Customer retention is a point of pride for most companies around the world. Companies spend countless amounts on marketing to previous customers in hopes they return, they create loyalty programs, frequent buyer privileges, etc. The reason for all of this is to keep customers coming back, and despite their efforts, these strategies aren’t always successful. Why is it so hard to pinpoint the key to make a customer come back? For most consumers, the reason for returning is simple: quality control and quality assurance.
Having strong quality control practices is one of the best ways an organization can ensure customer satisfaction. When customers, suppliers, and partners know you produce high quality work, then they’ll always come back. But being consistent with quality isn’t always easy. Quality depends on number of factors—machine conditions, training, consistent employees, etc.—that can be hard to predict.
Here’s an example of the catastrophic consequences when quality control goes awry:
In 2015, Blue Bell, America’s third-largest ice cream manufacturer, was forced to halt production from April to August. They also pulled products from 23 states, including their home state of Texas. To have a recall that huge is devastating at any time, but for an ice cream company, having to recall products for nearly the entire summer was just about the worst scenario imaginable. Fans of Blue Bell bemoaned the recall on social media. Even Texas’ Senator Cruz posed for a photo with a sign that read “God bless Blue Bell.” All of this attention undercut the serious, avoidable reason for why this recall and halt in production took place: Blue Bell was found responsible for 10 infections of the bacteria called listeria, three of which were fatal. The worst part? Blue Bell had detected listeria in one of its facilities two years earlier. An investigation later revealed that the outbreak actually dated back to 2010.
Strong quality control measures, as well as quick responses to defects, could’ve prevented Blue Bell’s 2015 recall and saved lives.
Benefits of quality control
Eliminating Errors—strong quality control practices like Six Sigma not only help spot quality issues but also work to prevent defects from happening in the first place.
Sustained quality—quality control practices help detect the root problem of a defect, then revise processes to fix issues and improve over quality and avoid defects in the future.
Improved compliance—improving quality control often includes focusing on quality standards, including those that OSHA and other regulatory bodies use to monitor companies and products.
What does quality control mean, anyway?
Quality control aims to put processes into place to manage these various factors so that quality remains consistently high. Since early manufacturing technologies were developed, so did measures to control, manage, and maintain quality.
Quality control accomplishes product improvement with a three-fold approach:
- Implementing controls such as job management processes, performance criteria, and record tracking standards
- Prioritizing employee knowledge through training and hiring
- Shaping company culture so that values like integrity, team spirit, and continuous improvement are guiding principles for all employees
Just how do companies do that? Great question. There are many methods for improving quality control in industrial environments. Here are the most common methods:
Created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the ISO 9000 is a defined set of international standards for quality management and assurance that help companies effectively document quality control so that efficient quality systems can be maintained. Since ISO is a trusted standards organization throughout the world, holding ISO certification means that customers, suppliers, and potential partners can be sure your company meets regulatory requirements and strives toward continuous improvement.
Six Sigma’s popularity has sky-rocketed since its inception in the late 1980s. First developed by a desperate and frustrated quality control team, Six Sigma is an ideology that aims to reduce the number of product defects as close to zero as possible. More specifically, Six Sigma considers that any manufacturing process making more than 3.4 defects per million products is incurring too much waste, and is therefore inefficient.
The changes that Six Sigma requires are significant; this is a method that is a long-term solution, and since it’s such a complex, expansive concept, it’s a good idea to hire a Six Sigma expert to help with implementation. To help assess experts, Six Sigma has the Six Sigma belt certification system, which allows you to quick assess the experience level of a Six Sigma specialist. These certification mirror the Karate belt system: yellow, green, brown, black, and master black. Like Karate, earning a black belt or master black belt in Six Sigma takes years of experience, whereas yellow and green belts represent beginners in Six Sigma experience.
Quality Control Tools
Implementing Six Sigma is big work, but luckily there are a number of tools to help companies successfully install QC practices.
Associated closely with Six Sigma, this methodology is comprised of five phases:
Define the system, the expectations of customer, project goals, etc. specifically. Well-defined goals
and expectations mean product specifications are more clear and consistent.
- Measure key aspects of the current process and collect relevant data; calculate the “as-is” Process Capability.
- Analyze data to confirm cause-and-effect relationships. Determine what causal relationships are; take all actions possible to ensure all conditions and special circumstances have been considered and accounted for. Seek out root cause of the defect under investigation.
- Improve current process using data analysis as basis for improvement. Techniques like design of experiments, poka yoke, and mistake proofing. Experiment with pilot runs to establish Process Capability.
- Control the processes to ensure that any aberrations are corrected before they turn into defects.
Value Stream Mapping
A process that maps all the steps involved in making a product. It reveals where waste occurs.
Critical-to-quality trees are figures that help companies translate customer needs into actionable production specifications.
Usually used in the Analyze phase of Six Sigma, this strategy of asking “Why?” five times helps get to the root cause of production problems.
Quality control is a vital part of any business, and these concepts can help decrease defects and improve overall efficiency. Change is hard, but the change it takes to improve quality have benefits that will yield rewards for years to come.