Is Customer Experience just Total Quality Management reimagined?

I wrote an article a couple of years ago arguing that Customer Experience was / is going the same way as Total Quality. Two years later I believe the same question still exists.

As with everything there are parallels from history and in the case of Customer Experience its closest parallel is TQM. Total Quality Management (TQM) can be traced back to early 1920s when statistical theory was first applied to production quality control. This concept was further developed in Japan in the late 40s and 50s led by thought leaders such as Deming, Juran and Feigenbaum. The basic principles of TQM were

  • Produce quality work the first time.
  • Focus on the customer.
  • Have a strategic approach to improvement.
  • Improve continuously.
  • Encourage mutual respect and teamwork.

Sound familiar? More alarmingly many commentators today would say that TQM was a failure, others still wonder if it has had enough time to succeed (over half a century?). It could also be argued that Customer Experience is just TQM reimagined running the same risks of failure as TQM. An article in 2009 by Davis Balestracci on TQM (Total Quality Management) could easily be transferred today to apply to Customer Experience today.

Many commentators whether believing TQM was a failure or still needs time to mature agree that the main reasons for the failure or delay in maturing is that management are not fully bought in, not seeing the benefits or not seeing the benefits soon enough.

The thing is if customer experience is declared a failure then it won’t be the fault of any customer experience initiative, as it wasn’t the fault of Total Quality in the past, this is because it isn’t the magic button that provides quick results. It is because it isn’t being properly invested in or properly embedded within the organisations with the right level of management team sponsorship to be given the chance to work.

There are examples of where success is paying off and further examples of companies folding because they weren’t paying attention to the overall experience of the customer. So the amount of evidence isn’t short on supply.

Whether Customer Experience is TQM reimagined or something new it is what companies need to adopt if they are to be successful and remain competitive, or even just stay in business. We have an opportunity to learn the lessons from TQM and we should learn them quickly. Customer Experience like TQM isn’t just about numbers, it’s about changing the way the business, top to bottom and front to back thinks about the way it interacts and services its customers. This type of change can only come with sustained sponsorship and support from the top of the business, in other words it requires “leadership” .


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