If one goes to buy a product like a refrigerator or a color television or a washing machine, the first thing he would generally do is to have a good look at the product and then inquire about the price. By using the term "having a good look" we mean that the customer would first evaluate the product in terms of its visible features. After his own subjective evaluation, he will enquire about the manufacturers and the performance of the product. This acts as a supplement to his own base of knowledge and perceptions and assists him to take a decision whether to buy that particular brand or not.
We want to emphasize that a buyer takes into account not only its economic viability and its elegance in terms of its features but also its quality. Now what is that we understand by "Quality". Perhaps this term along with "Economic Value Added" might be the most often used term in the present day management jargon. Of course both terms are different and cannot be used as substitutes. Day in and Day out one gets to here that so and so company have adopted a certain manufacturing technology to improve the quality of its product and another company had own ISO 9000 for being quality conscious not only in terms of its obligations towards its customers but also for being environment friendly.
The Websters dictionary defines Quality as "an essential characteristic, property or attribute". But an appropriate working definition would be "the product being in a state of readiness for use irrespective of the environmental conditions and the work delivered by it being flawless on a consistent basis".
Now it is obvious that one cannot come to the conclusion about the product's quality only by looking at it. The customer can appreciate the quality of a product only when he uses it. Under these circumstances it becomes the responsibility of the manufacturer to look into the product's quality so that it performs the way it was expected to be or as claimed by them. This can only be achieved if they monitor the production process at each stage and eventually all the constituent parts which go into the making of the product. In other words the whole organization has to be Quality Conscious.
Adhering to the required standard became mandatory when mass production became the order of the day. This can be associated with the advent of the industrialization age, which ushered in the division of labor and laid emphasis on job specialization. A lot of importance is being attached to the quality control process as the competition has increased manifold. The adage "Prevention is better than Cure" applies in this context. When individual components are assembled to make a final product, the quality checks were made at the final stage. This was increasing the probability of a product with a poor quality reaching the market. While a poor quality product which reached a customer can be replaced upon receiving a complaint, there are two kinds of costs associated with it. One is warranty costs which is quantifiable and the other is loss of credibility which cannot be easily quantified. The better option would be to empower the people who make things to check their own work before it is passed on for further processing. This would also give them a sense of pride in what they are doing. Therefore one of the ways to maintain quality is to eliminate completely or minimize to the extent possible the variability (deviations from the established standards) observed in the manufacturing process and through this, minimizing the variability in the final product itself.
Till now we have seen the concept of quality being applied to tangible products. It should be clear that this concept is applicable equally well to services industry also. As an example, the amount of time it takes for clearing a check or updating the passbook at a local bank can reflect the quality of services being offered by the bank.