Total Quality Management (TQM)

Today's competitive market, in almost every category of products and services, is characterized by accelerating changes, innovation, and massive amounts of new information. Much of this rapid evolution in markets is fueled by changing customer needs. Significant customer behavior and market changes happen almost overnight. Changes in market preference or technology, which used to take years, may now take place in a few short months.

For example, the product life cycles for new consumer computer technology and computer printers is estimated to be as little as six months. Computer marketers must carefully plan one or two new product introductions each year, with contingency plans for making design changes with current product lines as they are being manufactured.

As the pace of change accelerates, it becomes more difficult to maintain stable relationships with suppliers, customers, brokers, distributors, and even your own company personnel. "Putting out fires" and reacting to new emergencies is unfortunately the norm for many large and small companies caught in the whirlpool of technological change.

Are competitors stealing your best customers while you are out looking for more? Commitment to quality and customer satisfaction programs are essential for a small business to compete against both smaller and larger competitors. Think about "post-sale" customer satisfaction (or managing customer "dissatisfaction") programs as a way to reinforce customers' buying preferences for your products and services for their current and future purchases!

TQM for small businesses. A new company or a small business has limited financial, personnel, and capital plant/equipment resources and is especially vulnerable to instability brought on by rapid changes in customer behavior. One way to help ensure your business success is to make quality and customer satisfaction the number one priority for all employees in your company. Make sure your company is providing "customer management," not just "product management."

Larger companies committed to TQM programs may appoint a special manager or VP of quality. In smaller companies, this task is usually undertaken by the chief executive officer (CEO) or the owner. There are many aspects of successful TQM program implementation. And it may require months or years to fully incorporate TQM into every employee's value system. There are several keys to a successful TQM program for small businesses:

  1. Quality work and customer satisfaction must be a commitment of all employees.
  2. Improving quality and customer satisfaction must also be a commitment of all employees.
  3. Every company activity must incorporate quality and customer satisfaction, including all communications with customers and suppliers.
  4. It doesn't have to cost more to make quality and customer satisfaction your priority.
  5. Significant changes may be required to make quality and customer satisfaction improvements.
  6. Small advantages in all company functions can set your quality and customer satisfaction apart from the competition.