Customer Focus Aspects In Top Quality Management Management Essay

Customer focus is just one aspect of Top Quality Management and refers to paying keen attention to improving customer satisfaction which is aimed at customer retention, increasing customer loyalty, while at the same time increasing profits in the business, company or organization. It is about incorporating the customer’s opinion into creation of a service or product and getting employees to look at the process of service or product creation through the eyes of the customer. Customer satisfaction does not come easy and calls for application of customer relations management. There is a common saying that customer is always king and true to it, businesses thrive depending on how well they treat their customers. Satisfied customers will not only keep coming back for more, but they will also bring along other customers, hence making the business popular and helping it to gain a competitive advantage over competitors (Adrian, 2010, p.1).

1.1 Definition of terms

In order to bring the meaning of customer focus and related terms closer home, this first chapter will look at definition of terms that will be referred to time and again throughout the paper.

1.1.2 Customer Relations Management (CRM)

Customer relations management is a term that is used in referring to a strategy that combines technological approaches and business strategies in trying to understand who a customer is, what they do and what their needs are, in order to create products and services designed to meet the specific needs of clients. Customer relations management in relation to customer focus serves to bring out the best in customer value and behaviour which in turn influences their loyalty to and satisfaction from the business, company or organization in question (American Association of School Administrators, p.1).

CRM is a strategy which, when well implemented, goes a long way in managing the interactions between a company and its customers, both existing and potential. CRM in relation to improving customer focus in universities plays a crucial role in understanding the customer in this case the student, and what their needs are, and tailoring the services (teaching services) to suit the needs of the client. The overall goals of CRM is to find, attract, nurture and retain customers at the same time reducing the costs of customer service without compromising the quality of services offered. However, implementation of CRM in a university setting cannot be successful unless the employees are fully convinced about the necessity of the organization’s alignment towards its customers. Employees have to do away with the mentality that their customers come and go and hence it does not matter much the quality of services they receive from the organization. If need be, there needs to be training for the employees in regard to how to deal with customers, whether it is for one time encounter or for a life-long process (American Association of School Administrators, p.1).

1.1.3 Top Quality Management (TQM)

In any business that hopes to stand out above the rest in the industry, Top Quality Management is a factor that they cannot afford to overlook. It is the broader component that encompasses customer focus and refers to a participatory management strategy that lays emphasis on total staff commitment and dedication to customer satisfaction, which is the whole essence of customer focus. TQM is a holistic approach that has helped bring down the top-down managerial systems and promote a more decentralised customer-driven approach to decision making and management. TQM approaches are developed around the assumption that 90 percent of problems arising in any business enterprise or venture are as a result of weaknesses in service delivery processes, and not necessarily as a result of employee mistakes or incompetence. TQM, when applied in the right way can improve efficiency and effectiveness in an organization (Brent 1995, p.41).

1.1.4 Customer satisfaction and loyalty

Customer satisfaction refers to a situation where the customer’s needs are met in a manner that is way beyond his specifications. It implies that a company or organization has got to go an extra mile to please the customer. In any competitive market customer satisfaction is a key differentiator and is a crucial component of business strategy.

This paper aims at establishing the importance of customer focus in education, especially at the university level. It seeks to understand how customer focus can be implemented in universities and the problems faced by students as a result of lack of customer focus, as well as to make a recommendation on what can be done to improve the situation (Bradshaw, 2010, p.5).

To achieve these objectives this paper is sectioned into five chapters; introduction, literature review, analysis and discussion, conclusion and recommendations.

CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW

2.1 Importance of customer focus

In his book ‘Oakland on quality management,’ John S. Oakland 2004, p49 says that top quality management is a matter of delivering quality services and products to customers, based on customer’s specifications. In other words, it refers to fitness for purpose or use. This means that the company or business has to focus on the customer in order to be able to understand and completely be able to meet the specific needs. Strategies towards TQM should be guided by a number of factors that are directed towards upholding the reputation of the company. These aspects are; competitive elements of quality and reliability as well as competitive and affordable prices, the most important of them being quality, ability to remember that once an organization gains a negative reputation, restructuring it into something positive takes a very long while, reputation, whether positive or negative, has the ability to cross borders and the final aspect is that management of competitive weapons like quality can effectively be used to turn around poor reputation into positive one. When thinking about reputation, organizations are basically putting their focus on what they think their customers think about them. This said, when TQM is referred to, the biggest component behind it is customer focus.

