Magazine

comments from a manager

Parking, Painting and Quality:

At Least Two of Them Begin With the Letter P.

Robert Milner

I hope everyone had a nice holiday, whichever holiday you celebrated. Not sure what you did during your time off (if you had to work, sorry), but for me, it was the old "honey do" list in action. This time, it was painting the living room and kitchen areas. Before I get started, I need to ask a question: Why is it that husbands aren't allowed to be in the color-selection process, but get blamed for what the color looks like on the wall? Wives act like husbands put some magical potion in the paint to make it turn out a different color just so we can say: "I never would have picked that color." (If this is not a problem you have experienced, please forgive me for bringing this up. It just must be the inconsiderate married men I hang around with.)
What started me on this topic was the fact that my wife had to rush out and buy the paint and continue to harp on me each day the paint was not being applied to the wall. In explaining to her that there were a lot of nail pops, trim gaps, drywall mistakes, as well as sanding to do first, she reminded me our neighbor next door just paid a person $300 a room and he was done in two days. I, on the other hand, was in my third day and still hadn't opened a single can of paint. I explained to her that since I was the one painting, the quality of this job was going to come first, not the completion time.
Finally, after seven days, the job was almost completed. Then I proceeded to tape along the top of the wall, separating the ceiling. Once again I heard: "What are you doing now?" To which I replied: "Just sit back and watch." Although I myself must admit this extra taping requires a lot of time, the cost of the tape, and the time required to repaint the ceiling outskirts two more times, I believe it is one of the quality finishing touches I add while painting a room.
While all the other aforementioned preparations are important, I believe when one looks at a place where one paint stroke begins and another ends, the line separating the two says a lot about the quality of the painter who painted the area. I even go so far as to tape and repaint along the trim, both on the floor and around the windows. When you get a chance, check out the separation lines in your house, or the next house you visit, and you will see what I am talking about. When using my taping method, the lines are perfectly straight. In fact, all of my wife's friends now want me to paint their rooms (imagine that). Now our next-door neighbor's $300 paint job doesn't look so appealing to my wife anymore.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, "quality" is defined as: (1) the essential character of something; (2) a characteristic or attribute; (3) degree of excellence. Quality in the business world has been defined as having to deal more with perceptions, which are shaped by customer expectations.
To which I argue: Expectations and perceptions change from customer to customer, as well as over time. Therefore, one might think that organizations with a greater ability to learn from service failures will offer higher levels of service quality. But is this really the case? How many organizations really improve on their failures? Research shows that more than half never learn from their failures. Maybe that is why more than 50% of new businesses do, in fact, fail.
Service quality/learning could be posited to depend on the motivation and vision of the organization's employees, where higher levels of motivation and vision positively influence learning, thus improving quality. Maybe someone out there could provide me a million-dollar grant to prove this theory.
In my painting story above, I, the painter, was surely motivated to perform a quality job, resulting in the means justifying the end. The employees in our department with the highest motivation certainly provide the highest customer service level. This is measured/confirmed by the customer surveys we perform.
My point is that the interaction between your customers and your employees -- who in the service process demonstrate motivation, a willingness to learn and a vision -- will gauge the perceived service quality your organization provides. (I even impressed myself with this thought.)
Summarily, many factors are involved in the service quality process, and only after organizations are able to understand this will quality standards be achieved.

P.S.
In the age of information on the Internet, I performed a search involving both Quality Painting and Quality Parking through use of a popular search engine. This resulted in 853,244 Web sites for Quality Painting and 993,029 sites for Quality Parking. However, when I redefined my search using double quote marks around the words, the results were much lower. In fact, there were only 5,362 for "Quality Painting" and only 480 for "Quality Parking." Could the difference be that more organizations say they provide quality, but in reality only a few actually do?
I must be growing on my wife, because during this painting experience, she reiterated to me one of my sayings: "Remember, there is no 'I' in the word 'team' " -- to which I say she was right. There is, in fact, no "I" in the word "team," but there is an "I" in Quality, and maybe it's the "I" that makes the difference.

Robert Milner is the Director of Parking and Transportation at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He can be reached at rmilner@parking.umaryland.edu.

Article Abstract from February, 2005




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