When is Perfection the Only Service Standard?

You may have heard the story about quality control and World War II parachute packers. Supposedly, the packers felt great pride in achieving a quality level of 99.9 percent. Surely that was good enough for government work. Of course, for purely selfish reasons, one paratrooper out of a thousand didn’t think of 99.9 percent as a particularly impressive achievement.

So one day the quality inspection system was changed, and it was decreed that once a week packers would make a jump with parachutes chosen at random from among those packed sometime during the preceding week. The error rate promptly disappeared, which illustrates the difference between taking zero defects to heart and just making it a philosophical goal to emblazon on a poster on the wall.

So if 100 percent is unattainable, how about making 99 percent okay? Next stop, we achieve six sigma– 3.4 defects per million.  But, like the luckless one-in-a-thousand paratrooper one single disgruntled customer—the ones who have been at the wrong end of the near-perfect calculation—could be the wired and dangerous customer trashing your hard-earned reputation with the click of a mouse!

We all know that one part of service typically involves human interaction…and, to err is human.  And, the service experience side is the realm for creativity and imagination where the pursuit of perfection is the enemy.  However, there are aspects of most service encounters that must be perfect.  What is the acceptable number of dropped babies in a hospital?  Would you tolerate less than perfection on commercial airplane landings, restaurant food preparation, brake shoe replacement, or identity protection promised by your bank?

What part of your service delivery must have a goal of zero margin for error?  How can you ensure that excellence and creativity drive the service experience; but, that perfection becomes the standard for the service outcome?

About Chip&John

Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of several best-selling books. Their newest book is "Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to do About it."
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