I was one of the 3.4, I guess


GE is famously known for their use of Six Sigma as a cornerstone of the company. “Six Sigma,” of course, refers to a statistical value of 3.4 defects per million opportunities.

On their overview of Six Sigma, GE says:

“Today's competitive environment leaves no room for error.”

That sounds like a Toyota Production System idea, the notion of striving for perfection, getting close to the goal of “zero defects.”

A simple interaction I recently had with GE, though, had numerous defects. Either I'm a rare case, or GE's quality in this business unit is nowhere near Six Sigma. I called for service on a GE refrigerator, to get an in-home visit. My call was routed to India, thanks to GE's outsourcing.

The errors:

  • I asked for, and was clearly told, my service appointment was Tuesday August 29, 1 to 5 PM. Service did not show up. They claimed the appointment had been made for Thursday, August 31 (Defect 1).
  • I asked them to reschedule for later, as I could not be home on 8/31. Sure enough, GE service tried showing up on 8/31 and called because nobody was home (Defect 2).
  • So, I called the GE automated service to confirm they are coming Wednesday, September 6. Their automated system was “closed.” To me, that's Defect 3.
  • I called back Monday morning and was told the wait was “longer than 15 minutes,” after which I was disconnected — not once, but twice. Defect 4. I'm wondering if the 9/6 appointment is really scheduled, since the automated system can't find my appointment by confirmation number or by phone number. That's probably Defect 5 just around the corner, but we'll see.
  • Update 9/6: I'm on the phone with GE and, sure enough, the appointment for 9/6 was NOT in the system. I was transferred to the “management department” (their term) to talk about the process defects (my term, not theirs) where they listened to my complaint. The real question is — what will they do to fix their process?

GE is falling short of their Six Sigma goals, yet alone the goal of perfection. They're wasting the customer's time, as Womack and Jones warn against in “Lean Solutions.” It's not life or death, it's just irritating.

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  1. Jamie Flinchbaugh says

    I must be one of the 3.4 too. Except my experience was a product problem. And an inexcusable one at that.

    I bought a new fridge, with an ice maker. I noticed there was a frozen puddle on the bottom of the freezer. Why? Because the factory FORGOT to drill the drain hole.

    Holy cow? That’s like forgetting the oil drain plug in a car. That kind of failure should be a NEVER; you double and triple check if you have to.

    On the service side, not only did they (Sears) not notice it, but they replacement they brought was dented, and they had to reschedule again.

  2. Anonymous says

    It’s heartwarming that their phone number is 800-GE-CARES. How sweet of them.

  3. Kevin Carrelli says

    This is an issue with several companies I have seen. There is a focus on getting the manufacturing correct the first time, but when the system fails 3.4 times (or more…) there is no capacity to fix the problem. Many times we either deal with the seller (who can only offer a relacement) or a third party outsourced provider. Many times the call center and contracted repair people do not live by the same rules as the manufacturer. I think GE and many others need to worth to improve these “support” suppliers.

  4. JWDT says

    This is what you get when you let Six Sigma become an entity within itself. As a former GE employee, Certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt and then leading the effort to roll out Lean, I can honestly say the wrong metrics drive the behaviour you had experienced.
    The only saving comment is that the range division (Roper) of GE Appliances seems to have embraced lean with amazing success.

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