Out of the many tasks given to the marketing department, one of them involves improving product quality. This is a job more precisely for the product manager. As improving the quality of the product requires deep knowledge of manufacturing, many companies prefer their product managers to have a degree in engineering as well as an MBA. However, many product managers are also chosen because of their vast experience in their chosen field, and hence the knowledge of the product and insight into the consumer’s mind.
The quality of the product is dependent on the value chain. From the inception of a product idea to the throwing away and possible recycling of the waste product, a marketing manager has to know the value chain to improve the product quality. If he knows where value is added in the product, he can make changes to improve the product quality.
Example – One of the major problems in manufacturing for product X is the supply of raw material. Due to this reason, the market is unhappy as they are getting irregular supply. Thus, it is imperative that a new raw material supply source be found out soon to increase production levels and meet market demands. This can improve the quality of the service. Alternatively, the raw material in itself can be improved in quality to give a better quality of end product.
The reason for the recent popularity of China is the large variety of products that they have. This variety is because of the varying quality of product. For example – In some products, heavy plastic is used where steel was traditionally used. So, the price of the product drops because of the lower cost of plastic. Depending on your market and price sensitivity, you can either choose the steel variant or the plastic variant. Thus, the altered quality of the product in itself becomes a complete product line and gives the power of differentiation in the hands of the product manager.
How can you improve the product quality and which are the areas where value addition can be done? Here are 6 suggestions for the same.
1) Identify customers needs and requirements
As i said before, the quality given to the customer should match what he needs and requires. If he requires a product which is cheap, then there is no use heavily engineering the same product and presenting at double the cost. Vice versa, if your targeted customers want performance over price, then you need to plan your product accordingly. Take construction or project jobs or even agriculture, where quality is not compromised and the price is generally increasing. On the other hand, consumer products are becoming cheaper and cheaper because that is what the consumers demand.
2) Internal communications
In the game of Chinese whispers, one person communicates a message secretly to another and it is passed down the chain. Finally, the last person relays the message received to the entire team. It is generally observed, that the final message is very much different and is lacking several words and also has several added words from the initial message. This is allowed to happen in a game but should not happen in a company.
In essence, the gap between market research and production should be the minimum. The more layers of bureaucracy you add in between, the more likely it is that, like the game of Chinese whispers, the end message reaching the product designers will be completely different. As a result, the design put forward by the market research team, and the final product will have several gaping holes. To cover these holes, the gap between market research and product design needs to be covered.
3) Managing demand
Many a times the quality of the product is not determined by the product itself, but availability of the product as well. Imagine sitting in a restaurant when you are hungry, and the food is delivered 1 hour after you have ordered it. The food may be the best food in the world, but no one is going to wait an hour when they are hungry. Instead they will keep their visits infrequent, and the restaurant will have to manage with the lesser customers unless it improves.
Similarly, in case of product marketing, it is important to meet the demand to increase the product’s quality perception. The product’s quality is not only defined by its tangible features, it is also in intangible elements like the pride which the owner feels in having the product in his hands. In fact, the demand is managed and pruned by many product managers as they want to keep their product more exclusive. Managing demand is critical to push product quality higher in customer’s mind.
4) Training and technical assistance
For any technical product, industrial or commercial, it is important that your service channel is thoroughly trained. More important is the fact that the “Do’s and dont’s should also be communicated to the customer in turn. Instructions for the use of the product, including training manuals, customers training and technical assistance available for the product should be communicated down the value chain.
5) After sales service
You just cannot improve product quality if you don’t have the service quality to back it up. Say, i have ordered a printer. And now the printer is not working for 2 days. Do you think i will buy the same company again if the printer’s call is not attended on the 3rd day? I won’t and neither will other customers. As discussed above, a printer is a technical product, and it needs necessary training down the line. However, in case of such technical products, you just cannot train the customer. And hence you have to provide the right after sales service.
Over the years of observing the business market, you yourself might have seen many companies which have failed because they were left behind by companies which were superior in their servicing. This is most common in consumer goods, wherein the market sentiments are immediately changed based on who is giving the best after sales service. Along with this, good after sales service generates an excellent word of mouth, which in turns gives a higher estimated product quality in the consumer’s mind.
If you start planning a product, you will soon come up with so many product ideas that you just wont take the product off the drawing board. This is the reason why many companies have beta products and test products. These beta products are launched for just one reason – To get feedback of the product from the market. Imagine launching the product directly in the market and then failing miserably. You might survive financially from such a downfall but you brand will not survive.
Hence, feedback is one of the most important tools in improving the quality of the product. Most companies launch test products in select regions. Then they take feedback from that region and launch the same product in another region. After such regular test marketing, the product might be launched all across the country. What this does is, it gives a chance to the product team to cover all loopholes at the design level.
Besides this, the feedback might help the product immensely and might give further ideas to the product design team. These ideas may also spawn various product lines as per the requirement of the customer. Samsung and LG seem to be an excellent example of companies which have products for all types of customers.
The above steps of improving the quality of the product help mainly in increasing the customer satisfaction. It also helps in quality management of the product. And finally it helps in increasing the profitability of the company.
A happy customer is a long time customer. And to make the customer happy, you need to have products of high quality.