Leading Heads of Quality Provide Customer Insights to CEOs, Senior Executives

By January 29, 2019Power of the Profession

Pervasive digital capabilities is one of eight trends that will reshape the business world by 2020. Digital capabilities permeate all aspects of business and operating models. In 2016, company revenues dedicated to digital efforts were 12% — twice the historical figures of 5-7%. That number is estimated to reach 20% by 2020.[i]

Companies and functions use digital capabilities for almost every activity. The quality function is no exception. At least 40% of quality organizations are piloting or investing in data visualization, general analytics, real-time monitoring and real-time analytics tools. Most quality practitioners believe the greatest value to the function will come from quality-focused analytics, data visualization and real-time analytics.[ii]

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In response to pervasive digital capabilities (and the other seven trends impacting corporate functions), Heads of Quality will evolve the function over the next three years across five dimensions, enabling business leaders to make more decisions independently while delivering value through insight and advisory expertise.

The five dimensions in which change will occur are:

  • Value drivers: The outcomes the function brings to the business.
  • Quality’s role: The role the function plays in the organization and the processes or tools it applies to enhance business performance.
  • Business’s role: The relationship (accountabilities, roles and responsibilities) between the business and the function.
  • Delivery model: The way the function is organized in relation to the rest of the business.
  • Resources: The way the function uses its budget.

This blog focuses on the shift Heads of Quality are making to the value the function delivers. The move is from a focus on cutting costs and reducing errors to informing executives’ decisions by providing them with unique customer insight. Senior leaders are struggling and eager to better understand customers and they need Quality’s help now. Changing customer demands and the challenge to meet customer needs rank among the top external factors constraining business growth, according to our 2018 survey of 460 CEOs and C-suite executives.

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To help executives better understand their company’s customers, Quality leaders must first improve the function’s insight about them. They can do this by:

  1. Providing quality staff with tools to help them analyze different types of data
  2. Collaborating with other customer-facing functions
  1. Provide Quality Staff With Tools to Analyze Different Types of Data

As data availability increases, quality has more access to information than ever before — but some new sources of data are unfamiliar and provide complex information that’s harder to analyze.

This is challenging for quality staff members who are used to working with highly precise and accurate data. Seventy-seven percent of the quality staff we surveyed say they only seek data that they’re certain is credible.

If leaders don’t help these employees use data that’s less precise, they likely won’t engage with it — missing out on valuable insight.

To address this challenge, learn from office equipment company Steelcase, whose quality organization built an experimentation process into staff workflows. Since implementing this process, quality staff have performed more data analysis than they did previously and reduced problem reoccurrence after corrective and prevention action (CAPA) from 15% to 5%.

Here’s how the process works: when staff members feel uncertain about the results of their data analysis, they design a series of small-action tests to gain confidence in their analysis (see below).

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To encourage staff to experiment without worrying about significant negative consequences, these tests must:

  • Be limited in capacity (e.g., on a small batch of product, in one particular location)
  • Evaluate one variable at a time in a controlled environment

After comparing results of different experiments, quality staff determines the best solution and scales it across the company.

Steelcase realized this design-and-test process has the greatest impact when applied to expensive recurring problems and when the business supports the experiment. The following criteria helps leaders decide when to use the process.

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  1. Collaborate With Customer-Facing Functions

No function completely owns the job of deciphering customer needs. Other than quality, departments like sales and customer service also have methods to interact with and get data from customers. As digital technologies continue to advance, these departments are obtaining new information in ways you can’t. Therefore, if you don’t collaborate with other stakeholders you will miss out on opportunities to fully understand customer needs. Doing so could damage your function’s credibility and result in wasted resources. For instance, credibility could take a hit if you advise the business to work on features that customers don’t prioritize.

Learn from ABB’s quality team, which partnered with colleagues from commercial teams to identify the 22 customer experience touchpoints that were most important to keep customers satisfied. This enabled the organization to gain a comprehensive picture of what customers truly care about.

Quality first invited leaders from functions like customer service, sales and R&D to a cross-functional workshop. At the session, it asked attendees to discuss their efforts, share their opinions about the importance of each customer interaction and ultimately reach consensus on the most meaningful touchpoints.

Because it was difficult for participants to narrow down the most critical touchpoints from the many possible options, quality asked stakeholders three questions to direct their thinking (see below):

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This helped the group find touchpoints that had at least one of the following characteristics:

  • They relate to a major customer pain point.
  • They impact multiple businesses or product lines.
  • They are associated with a significant number of customer complaints.

Using information from the workshop, the quality function designed customer surveys that only ask about the company’s performance at the 22 most important touchpoints — ensuring quality received information it could put into action to most effectively improve the customer experience.

After designing the survey, ABB’s quality team supported stakeholders by creating a division of labor plan to distribute the poll and resolve the issues it surfaced (see below). With this clarification of roles and responsibilities, participating functions were able to eliminate overlap and improve efficiency as they worked together to resolve customer issues.

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[i] Paul Roehrig and Ben Print, “The Work Ahead: Mastering the Digital Economy,” Cognizant, 2016

[ii] Gartner 2017 Quality Analytics Roadmap


Dian Zhang is a Gartner research specialist.

Carolina Valencia is a research director for Gartner’s Quality Leadership Council.

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