The drive for higher quality is a result of several new factors: modern consumers are better educated, smarter, more discriminating, and more demanding and no longer susceptible to intimidation by the store or the supplier. In addition, advances in technology make product quality and reliability normal, expected conditions ( Kami 1988, p. 105). Professor E. Cole made this scathing remark in comparing American-made automobiles with European and Japanese makes. "The best of ours [now] are about as good as the worst of theirs, and that is a tremendous achievement" ( Peters 1987, p. 79); for example, Mitsubishi's Precis compared with Chevrolet's Corsica -- "the heartbeat of America."
Such quality problems are pervasive in most American firms and are not limited to a single industry. In his book, Thriving on Chaos, Tom Peters points out: "For the most part, the quality of made-in-America goods and services is questionable; perhaps 'stinks' is often a more accurate word. Yet, fifteen years after the battering began, quality is still not often truly at the top of the American corporate agenda" ( 1987, p. 81).
Some experts warn that unless American firms match or better quality levels achieved by foreign competitors, the U.S. industry and the economy are bound to suffer. Yet many American firms disregard this important message and ignore quality. According to a survey of several hundred large institutional investors, earnings ranked first and quality last among factors that influence stock selection ( Factor 1985, p. 28). Such investor biases further influence U.S. manufactures to neglect quality.
From the viewpoint of customers, getting a defective product and having to complain about it is a nuisance. Customers simply refuse to suffer such inconvenience of waiting for someone to fix the problem. They buy alternative brands with better quality and reputation. The Japanese experience clearly showed that it is less costly to make the product right in the first place than to fix it after a customer has bought it. Quality does not mean meeting assembly-line inspection standards during manufacturing. Products must be designed to meet customer needs from the start. One defective automobile part in 10,000 may not seem like much; but if that part keeps a completed car from starting at the end of the production line, finding the problem can be very costly.
Firms that adopted TQM methods to reduce manufacturing defects soon used the same approaches to overcome many other implementation problems. Their success brought attention to what is possible with TQM -- whether the implementation problem concerns unreliable delivery schedules, poor customer service, advertising that appears on the wrong TV show, or salespeople who cannot answer customers' questions. The idea of doing things right the first time seems obvious, but it is easier said than done.
Quality, whether it is in marketing or management, is multidimensional. One must view it from many sides before plunging into action to make quality improvements.