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What is the Meaning of Quality to Customers?

Quality is an interesting word.

We toss it around when discussing products, describing them as “high quality” or lacking it altogether. But what really is the meaning of quality?

According to the dictionary, here is the definition.

“character with respect to fineness, or grade of excellence: food of poor quality; silks of fine quality.”


“high grade; superiority; excellence: wood grain of quality.”


“native excellence or superiority.”

Where does quality fit in the context of customer experience?

Well, I’m betting your definition of what quality means to your customers might just differ from their version.

As an example, when you ask people what they want from a bank, they often say things like ‘security’ but they really want convenience. Today’s assumption is that if you are a reputable bank, there is good security. So is that quality?

Maybe, but when customers discuss a “great” experience, they often mention things like convenience, communication and feeling “cared about” by their banks. So what’s the definition of a “quality” customer experience for these banking customers?

Like it or not, much of what was considered high-quality in the past is what’s considered “doesn’t everyone have that?” today. That means if you are viewing your customer’s experience revolving around the idea of “product quality” then your customers might be viewing it as “I like the products, but…”

The trap we tend to fall into repeatedly is considering what we ASSUME is important to us as brand marketers, digital experience designers, or customer insight directors within an organization is what’s important to the customers we think we serve. Defining an experience around a product being “of high quality” is that type of thinking.

When you start identifying this type of thinking in your own organization, I challenge you to ask a few questions.

Related: 4 C’s of CX Culture: How Well is Your Company Doing?

1. Who the heck cares about your product?

Seems obvious, I know. But really, who cares? If you answer something like “discerning moms/gamers/foodies who care about quality” then you are already way off. They don’t care about your product. They care about what they can do with your product. Stop writing a storyline about a thing. Instead, listen for the stories your customers already have, and where your product might make their stories more interesting.

My favorite thing to listen for is… “your product/service…helped us do…”

This is usually something they FELT.

A few examples:

  • A bakery customer left a review that said, “Your shipment helped me send some love.”
  • A tech repair shop heard from a customer who said, “Your technician helped save my daughter’s wedding! All our plans, seating charts, and contracts were on that machine.”
  • A medical supplier heard from a customer who reported, “We will never switch suppliers. Your deliveries are accurate and on-time, which means fewer days for our patients to worry.”

Think about that! These didn’t go into specifics about the product or service. They are describing how the product or service delivered real, emotionally-charged, very human OUTCOMES.

You can safely assume these same customers believe they are high-quality products and services, but I’d bet they also think that about some of the competitors.

2. Why do you think yours is so much better than the competitors?

This is where we really love to drink the Kool-Aid internally. “We were the first” is not a good answer. “While the others are less expensive, we really feel ours is much higher quality.” This answer might sound better, but really, what does that mean? If the product is great but getting help is painful, then is that real quality??

This is where you hear the opposite from customers regarding the experience. For example:

  • We love the products, but customer service is terrible.
  • We used to be loyal customers, but the last few times we tried to get help were disasters.
  • I believe in what you do, but being overcharged and then not receiving the help we needed to correct the issue is leading us to find another way.

Don’t become complacent because you have the “best” product on the market. It’s only the best if your customers believe it, along with the entire experience, really is.

3. How do you keep up with what quality means to your customers?

Like it or not, your competitors are setting expectations for your customers. Not just your competitors, actually, but Uber and Amazon and all the juggernauts in customer experience. Your customers are no longer impressed with quality if they can’t get this on-demand, with real-time updates and voice-controlled commands. Quality is not necessarily fine Italian leather if I can’t custom-design my own handbag online.

I see this come up a lot in the business-to-business (B2B) world. As individuals, we expect certain things. So those expectations translate as “quality” in the business world, too.

For example:

  • Your business customers expect to manage their accounts, pay their invoices, and order products with a click of a button. They want apps and digital experiences instead of being forced to call your sales department between the hours of 9 – 5.
  • They want to see where their delivery is, in real time. They want to track their delivery trucks and see realistic time expectations.
  • They want AI-powered suggestions, based on their relationship history and what’s coming up in the marketplace.

The same rules apply here. Your B2B customers might really appreciate the products you offer. But if a competitor makes it easier, more convenient, and more modern for them, they might assign “quality” to that experience over an outdated one.

Related: Does CX Apply in Healthcare, Manufacturing, & other Professional/B2B Industries?

Quality is great. But what does it mean?

Make sure you and your customers are aligned on the meaning of quality before you claim quality is the experience.

Overall, it’s also important to note that gathering customer feedback on this means going beyond questions JUST about your products. Someone can answer that they believe your product is “high quality” as a rating, but still be frustrated with the experience. Take note of that in developing your surveys. And getting richer responses might require customer interviews, co-creating journeys with customers, and more.

Where to start? Address where you are today and build the ideal journey for tomorrow. Don’t wait, because tomorrow is here.

Tools to help:

About Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CSP

Jeannie Walters CCXP CSP small square photoJeannie is an award-winning customer experience expert, international keynote speaker, and sought-after business coach who is trailblazing the movement from “Reactive Customer Service” to “Proactive Customer and Employee Experience.” More than 500,000 people have learned from her CX courses on LinkedIn Learning, and her insights have been featured in Forbes, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal and NPR

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