Emeritus Professor of Operations Management
Also INSEAD Working Paper N 88/21 There is no precise frontier between a service and an industrial product. This appears clearly with the operational definition of services: interface and support or front office and back office. The larger the interface, the purer the service, the smaller the interface, the more industrial the service. But, the interface is difficult to deal with because of interactions between clients, employees and technology. Hence the tendency to industrialize services, to standardize the interface, define precise requirements and transfer some of it in the support. In that case, quality means conformance to requirements and a zero defect policy is readily specified if not implemented. However, it then becomes very difficult for the firm following this path to differentiate itself from competition and to satisfy the evolutive needs of the customer. The author recommends avoiding this vicious circle and taking the opposite stand. The interface, when used well, can give quality a boost, and a long term approach to quality must take into consideration an adequate use of the multiple interactions between customers, employees and technology in order to satisfy the client. Hence, enlarging the interface and giving it proper attention is not more costly if quality is adequately planned and built into the process and if participation of customers and automation is judiciously resorted to.