How then is Customer Focus relevant to universities? Universities have over time been known to be the biggest producers of human resource, but unfortunately, students in universities are still faced with problems that are hindering them from attaining quality education that will land them the jobs they claim to be qualified for. The services they receive from the said universities do not meet the standards for fitness for purpose, the problem being that there are loopholes in issues like the range of assessment methods used to evaluate the students, the quality of library stock as well as the course subjects offered do not meet the required standards. This has become an issue of concern for many parents, educators, business and government leaders (Jennifer 2006, p.35).

2.2 Implementing customer focus

Stakeholders have explored new ways of improving student performance especially at the university level, where a big proportion of students with poor performance are placed. It is after witnessing the success that comes with customer-oriented business approaches that resulted into improvements in service delivery and better customer awareness in other businesses that educators and other stakeholders in the field of education have come together to try and implement the customer-oriented approach into education systems. It has come to the realization of education stakeholders that parents and students need to be treated as valued customers who are constantly seeking services from universities as organizations.

One of the key scholars who discussed the core importance of customer focus and its application in the school setting was Deming (1958 p.45). He reviewed the important aspects of customer focus movement and carefully related them to education. He was of the opinion that there should be a partnership between the government and the education system in order to improve education. He stressed on the importance of students being treated as customers, their importance in the whole system and the quality of education offered to them being based on the requirements of the jobs the students seek after graduating. Deming argues that consumer research should be done every one in a while and findings used to consider the most important strategies in implementing quality and customer focus movements, with the belief that appropriate responses to customer needs can go a long way in guaranteeing customer satisfaction. Feedback from customers should be the basis upon which teachers can achieve their educational goals where students are concerned, while at the same time increasing their own job satisfaction.

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A research study carried out by one Coulson (1996 p.57) showed that teachers have a positive attitude towards the concept of customer focus, and this would form a good basis on which to start the implementation of customer focus. Despite the increased levels of awareness among teachers, parents, students and community leaders are still critical of the quality of university education.

The implementation process of customer focus is as simple as having the customer in mind in all levels of policy and decision making as well as incorporating them in the simple day to day activities that are rather taken for granted or as obvious. Some of the steps that would make the implementation process as easy as it sounds are;

2.2.1 Encouraging face to face dealings

According to Adrian Thompson 2010 in his article ‘Customer Satisfaction in 7 steps,’ face to face dealings are the most crucial part of interacting with a customer. However, he acknowledges that it is not always easy to have a one on one interaction with clients at all times. However, in his findings, Adrian discovered that customers find it easier to work with a person they have met in person, rather than one they have only spoken to over the phone or communicated with over the internet. Face to face dealings provide one with opportunity to know their customer in person and to take time to understand what it is that the customer really needs since feedback is instant.

2.2.2 Responding to messages promptly and keeping clients informed

We all know that it is quite annoying to keep waiting for a response for days on end. When it comes to customers, nothing annoys them more than to be denied immediate feedback, especially to information considered really important. Even though dealing with customers queries within few hours may not always be possible, but it is always advisable to at least call back or send an email and let the customer know that their concern has been received and is being worked on. Even if the customer may not receive a response right away, it is only fair to let them know that their request is being worked on. This way, the customer is likely to stick with you and not move their business elsewhere (Arthur and Carrie, 2009, p.76).

2.2.3 Being friendly and approachable

Have you ever considered the truth in the saying that one can hear a smile through the phone? It is very important to be friendly and courteous, even to customers who cannot see you physically. Make them feel that you are there to help them out and to respond to their needs accordingly. Always keep a clear head and respond to your clients needs to the best of your ability as politely and courteously as possible (Schmoker and Wilson 1993, p.46).

2.2.4 Having a clearly defined customer service policy

In the universities, having policies that are well formulated on the services that are offered to students and what course of action the customer (student) can take in case the quality and standards are not met is very crucial. This goes a long way in helping the students realize that their interests are held dearly and safeguarded and that they can always achieve the best they want to. This is especially in regard to library stock, quality of lecture notes and grading of assignments. Policies should also clearly define what happens in case the first course of action taken does not work, and they should not merely be policies, but must be felt to work practically (William, 1996, p.113).

