Quality of Work, Quality of Service

I’ve been reading the book Managing The Professional Service Firm by David Maister, which is targeted toward the management of professional firms: consulting, law, and finance for example.

But, he has a concept that should resonate for any business: “Quality work does not mean quality service.”

By “work”, Maister means the technical thing you do, whether that’s lean consulting or fixing a car. The work itself might be done right (the car is fixed), but the “service” might be horrible. By “service”, Maister refers to the overall customer experience, how easy is it to do business with you? Service means being available, returning phone calls quickly, not giving incorrect invoices, things like that.

This applies in healthcare and I’ve seen it first hand as a consultant: a world-famous hospital does “quality work” (they cure a patient’s cancer) but the “quality service” is lacking because the patient is constantly being delayed with late physicians and late appointments for treatment.

Most of time, it seems we focus on the design and quality of our work. It’s probably the quality of our service that leaves the longest lasting impression, good or bad. Most of us aren’t qualified to gauge the technical services rendered to us, but we CAN judge the service.

Service depends on the context. Maister uses the example of two car repair shops — one might be targeted toward people who know nothing about cars — requiring lots of explanations and hand holding, a nice lobby, etc. Another shop might be targeted toward real gear heads who don’t want to be talked down to and would rather be in the shop with the technician learning something about their classic car.

Either way — value (the work and the service) is defined by the customer. Many of the Maister ideas remind me of the book Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customers Can Create Value and Wealth Together, by Womack and Jones. Lean Solutions pushes companies to look at the end-to-end solution and experience for the customer, not just the “value added” piece. The book also pushes you to “not waste the customer’s time” by making sure you’re valuing their time and designing a good service experience.

In your business, is the “quality of work” better than the “quality of service”??

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an book titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    Mark makes a great point about healthcare. Just within the last few years, our industry has begun to recognize customer service as an important element of care. A few pioneers have used examples like Disney and the Ritz-Carlton as examples for us to follow. We are also starting to use Lean, not only for process improvement, but to compliment our customer service component (or as Fred Lee says in his book, “If Disney Ran Your Hospital,” creating customer experiences). We have a long way to go, but we’re working on it.

  2. Quality of Work and Service, Part 2 — Lean Blog

    […] I wrote the other day about the wonderful high quality food at Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. I looked at some reviews online and some people are very unhappy with the “Quality of Service” at the restaurant, at least before they get seated for good service and high “Quality of Work” (I talked about the difference between Work and Service quality here). […]

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