QUALITY is not a DIFFERENTIATOR – The worst products usually still serviceable


There used to be a time when quality could be used to differentiate brands because the gap between the best and the worst was huge and easy for customers to discern. But those days are long gone, and they are never coming back. Some time ago, companies started declaring war on poor quality.

Legions of quality consultants, along with a huge bag full of processes, standards, tools, courses and books, sprang up overnight to help companies fight and win The Quality War. It looks like they have succeeded because the gap between the highest-quality product and the lowest in any category has been reduced so much that it has become almost irrelevant.

Not only has the gap been reduced, but overall quality has increased so much that it is actually quite difficult these days to buy a truly bad product. Look around at the products that you buy for both personal and business use. Try to find the worst in each category and see if the quality is so bad that the product is unserviceable or unable to perform the task it was designed to. You will be hard-pressed to achieve that goal.

Is the worst razor on the market so bad that it can’t give you a clean shave? -The result may not be as clean as Gillette Fusion five-blade system but we bet that it will still shave your face quite nicely. And it will not be so bad that you show up for an important meeting looking like you did not shave at all. In fact, razors have become so good that even that master of innovation, Gillette, is finding it hard to make quantum leaps in terms of quality. The latest Fusion is excellent but the difference between that and the older razors — at least to us — is not readily apparent. When Jacky switched to the Fusion, nobody sat up and said to him, “Hey, you look really smooth today! New razor?”

Is the worst photocopier on the market a lot worse than Xerox? We do not know. Jacky was once given five photocopies made by five different machines and asked to rank them in terms of quality. He had a difficult time telling them apart. And if he had to do that ranking exercise five times, there is a very high chance he would rank the photocopies differently each time. That is how close the quality of photocopiers has become.

The worst car on the market today is probably more reliable than any premium car of 20 years back. Even the worst computer on the market is likely to be able to do all the things that you require of it such as sending and receiving e-mail, Internet browsing, downloads, chats, video conferencing, word processing and all the other regular things you do on a computer. We do not even know what the worst computer on the market is, because we only buy IBM ThinkPad laptops for business use. But we suspect that even the worst laptop on the market (and it might be the ThinkPad, for all you know) is still going to be pretty serviceable.

The worst bulldozer on the market will probably still be able to complete the task of bulldozing in an acceptable manner. The worst jet engine in the world today will probably still be able to get an aircraft into the air and help it to stay in the air. The worst X-Ray machine on the market today will probably still be able to take a clear X-Ray picture of your chest without killing you in the process. The worst digital camera on the market today is probably still better than the best digital cameras of five years ago. The worst metal stamping machine today is probably still good enough to stamp intricate shapes out of metal.

You get the picture. In a situation where the gap between the best and the worst has narrowed so dramatically, you are in trouble if you do not have quality. And you will be in even more trouble if you rely solely on quality to differentiate your brand.

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