The Customer Determines The Details That Matter

The customer determines the details that matter in assessing the quality of your product. Here is a true story where this was brought home to me.

The Customer Determines The Details That Matter

In 1988 I worked for Silvar-Lisco, a software company that sold electronic design automation tools to semiconductor and electronics firms all over the world. One of the major markets we sold in was Japan, which was home to a number of large semiconductor manufacturers.

As part of an effort to beef up our channel partner organization we had an development engineer transfer from the Menlo Park office into a field applications engineer position in Japan.  After he’d been there a month or two, and I called him, I said, “John, how’s it going?

“Sean, I have one thing that you have to fix right away,” he said, ” this this is really important.”

“What is it? What’s the problem?”

“The labels on our software distribution tapes.”

This was before SaaS and before you could really even download software. There were bulletin board systems but to get software to Japan we had to ship on a magnetic tape.

“The labels…” I asked, “what’s the issue?”

“The labels that are being applied to the tapes are crooked.”

This was a little puzzling. “Let me make sure I am clear on this John. You’re not worried about the quality of the software. You’re worried about the fact that they open up the shipping package, and the label on the tape is crooked.”

The labels were being put on by a part time shipping clerk named Tito who had four other jobs as well. By the end of the day he was still trying to get caught up and he would be in a hurry, he would make sure the label was legible but it would sometimes go on a little crooked.

“The problem is, when the Japanese open the box, and they see that the label is crooked, they worry that if you can’t take the care to get that right, then the rest of the software may be equally screwed up. If we are sloppy about the easy things then what about the hard things we have to do.”

So I had several conversations with Tito about the important of the physical packaging and presentation of our product so that when a customer  opened the shipping box and unpacked the tape and related material we communicated a sense of care and commitment to quality.

Of course once the Japanese customers started using the software in that delightfully rigorous way that only they can really bring to bear on a problem, we got a lot bug reports on the actual functionality–or lack thereof. This involved many phone calls where there was a lot of teeth sucking because of their embarrassment at our lack of competence, but we were prepared for that and persevered.

But I do reflect from time to time that different kinds of customers have very different indicators of quality and value–their perspective on the details that matter–and you have to be very alert to missing their expectations.

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