This is a good thing because I it keeps the company on its toes.

Microsoft at this point in time is an easy company to beat up and criticise. It’s crucial to identify Microsoft’s customer though. It’s not you and I, i.e. end users, but it’s the OEMs. That’s the source of a large portion of their revenue, and inevitably it’s OEMs that have to be key happy, not you and I.

Therefore it’s almost inevitable that some (if not all) of the products that come out of Redmond seem to be built completely the wrong way around.

Understanding your customer, why they buy your stuff, how they use it and what their future needs are likely to be, should be the key things that drives all aspects of an orgnisation. Anything else and it’s a compromise.