There are many definitions of quality. Some are more related to objective facts while others to more subjective feelings, but they are interdependent. If you look in a dictionary, you will find several definitions. In addition, every quality expert defines it in different way depending on their environment and criteria.
Quality could be defined as a basic tool for a natural property of any good or service that allows it to be compared with any other good or service of its kind. The word quality has many meanings, but basically, it refers to the set of inherent properties of an object that allows satisfying stated or implied needs.
Furthermore, the quality of a good or service is the perception that a customer has about it. It is a consumer’s mind-set who accepts a specific good or service and acknowledges its ability to meet his or her needs.
One definition of quality relates it to product features. For example, a luxury car designed for elegance features plentiful and sumptuous comfort: matching walnut burl veneers, exotic leather seats, luxury instrument panel, whitewall tires, top-of-the-line performance and an offer of excellent service that treats the owners of this car like royalty. In this case, product features will have a major effect on company revenues because higher quality in this case can result in the possibility to charge premium pricing.
Freedom from deficiencies
Another definition defines quality as a product or service free from deficiencies. Following the car example, imagine a compact car which hardly has any repairs, no engine problems, a paint finish that doesn’t rust and hassle-free car service. Here, freedom from deficiencies has a major impact on reducing the company costs because higher quality in this case means less rework, fewer warranty claims and no customer complaints.
So at the end product features and freedom from deficiencies together are essential to meeting customers’ needs. From this, we should define quality in the context under consideration, for example, the quality of the postal service, dental service, of a product, of life, etc.
Quality can be defined as conformance to specifications. The degree to which a product meets the design specifications offering a satisfaction factor that fulfils all the expectations that a customer wants. Products are manufactured and controlled following normative regulations accepted in the market, so that in case of an inspection by a regulatory body, the product proves that it meets the requirements established by the related certifying organizations.
More specifically, in manufacturing, quality can be a measure of excellence or a state of being free from defects, deficiencies and significant variations. Quality is accomplished by a strict and consistent commitment to certain standards to achieve uniformity of a product in order to satisfy specific customer requirements. If an automobile company finds a defect in one of their cars and makes a product recall, customer reliability and therefore production will decrease because trust will be lost in the car’s quality.
Quality means providing value to the customer; that is, offering conditions of product use or service that meet or exceed customer’s expectations, yet are still affordable. Quality also takes into account the reduction of waste that a product may cause to the environment or human society, yet still allowing the manufacturing company to maintain customer satisfaction.
Another interesting element within the concept of quality is the “wow” effect. Quality delivers to the customer not only what he wants, but also what he never imagined he wanted –and that once he has it, he realizes that this product was exactly what he always had wanted. However this is still a very subjective judgment. In today’s world, companies are still struggling to be consistent in meeting basic customer needs.
Other definitions from recognized organizations and experts in the world of quality are:
- Quality is the degree to which an object or entity (e.g., process, product, or service) satisfies a specified set of attributes or requirements.
- The quality of something can be determined by comparing a set of inherent characteristics with a set of requirements. If those inherent characteristics meet all requirements, high or excellent quality is achieved. If those characteristics do not meet all requirements, a low or poor level of quality is achieved.
- Quality is the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfils requirements.
- A subjective term for which each person or sector has its own definition. In technical usage, quality can have two meanings: 1. the characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs; 2. a product or service free of deficiencies. According to Joseph Juran, quality means “fitness for use”. According to Philip Crosby, it means “conformance to requirements”.
In the end, quality is an outcome, a characteristic of a good or service provided to a customer, and the hallmark of an organization which has satisfied all of its stakeholders. Customer requirements are the core ideal behind all quality definitions.
Other factors related to quality are: exact and desired amount of product to be manufactured and offered; pace of product distribution; speed of customer service; appropriate pricing in line with supply and demand pressures; degree of accuracy with which a product is manufactured concerning its design; ease of use and safety; reliability; impact the product has on the society and the environment, etc.
The customer as the new target
Today, there is also a trend in quality placing the customer as playing an active role when rating the quality of a product. This trend aims to create a standard based on customers’ opinion. The quality of a good or service is not determined only by purely objective parameters but also includes the views of a customer using a given product or service.
As we can see, quality is a complex concept interrelated with many other disciplines from engineering, economy, environment through human relations. In the next article in this 3-part series we will see how quality is measured depending on its context and briefly introduce some of the most popular quality management systems.
EU Quality Assurance : http://www.eqavet.eu/qa/gns/glossary/q/quality.aspx
International Organization for Standardization ISO http://www.iso.org/iso/home/standards/management-standards/iso_9000.htm
Institut fédéral de métrologie (METAS) http://www.metas.ch/metasweb
European Committee for Standardization (CEN) https://www.cen.eu/about/Pages/default.aspx
EU Quality Assurance http://www.eqavet.eu/
American Society for Quality (ASQ) http://asq.org/index.aspx