I did some programming when I started my career. It was the start of the 90s and I used Perl and Visual Basic to create some automated HTML tools for Nokia. If you think about what the year was, in a way it was pretty advanced. Internet was not yet the thing and my programming skills were not advanced but I liked the potential of the World Wide Web.
Thinking back, the first thing regarding quality was to make the software to work in the first place. Once it worked you needed to make a simple manual with Notepad and store the resulting help.txt file within the .exe file, right? You heard about the bugs from your users and got requests about cool features. Still kind of fun.
Great Process Alone Doesn’t Suffice
Once you truly start working as part of the networked economy, it’s mostly the various APIs that are not controlled by you. It gets complicated; data speeds may vary or be cut off, or there can be a timeout in a service very far from your core business that affects the customer. You have to catch all variations of errors and make sure everything looks dandy for the customer. It sounds simple but it’s not, and we are not even close being there.
Now that we are talking about the actual customers, does any of the abovementioned actually ensure that we are developing anything valuable? Nope.
CMMI is one of the international standards for process maturity for which many software companies spend fortunes on implementing it. I did it once for a customer who actually asked us to stop spending their money on it as it only does what it promises: ensures the process quality. It does not ensure that the process delivers something valuable.
20 Mouse Clicks from Good Usability
When you move to the customer side of things, usability is one of the first issues to be faced with. There are still ERP systems requiring 20 mouse clicks before you can report your hours, but luckily these are disappearing. The 4P’s of marketing have changed to 4C’s, which are all about minimizing customer’s effort.
Minimum amount of clicks and clear user interfaces are becoming the norm. However, there is still the evil design in this era of sharing that usually kicks right back in your balls; your magazine or network providers better have the “cancel subscription” button on their web sites.
Generating True Value to Your Customer
Having solid technology and proper usability should be a norm but of course it’s not. And now we are entering into slightly more complicated stuff: quality service. It’s not new stuff but the hard part in it is to actually provide something that is needed in the first place. As I run a start-up company, people are generally nice to you and pat you on the back telling, “great idea, we are sure going to try that thing of yours!” They are actually not doing you a favor.
It’s very hard to distinguish the “nice to have” features from the “must have” features – an aspect that is very crucial point for any business to succeed. Start-up entrepreneurs like us tend to fall in love with our own ideas. We sure did. You get positive feedback, people love your presentations, and once the product is launched you get that nice peak in downloads.
It sounds good but it’s not good enough if you have missed the crucial item; provide something that generates true value to your customers.
Measure the Right Things
NPS (Net Promoter Score) and CES (Customer Effort Score) are easily accessible and popular measurement tools. These days selling takes place through brand ambassadors, peer-to-peer and so forth. If your customers recommend your service, you are doing things right. That’s NPS. CES is about getting things done. That’s for call centers and such.
“...provide something that generates true value to your customers.”
Don’t measure the number of calls or time spent on the phone per customer. Measure whether customers get their problems solved for good with minimum effort. That basic metering is a good starting point for how customers perceive the value and quality of your services.
Earn The Trust of Your Customers Through Quality
In my opinion quality is tightly connected with trust. You won’t get it always right when working with the latest technologies, but surprisingly it’s ok as long as you show that you respect and care for your customers. You are moving mountains for them to make miracles happen, and they do appreciate it. Just make sure you have tight interaction and short feedback loops so that it’s true co-creation. It’s scary but helps you to keep the right focus. Quality is present in everything you do and in the end it defines your whole brand.