2.3.5 Honouring promises

Customers hate to be disappointed and so when a business or organization promises something, it should honour that promise and be sure to deliver. In the case of universities for example, suppose the promise to upgrade the library stock, or increase the number of lecture hours for a given discipline, they should see to it that this is done within the shortest time possible and if not, the students (customers) should be updated on an ongoing basis on the progress being made (Robert, 2004, p.74).

2.4 Impacts of customer focus

As earlier mentioned, focusing on the customer while designing or delivering products or services means that processes used in ensuring customer satisfaction are generated from the feedback that the customer gives to the organization regarding the said processes, services and products. When customers are put at the centre stage during implementation of service delivery, positive impacts are bound to be felt and these include a change in for example the library’ s mission, planning and policies, which become focussed on supporting the customers’ need in terms of information and communication, since all written documents acknowledge customer focus as the driving force.

Leadership becomes crucial, in that the library’s director and top management become committed to supporting assessment in ensuring that customer focus is upheld. Assessment becomes part of the normal process of service delivery. Through needs assessment, quality outcome and satisfaction measures, continuous communication with customers become easier to maintain. All library programs and services are evaluated on an ongoing basis, such that quality and impacts are maintained at the required level. Furthermore, staff members are made to understand that evaluation is more process-focused rather than individual-centred. With this understanding, provision of services aimed at customer satisfaction is enhanced, as it becomes easier to spot loopholes and deal with them accordingly. With such evaluation, staff members also have the opportunity and resources to improve their skills in order to deliver more customer-oriented services (Mitts an Robin, 1998, p.57).

Nevertheless, there are negative impacts that can arise as a result of customer focus. These may either be on the side of the organization or of the students/ customer. On the part of the organization, customer focus may lead to over-stretching of resources. In the implementation process it was mentioned that constant face to face communication should be central. These means that the organization will require to employ more than enough staffs in order to reach out to the overwhelming numbers of customers at the university, for example. In some cases, the organization may find itself overdoing customer focus and as a guide to establishing the limits, the following questions can act as a guide to setting the limits; is the organization overly responsive to customer demands, is it too willing to adjust timetables and established process all with an aim of responding to customers’ unreasonable needs, are the policies consistent in some cases and not in others, does the organization get overwhelmed by negative comments and does the organization stick too close to customer needs that it misses out on overall objectives? When these negative impacts can be felt within the organization, it is time to consider alternative approaches to quality service delivery (teaching), assessment methods and response to customer issues or complaints (Marmar, 2005, p.165).

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CHAPTER THREE: ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION

The one major challenge that still faces the education sector the world over despite implementation of customer-oriented service delivery approaches is to prepare students to ain competitive advantage in the world marketplace. To overcome this challenge, universities as the centre of focus in this paper need to identify the needs and wants of their customers and customize their service delivery strategies into meeting these needs, yet this needs to be done in a professional manner. Keith (1993, p. 49-51) are of the opinion that customer focus movement has to put into consideration continuous improvement, customer satisfaction, quality education and positive return on investment in establishment of universities that are focused on producing well-armed to compete for jobs in the world market.

There is a lot that needs to be done in achievement of the above and some of the strategies that can be acquired are creative constancy of purpose. The biggest and most important purpose of the organization should be creation of the vision of what education should deliver, all for the success of the learner. Organizations also need to adopt a new philosophy that will enable them to move from school-centred approach to learning to a learner-centred approach to success. In the words of Joseph (2007, p98), the success of the student/customer should be placed before the success of the organization as a whole. The organization also ought to cease from depending on mass inspection as a means to attainment of quality. Instead, let organizations shift from evaluating teachers and students on the basis of grading and performance tests and instead shift to self-pacing and self-evaluation. A customer should be trained to gauge their own performance against their previous performance, rather than against other customers’ performance.

The practice of rewarding individual learners in a classroom performance should be discouraged and instead rewarding of the total understanding and achievements of the collective customer cluster. This will help the customer establish a winning mentality collectively. By being genuinely interested in the collective customer cluster, the teachers will be able to establish methods trough which they can constantly improve the system of teaching to benefit everyone. Another very important aspect of teaching that ought to be incorporated in universities as a teaching strategy is institute training on the job. School curriculum should incorporate in-service experiences with the theoretical topics learnt in class so as to provide competence, empower the students and encourage growth and self-development. Such approaches to learning will drive out fear, especially where considerable risk is involved and undertaken successfully (James, William and Edwin, 1994, p.69).

