DURHAM, N.C. - 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, three top academics have finally defined the concept in their paper, What is Quality? An Integrative Framework of Processes and States. Their analysis appears in the July issue of the American Marketing Association's Journal of Marketing.
Firms define quality differently from their customers, whose judgment may be shaped by perceptions, advertising and even emotions, say the researchers. Christine Moorman of Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, Peter Golder from Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business and Debanjan Mitra from the University of Florida's Warrington College of Business Administration have devised a three-part definition of quality, drawing from divergent areas of business research. Their findings may help firms better manage quality and customer satisfaction.
Quality doesn't exist in isolation, according to the researchers. Rather, quality is a measure of comparison. For engineers, quality is the gap between what is designed and what is produced. For marketers, quality is the gap between what the customer perceives and what the customer wants. The middle view is a combination of engineers' and marketers' views, drawing elements from both: what the firm produces relative to what the customer wants.
The authors' integrated definition may help businesses understand why improving product or service attributes often has little or no effect on customer satisfaction. The researchers' integrative quality framework yields 20 concrete strategies to help firms improve customer satisfaction. In some cases, companies are better off investing in managing their customers' expectations of influencing their emotions rather than making any changes to a product.