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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

My Christmas Wish: Quality in the Highest

Santa, I’ve been good all year!

Published: Monday, December 3, 2007 - 22:00

Sitting in my home office contemplating the upcoming holidays reminds me that I have yet to submit my wish list to Santa. It’s a long list, crammed with lots of items for me, and I have included some requests for you, the readers. Of course it’s also an opportunity for me to rant about some situations that have been troubling me all year. I know Santa will understand. He’s a good listener.

In previous years, I might have included on my list a Lionel train that was so elusive to me in my formative years, but with 11 grandchildren I can just play with their Thomas the Tank Engine layout. This brings me to my first wish—Please Santa, no more toys manufactured in China that contain lead paint!

Products from China should be boycotted. First, it was contaminated pet food followed by toothpaste containing antifreeze. On the heels of those catastrophes, we discovered that tires from China were faulty and that seafood was tainted. We then learned that Thomas the Tank Engine and other toys contained paint with high amounts of lead.

Americans are a forgiving society. If we dine in a restaurant and have a bad meal, chances are we’ll give the chef a chance for redemption and will return. If upon returning, the meal once again is a disaster, we cross that restaurant off our list.

The same with China. After the pet food disaster, we looked for improvement; what followed was a series of ill-conceived products with additional health problems. We soon realized that China lacks a mindset for quality and it will be a long time before any trust we had will be restored. For some of us that bond has been broken forever, because for me personally, none of my 11 grandchildren will be receiving gifts produced in China any time soon.

Just when we thought the parade of impaired products had subsided we recently learned that last year’s “Toy of the Year,” namely Aqua Dots, contains a chemical that metabolizes into the compound gamma hydroxy butyrate (GHB)—the “date-rape” drug. This compound can induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma, and death. If there’s someone out there who is a China apologist for this type of incompetence and malfeasance in manufacturing standards, please come forward.

Recently, I’ve seen signs in stores stating “Not Made In China.” Perhaps the “Made In U.S.A.” signs will be in vogue again. Consider for a moment if we were to discover that medical equipment is being manufactured in China in the same lackadaisical fashion. Maybe we can tolerate cheap toys breaking after one use but health issues are a different matter.

What mystifies me about this whole situation is that some U.S. companies are recommending that we work with China to improve their quality. Companies generally don’t work with their vendors to correct their defects and oversights. Companies provide specifications after performing a due diligence and then expect the delivery of products to be error free. To assist in correcting a deep-rooted anti-quality mindset in China that doesn’t embrace performance excellence is a waste of time in my estimation.

In the movie Cool Hand Luke, the captain of the road crew tells prisoner Luke Jackson, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Those words ring true in our partnership with China. Frankly, I think it’s an issue of translation. Evidently, “quality” translated into Chinese transforms into “shoddy.”

Santa, my next wish is for service personnel to be familiar with campaigns being launched in their place of business and to be able to articulate it to customers. We recently dined at Max & Erma’s, a national chain restaurant. Our waitress wore a badge that read, “I did it on purpose.” I asked her for the meaning and was shocked to discover that she didn’t have a clue. How does someone pin on a badge at the beginning of a shift and not understand what it means? Pretty sad! Fortunately, a return visit to another location several days later revealed that it meant “We will do whatever it takes to make the dining experience memorable for our customers.” Maybe the wait staff that doesn’t embrace and understand the campaign should wear badges à la Britney Spears that read, “Oops! I did it again—I’m clueless.”

When calling a company for service, have you, like me, become completely jaded with the recorded message—“This call is being monitored for quality assurance.” If any monitoring is taking place, why am I being transferred to a phone-jockey in a foreign country who speaks little English and never has the answer to my question? Please, Santa, can you bring all these people the Berlitz Total Immersion English Training Module?

Here’s a customer service meltdown. Mona Shaw, 75 years old, of Bristow, Virginia, waited all day for a Comcast technician to install phone, Internet, and cable service. Someone showed up two days later, and left without completing the setup. Days later, Mona’s service was unexpectedly turned off. What’s a person to do when customer service isn’t delivered as promised? Well, Mona went to the Comcast office with a hammer and smashed a keyboard, knocked over a monitor, and destroyed a telephone. Her comment? “My telephone is screwed up, so now so is yours!” Mona eventually got service but with Verizon and DirectTV. I don’t know if she is my new hero but certainly I never want to mess with Mona. Santa, please bring this lady a new hammer so she can continue her quest to wrest good customer service from all she comes in contact with. You can read the entire story on the Washington Post Web site: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/17/AR2007101702359.htm

Examining a list of organizations that have distinguished themselves by infusing performance-excellence measures into their processes reveals that manufacturing, health care, service, education, nonprofit and small business are heavily represented. Not so represented and in some cases never even attempting to improve customer service and quality would be government at the local and national levels. There are some pockets of customer-driven government agencies seeking ways to improve service but by and large it’s business as usual.

We in Michigan have been cursed with an administration and legislature that has abandoned all vestiges of at least attempting to comply with the expectations of citizens. To offset a looming budget deficit these mindless Lilliputians have recommended placing taxes on balloon-o-grams, the bronzing of baby shoes, singing telegrams and shoe shines to name just a few services that have appeared on their radar screen. If you thought that bordered on lunacy we’re now building a two-mile long fence at a cost of $318,000 along a major highway to prevent migrating turtles from crossing the road and being snuffed out by passing motorists. Santa, please bring these misguided bureaucrats information on customer service, maybe the 2008 Baldrige Criteria, and consider dropping off copies at all government agencies.

And Santa, before I forget, please bring my editor Anthony Porter a new set of red markers. He edits my ramblings and rants with a well-skilled pen, and I think he has exhausted his supply of markers. He always makes me look good, so please make sure you stop by his home.

Don’t forget all the readers of QualityInsider who continue to allow me to come into their world every month. Please bring all of them wishes for a happy, healthy, rewarding, and fruitful holiday season and New Year.

Well, Santa those are my wishes for Christmas. I’ve been pretty good all year, so if there’s a chance you could bring me that elusive Lionel train I have always wanted, I would be most grateful. Just make sure it has a “Made in USA” label on it.

Five organizations are the recipients of the 2007 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. For the first time, a nonprofit organization was selected. The recipients are:

  • PRO-TEC Coating Co., Leipsic, Ohio (small business)
  • Mercy Health System, Janesville, Wisconsin (health care)
  • Sharp HealthCare, San Diego, California (health care)
  • City of Coral Springs, Coral Springs, Florida (nonprofit)
  • U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey (nonprofit)


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.