The importance of organizational systems to RM cannot be overstated – Gronroos (1996) argues that one of the three key strategic implications of RM is the adoption of a process perspective. The development of a customer’s trust in a supplier requires the reliable fulfillment of promises over time. The successful implementation of RM therefore requires that careful attention be paid to the design and maintenance of systems and processes.
There is no commonly agreed definition of total quality management (TQM), a phrase which has been used to describe a wide range of business activities. Different TQM theorists have brought different perspectives and tools to bear on the problems of managing quality. Nevertheless, a number of common components which have clear interrelationships with RM principles can be identified.
Not surprisingly, the starting point of TQM systems is the development of quality specifications for the product or service in question, specifications which must be developed with reference to the customer. Manufacturing quality is commonly defined as ‘fitness for use’ (Juran and Gryna, 1988), hence the creation of a quality product can only be achieved by exploring the uses to which the product is put by the customer. Although this allows for some subjectivity in customers’ judgements about quality, the definition of quality as fitness for use does assume that quality is an attribute of the product itself – something that can be created through the design and production process. This view of quality is described as mechanistic quality. The concept of humanistic quality holds that quality is a subjective judgement made by the consumer of the product – it exists in the perceptions of the customer rather than being an attribute of the product itself (Holbrook and Corfman, 1985). The humanistic view of quality is generally applied to service products, the intangibility and variability of which mean that perceptions of quality are likely to differ widely between customers. However, given that tangible goods commonly include intangible elements, such as experience benefits or symbolic benefits, the concept also applies in the manufacturing context.
The humanistic view of quality causes difficulties in the development of quality specifications. Service marketers have addressed this problem either through specifications based on outcome quality or process quality. Outcome definitions, such as Parasuraman et al.’s (1985) five dimensions of quality, focus on specifying the perceptions that the service should create. The five dimensions of responsiveness, assurance, tangibles, empathy and reliability provide benchmarks that can be used to create targets and form the basis for the monitoring of customer perceptions. Process specifications involve mapping the sequence of events that make up the service experience, and identifying the critical incidents or ‘moments of truth’ (Carlzon, 1987). The service product can then be specified in terms of these events.