This is especially true where the risk were undertaken to achieve educational objectives. In addition to institute raining on the job, the organizations need to take a step towards breaking down barriers between classes, departments, specialities and schools within the organization. By so doing, students will be free to consult and have their needs attended to, without fear of breach of boundaries. This goes hand in hand with elimination of slogans, numerical targets and exhortations that otherwise tend to pull down performance of students consciously or otherwise. Numerical targets especially have the tendency to make students work towards the targets to please the ones setting the targets without necessarily putting real value or attachment to the work they do. On the part of the organization staff or employees, there is need to eliminate irrelevant work standards like performance contracts and instead focus on mastery of the job and competence, more than attendance and compliance. Isn’t it obvious that employees could sign the attendance register on a daily basis, yet deliver nothing for the day? There is need to focus on the input that teachers make regardless of the amount of hours spent making that input (Henry, 1951, p.47).

Quality should be the focus, more than quantity. Furthermore, there is need to remove barriers that deprive learners, administrators and educators of their right to celebrate their accomplishments. In addition, a vigorous process of result oriented service education should be geared towards self improvement of all staff members and customers. Evaluation should used for improvement purposes as opposed to finding blame and pointing fingers at people. As such, everyone should be enrolled into the system to work together in order to achieve total transformation (Schmoker and Wilson, 1993, p.17).

3.1 Problems faced by students despite customer focus approaches

Scholars are interested in finding out what other issues could be causing a mismatch between skills acquired during training at the university. It is in this regard that the Working Group on Retention comprising a number of crucial stakeholders in the education sector came together to compile a report on the findings about the problems faced by students. The research was carried out at one of the universities at Brownsville and the objectives aimed at after compilation of the report included providing a setting in which students are able to expand and enrich their knowledge, understanding and values, as well as gain a deeper understanding of their society. Students also ought to be encouraged to become more mature individuals who are self directed and responsible in local and global participation (Glasser, 1993, p.215).

Among the problems identified as the most nagging and which in most cases lead to dropping out by students despite implementation of customer focused approaches include job versus class conflicts. Most of the students at the university levels juggle between a part time job and their regular classes, and yet the work schedules are quite inflexible that they conflict with classes. Change in work schedules and challenges of managing a full time job while taking full time classes are also some of the challenges that make the efforts of customer focus futile in many instances (Glasser, 1993, p.215).

Dissatisfaction with instructions given in class leads to conflicts between lecturers and students, hence there is perceived lack student-centeredness, which may not be necessarily be the case. Students were also seen to have a lot of unfulfilled expectations from their classes and lecturers. There are also personal problems which are not tackled through customer focus approaches. Some of these problems which affect performance in school include lack of family support, emotional factors, stress, childcare issues among others. Looking at them closely, they are issues that may not be tackled in any way through customer focus.

Financial difficulties which render students unable to attend school regularly have a final impact on the way students perform in schools. Boling and Evans (2008, p58), report that another major problem that is rooted within the students, and which has nothing to do with the approaches to service delivery, is the reading epidemic. A majority of students are rarely reading on grade level and have been found to be lacking the literary skills that are needed to attain basic level of education. In their research, they established that more than seven thousand students drop out of school every year because they lack basic reading and writing skills.

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In addition, teachers have been fooled to believe that students who read out coherently also comprehend what they are reading, while in many cases this is not the case. With the increased emphasis that is being laid on phonics in the primary level grades, many students are merely memorizing words, but not paying keen attention to the importance of comprehension. As these students progress to higher levels, transition from word calling to text comprehension proves to be quite a challenge that customer focus alone may not be able to wipe out successfully. This is a problem that needs the input of teachers, right from the elementary levels to the higher levels of education, with an aim of giving individualized attention to individual students, and encouraging them to lay emphasis on understanding, more than memorizing (Geoff 2003, p.59).

