Customer Created Quality Problems

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I would have been otherwise reluctant to have a title such as this, if it were not the words of a Quality Guru.  We are always used to the term "Customer is the King", but this topic was picked up from one of Juran's books.  In a book written by Juran and Gryna, it is said that, "consumers are an important source of consumer quality problems.  For example, over a third of all service calls on household appliances have their origin in consumer misuse or neglect".


They say that up to a point, it is easier to design foolproof products than to secure proper care by consumers; but beyond that point further design becomes wasteful. In one of my previous articles, "Customer's Role in Quality", I emphasized the need for all us as consumers to give adequate feedback to producers and be tough enough to raise the quality levels, but here I am driving the other aspect of customer role, that is, to take responsibility to ensure there is no misuse of the product.


While this phenomenon is clearly to do with the lack of knowledge or carelessness by the user, let us explore the possible controls that can be put in place by the producers.


a.  Increased Factor of Safety and Robust Engineering:  Making the product more robust and rugged by increased factor of safety and increased reliability.  Toughened glass products, scratch resistant coolers and impact resistant designs in vehicles and other products are some examples.


b.  Innovative Designs: Design improvements can be made to tackle common problems created by poor use; like product redesign to attain self maintenance. Self lubricating bearings helps tackle poor maintenance of products by consumer.  Another example is the design of mobile phones, in such a manner that when dropped they don't break or crack but split to several individual parts that can be re-fixed.


c.  Error Proofing:  Overloading of machines and electrical equipments, connecting wrong terminals or plugs to sockets and even filling diesel instead of petrol can be incidents which can cause severe damage to the equipments.  These common errors can be avoided by error proofing, that is, preventing the error to occur or preventing the error to cause a defect or damage.  This is possible by overload protectors, unique sockets and plugs standardized exclusively for a particular operation and nozzles and fuel tank mouths that are standardized for a particular type of fuel.


d. Customer Training: Providing instruction manuals, product demonstrations and training is essential to make sure that the consumer uses the product the right way. Care must be taken to provide clearly documented product manuals with sketches and pictures wherever necessary. In many companies cost cutting has affected the availability of good product manuals and trained personnel to support customers on product demonstrations during installation and commissioning. 


As consumers also, we should be aware of the quality problems that can be created due to misuse or neglect. Some tips to prevent misuse are enumerated below:


a.  Read the User Manuals- If user manuals are not provided, we must ask for it and review the same. The manual must be kept as a ready reference and used when ever there is a doubt, instead of doing a trial and error method of using the product.  This not only prevents misuse, but also helps one to exploit all the features that are available.


b.  Preventive Maintenance- We can expect optimum performance and long life only if regular maintenance or service is carried out.  On -time service of vehicles, use of the right grade lubricant oils, cleaning and lubrication of tread mills, battery maintenance of inverters are some of the common examples of preventing breakdown by proper preventive measures


c.  Use Product for what is was Intended- Some times products are used in ways never intended by design.  For example using hair dryers in refrigerators for defrosting, using autorickshaws as school vans or overloading of trucks till it tilts to one side.


According to Juran and Gryna, pollution and health problems are another aspect of consumer related quality problem.  For example, beer cans and other refuse are left in parks, rivers and streets, polluting the atmospheres, by consumers and not by manufacturers. Similarly consumers put themselves at risk by unbalanced diet, failing to take medication, delaying visiting doctors, and risky behaviors like not wearing seat belts.


It is clear that there are many ways customers or consumers can cause Quality Problems. While many of them can be addressed by preventive controls by the manufacturer or seller there are others which are solely the responsibility of the user.  People responsible for handling complaints must have the skills and knowledge to clearly identify the cause of the complaints, whether it is company created or customer created and take suitable actions to address the same. 


Pradeep Kumar E.T. A Master Black Belt in Six Sigma , is the Country Manager- Operational Excellence with Tyco Electronics Corporation India Pvt Ltd. Feedback can be e- mailed to 


Issue BG72 Mar07