Companies urged to contemplate merits of TQM

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 May, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 May, 1996, 12:00am

Companies wanting to restructure their operations should consider Total Quality Management (TQM) to avoid impairing their levels of customer service, says Sidney Yuen Tat-man, chairman of the Hong Kong Management Association Quality Award board of examiners.

Many companies had been merging and restructuring their operations in efforts to improve the quality of customer service in Hong Kong, which had deteriorated over the past five years, he said.

Job insecurity that people felt at a time of high unemployment and layoffs, was one of the reasons for the decline in customer service standards, he said.

Hong Kong had suffered from poor customer service for decades and companies were only now beginning to appreciate how it could undermine their overall performance.

Mr Yuen said firms had to feel pain before they changed their ways.

They had made no attempt to change before because they had felt comfortable and were complacent about the way they did business.

'TQM is a commitment to exceed customer expectations by eliminating waste and continuing to improve operations,' he said.

As a holistic approach to management, TQM can affect every aspect of a company and every employee, from the way a receptionist answers a telephone to the accessibility of top managers.

Firms can use customer service indices to assess consumer satisfaction. They may also make performance pledges outlining goals for improvement.

Such companies become more competitive, according to TQM advocates, who partly attribute the international success of Japanese firms to their adoption of TQM in the 1950s.

Mr Yuen warned that the introduction of TQM could result in upheaval, resulting in lower staff morale in the short term. However, the long-term benefits, which involved greater efficiency, justified the early trauma.

He said many of Hong Kong's chief executives were hired on three-year contracts and fear of their own dismissal deterred them from introducing TQM.

As TQM could take several years to be fully implemented, they preferred to play safe.

The service sector has the most to gain from TQM because of its strong need to satisfy customers.

Mr Yuen said Hong Kong was on a par with the rest of the world as far as TQM was concerned.

Despite the drop in customer service standards, overall quality levels had remained roughly the same in Hong Kong since the Quality Award was initiated in 1991, Mr Yuen said.

Quality standards reached by the four past winners of the award were more or less the same, he said.