Alif 1998 argued that adoption of TQM and in particular Customer Focus would go a long way in enhancing customer satisfaction the many advantages that com with application of TQM include but are not limited to increased student empowerment, which mean that students will be in a better position to understand themselves, know where their weaknesses lies and know where to seek help to work on the weaknesses. In addition, TQM ensures improved delivery of student services, both in continuing and vocational education, which would ensure that students are able to receive the type of skills that assure them that they will be able to create jobs, as compared to scrambling for the few available employment opportunities. TQM also comes with decreased compartmentalization, which sees to it that students can seek help with their studies from any lecturer in any department without many major constraints. In addition, introduction of use of technology in the learning process with focus on mastering learning skills goes a long way in enhancing the quality of education because it emphasizes on understanding concepts, more than recalling of the same (Edward, 2003, p.118).

CHAPTER FOUR: CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

From the discussion and literature review above, it goes without saying that student need to be treated as the most important customers, both for the success of the organization and for their organization as well. It therefore means that customer focus should be central in formulation of strategies aimed at service delivery in educational institutions. Education can open doors to opportunities that are otherwise difficult to come by without the said education. With the ever-fluctuating economic times and uncertainty in the job market, there is a greater need than ever before to provide children with proper education that will guarantee them job security and more so the ability to generate revenue which is crucial for survival. What then can universities do in order to influence the requirements of customer focus?

Alan, Phil and Peter, 2006, p.43 say that great service is what differentiates one company from another in this competitive world. Universities need to hire service providers in this case teachers, who posses or can be trained to acquire some sets of skills that would influence customer focus positively. Some of these skills are communication skills, listening skills, problem solving skills, professionalism, flexibility, initiative and proactive-ness and task orientation, meaning that they should be trained specifically on handling students and all their dynamisms. Some of the requirements of customer focus that universities may want to put into consideration in the process of adoption of customer focus are identification of the main elements of the service offered.

This means that in the education sector, there is need to identify the most important elements of the service in the eyes of the customers/students. For example, is it the lecture sessions, the assignments or the library services? This can be done by engaging the students in a survey to establish the facts on the ground and the process may comprise the steps; determination of the relative significance of each service element, establishing the organization’s competitiveness for those services, identification of distinct service requirements for different types of customers/students and development of specific customer service packages. This way, customer focus will not only be aimed at giving customers what they want, but also at creating sustainable systems that will serve generations and generations to come (Donald, 1999, p.28).

Recommendations

Customer focus at the university levels ought to concentrate on students as the primary customers and their parents, taxpayers and other partners to the institutions as secondary customers. This is to say in other words that focus should shift from partners, board of governors and the government to the students, who are the primary beneficiaries of the services offered at the university. After all, it is because of the money they pay to the universities that all other stakeholders, especially teachers and governors are able to get their pay. Mentality ought to change from customer, ‘you are here because of us’ to ‘we are here because of you (David, 1990, p.93).

Universities should be encouraged to assist students every step of the way in the learning process. For example, in order for students to acquire the required skills for a given job, universities should be able to liaise with such companies in the specific industry to offer internship programs for three to six months to students, so that they can learn the theory in class and the practical on the real job. This would go a long way in eliminating the need for students to juggle between a job and classes, which contributes to poor performance and waters down the efforts made through customer focus approaches. This would especially serve the purpose if the students are paid some stipend in the course of the internship (Randy and Norman, 2008, p.69).

On the issue of dissatisfaction with instructions given in class, there is need to always consult with the customers and explain why things have to be done the way they are done. By so doing, the customers and service providers will be able to find agreement points. If the customers see the service providers as being on the same side with them, they are more likely than not to cooperate than to react in anger or rebellion.

Most importantly, customer services should always be provided in plain language that a customer can understand. This may not necessarily be applicable in the class setting, but it is crucial in making the customer feel important and needed (Alan, Phil and Peter, 2006, p.17).

Customer focus is more about finding out what the customer knows and feels about their needs and establishing the gaps between their needs and actually attaining them. This mostly applies to handling customer complaints. It is always best to understand what it is that a customer wants by putting statements into questions. For example, when responding to a customers’ complaint there are two approaches that one can use, but one which would sound cooperative, and the other more demanding and demeaning. For example, plainly telling a customer to walk to a particular office and see a particular person may sound harsher than asking them if they have information that they could actually talk to a given person and have their problem resolved more quickly. Again the tone of the voice used greatly matters (Brent, 1995, p.99).

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