Quality Sneaks Up On You

By Beacon Staff

The software business is a funny place, but it offers lessons that can be used just about anywhere, whether you mow yards, own a septic tank business, specialize in international tax law, or design space-age computer chips in your sleep.

One of the first lessons that you learn is that something good enough for you, or good enough for your business (internally) is rarely good enough for public consumption.

Quality has a way of sneaking up on you.

When only one client uses your software and you know that business pretty well, you can be confident that your software can ignore quality variables in some areas because you know that business will never encounter them.

English, you say? Ok, consider that watermelon stand you own.

At your little roadside watermelon stand, there is no reason for your cash register to support Europe’s VAT tax, much less the subtle little differences between Australia’s GST, New Zealand’s GST and Canada’s GST, HST, PST and their piggyback tax-on-a-tax. Likewise, there is little reason to support Florida’s goofy tiered sales tax setup, or Illinois’ “one thing has this rate, while this other thing has this rate” sales tax setup.

And maybe next year, you get some fancy software to run that now-expanded fruit stand and you sell apples, watermelons, huckleberries, and more. Before long, you’ve created the Northwest Montana Fruit Emporium and the place is exploding in volume every year because you read my column, do what I suggest and even more. Yes, I was kidding, a little, about that part.

Next thing you know, you have point of sale software running the 9 registers in your little fruit stand that is now a big fruit stand.

Before long, you’ve expanded and acquired 117 other fruit stands across the Northwest and have become the Fruit Mogul.

Suddenly (or perhaps not so suddenly), those sales tax issues that didn’t matter a while back have now become important.

That’s what I mean when I say that quality has a way of sneaking up on you.

In the software business, or manufacturing business, the damage can be rather expensive. Let’s say that you sell a piece of software to a small local bank. The only downside is that the software exhibits a weird behavior once every million transactions. Doesn’t seem very likely that you’ll see a problem, right?

Now let’s say that software turns out to be really something. You ramp up operations, hire staff, head out to trade show, advertise in all the right places and your marketing is working. Sales are flying in.

Before you know it, you’re the darling of the financial industry (or whatever it might be), and your software is used in 5000 businesses. Some of those businesses are quite large. As a result, your clients process, on average, about 15000 transactions per day.

What does this mean, besides gobs of money coming your way? Your software creates SEVENTY FIVE ticked off customers every day.

How does that happen?

Simple – it happens because your 5000 clients who process an average of 15000 transactions per day are now cranking 75 million transactions a day with your software. While that is very exciting, that means that this little oddity that pops up every million transactions is popping up 75 times per day and as mentioned above, ticking off 75 different people every day.

So, that’s 75 phone calls per day, on this issue alone. At 8 hours a day (assuming the luxury of clients in U.S.-only time zones), that’s a little more than 9 calls per hour, or a new call from a cranky customer every 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Surely there will be other calls, for presumably more mundane reasons, so consider the staffing necessary to avoid saying “Your call is important to us, however we are experiencing unexpectedly high call volumes and will take calls in the order they arrived.”

You know, those words that everyone believes when they hear them.

Quality sneaks up on you…unless you sneak up on it first.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him at [email protected].