Quite simply, clients count on quality

Quality is one of those things a business needs to get right early and quickly. Quality of service is not optional, nor is it interchangeable (or to be confused) with something else, like quantity. So would you impose a statute of limitations on the quality of the service you provide? No, you wouldn’t. And neither would I.

Of course, it wouldn’t do for everyone to be the same. At least that’s what my mother used to tell me. But then my mother didn’t run a business. As sage and sound as her advice often was, some things are an immutable prerequisite, like quality.

OK, let’s talk specifics — specifically, where a statute of limitations exists as a legitimate cut-off point for quality. Here I’m thinking of a time-limited warranty, like you get with physical goods, such as home electronics, food and vehicles.

In this kind of situation, you expect the guarantee of quality to fade over time, as the physical product ages, and is exposed to real world knocks, scuffs, tumbles and inexorable decay.

So that’s the physical time-limited quality issue out of the way. I’m sure we all agree on the legitimacy of warranties, yes? Now, I had an unusual conversation yesterday, one that forced me to think of the obvious in a way that, at least for me, is a constant I wouldn’t dream of tinkering with.

There’s no statute of limitations on quality

I was asked if, say, six weeks was a reasonable period of time, after which a client could no longer legitimately request fixes to software that myself, for example, had developed for them. As you can imagine, that threw me.

There were technical issues here — which I suppose we could consider as clauses — that needed addressing, as they were key players. Ultimately, they amount to an exercise in finger pointing, if I must be lazy about this. My reply was:

“If there’s a bug in your code and it’s your fault, don’t expect a client to observe a statute of limitations — they want a fix!”

And that’s only fair, and that’s where the technical clauses emerged — who made the most recent changes, to which files and when. However:

“If the client made any changes in or around the area of the fault, I’d make them aware of their liability.”

Which essentially highlights to the client the possibility that they will have to pay for those “fixes”, should any be required.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not laying any blame on the person who asked me this question. After all, each industry has its own customs and practices. To me though, common sense wins out every time, and customs and practices be damned.

So I guess what I’m saying is, software doesn’t come with a warranty, and don’t expect a client to think otherwise.

Hungry for success? Quality is a key ingredient

Quality is one of those things we sometimes take for granted, or simply neglect. Don’t. Quality has to be at the very heart of your business.

Quality control — food for thought?

On visiting a client of mine a couple of years ago, he asked if we’d like lunch. Since it was due to be a long meeting, discussing the future of their website (which was to be re-built as a Content Management System, so they could manage the website themselves), we said yes and he gave instructions to a senior secretary to get sandwiches. He also gave her explicit instructions to not use the local sandwich shop nearby. As she left, he then began to explain why.

You see, he once bought a sandwich that had, secreted within the folds of meat and salad, a long black hair. For most, that’s the moment you throw the sandwich into a bin. For the local sandwich shop, that was also the moment they lost a huge amount of repeat trade.

When poor service leaves a bitter after taste

In my mind at least, this incident was merely the fall out from something much more serious, and that’s a lack of customer care. The guys at the sandwich shop must have been aware that a local company was spending a lot of money with them, so why not sweeten the deal? When I say “local company”, I mean a head office for a multi-national business, employing hundreds of people.

My client was vocal in his protestations, and the moment the hair-in-sandwich story got around, well guess what? Most of the office staff followed suit and never bought another morsel of food from those guys again.

Customer care — eating humble pie?

If the guys at the sandwich shop had been more attentive, instead of my client simply stopping buying from them, he may have felt compelled to have called them to explain what he’d found in his sandwich. At which point, said sandwich shop should have ensured the next time they wanted food, it would either be steeply discounted, or even free.

And you know what would have helped precipitate this more positive outcome? Just saying “Hi!” to my client when he walked into their sandwich shop.

By all accounts, that never happened. Not once. Not what I’d call a recipe for success…