What is Quality? A New Paper by Three Top Academics Answers this Elusive Question
CHICAGO, July 11, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Just as in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the quest to define quality has led people to either abandon the search or go insane in the process. After years of research by three top academics, this paper, What Is Quality? An Integrative Framework of Processes and States, finally defines this elusive concept.
The big challenge was that defining quality can be as subjective as coming up with a definition for obscenity. "I know it when I see it," former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once wrote of the latter. The same could be said of how firms and people perceive quality: engineers tend to view it by defining how well a product conforms to design specifications. Customers, however, judge a product by how it compares with their ideal preferences, a fuzzier standard that is shaped by factors like other customers' perceptions, advertising, and emotions.
To sharpen the focus, Peter Golder (Dartmouth), Debanjan Mitra (Florida), and Christine Moorman (Duke) have come up with a three-pronged definition of quality, drawing from divergent areas of business research, that they hope will help firms better manage quality and customer satisfaction. Their analysis appears in the July issue of the American Marketing Association's Journal of Marketing.
"This question about quality is one that hadn't been solved," Golder said. "We feel like we almost went crazy at some points during this search, but we did come up with an answer."
Golder adds, "Quality is always a comparative state – it doesn't exist on its own. You must have some kind of comparison or reference standard." For engineers, it's the gap between what's produced and what's the design specification. For marketers, it's the gap between what the customer perceives and what the customer wants. The middle view is a combination of the engineer's and the marketer's views, drawing elements from both. It's what the firm produces relative to what the customer wants.
The authors' integrated definition may help us understand why improving product or service attributes often has little or no effect on customer satisfaction. In contrast, this paper's integrative quality framework yields 20 concrete strategies to improve customer satisfaction. In some cases, companies are better off investing in managing their customers' expectations or influencing their emotions. Customers may not actually know true quality when they see it, but their subjective judgments of quality can be influenced by firms.
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SOURCE American Marketing Association