Small data as a driver for customer focused quality management

​With an increasing number of firms offering services, either digital or human, quality as a concept moves from being decided by the provider firm to being subjectively perceived by the customer. As a result, the ability to understand your customers and their experiences is becoming even more important. In her doctoral thesis, Andrea Birch-Jensen reconceptualizes quality as "quality-in-use" and highlights the prerequisites and organizational capacities needed to capture and transform customer feedback into improvements and organizational knowledge.

​What challenges do you focus on your research?

"Customer focus has been a central principle in quality management for a long time. With digitalization and increased service delivery fundamentally changing the customer offering, understanding how customers perceive the quality of an offering is becoming increasingly complex and difficult. Empirical research points to how quality management has failed to adapt to these changes, often remaining product focused rather than customer focused. Firms often put a lot of resources into developing these new, complex digital services or service-led business models, but the questions is whether they also have been able to respond these changes internally, for example by developing processes, competencies and capabilities which can manage and improve these subjective customer experiences in a way which drives customer satisfaction."

How do you address the problem with your research?

"Understanding your customers is key in order to be customer focused. In my research, I identify the structural prerequisites needed to be able to acquire and make use of different types of customer feedback. I also explore the organizational muscles needed to transform customer feedback into quality improvements and organizational knowledge, by using the concept of absorptive capacity. For quality management to be able to respond to the challenges of increased subjectivity in customers’ assessments of quality, my research also explores and outlines the evolving role of quality management in the age of digitalization and increased service delivery."

What are the main findings?

"First, I elaborate on how the concept of quality itself is changing, from a static and binary 'pass-fail' construct, to a construct which is subjectively perceived and experienced by the customer. As such, I propose the reconceptualization of quality as quality-in-use, highlighting the increased focus on the in-use phase of the offering as firms are increasingly offering digital and human services."
"Second, in order to be able to manage the elusive concept of quality-in-use, I outline two roles which quality management needs to fulfill: the capturing role and the converting role. The capturing role responds to the emphasis on the offering’s use-phase which requires the quality management function to possess the interfaces, customer feedback processes, and capacities that allow it to acquire and assimilate customer feedback generated throughout the use of the offering. Depending on the type of interface, for example if the interface is digital-to-digital, digital-to-human or human-to-human, different types of customer feedback processes need to be developed, which channel the customer feedback into the firm’s work with improvements. I propose the converting role of quality management as the prerequisites and capacities needed to transform and exploit the acquired and assimilated customer feedback on quality-in-use. The converting role contains three main elements: action, which entails reacting to customer feedback by converting the feedback into quality improvements, knowledge, which entails the ability to convert customer feedback into knowledge regarding quality-in-use, and integration, which entails the continuous integration and interplay between the conducted improvements and organizational learning."
"Third, I highlight the importance of ‘small data’ when aiming to understand customers’ experiences of quality-in-use. Frontline employees often become valuable knowledge carriers regarding customers perceived quality experiences, but in my studies I find that these frontline employees often lack formalized interfaces and customer feedback processes where this valuable information can be channeled back to the central quality management function. In contrast, firms employ an array of highly developed and mature interfaces and processes for codified customer feedback, such as big data or warranty statistics. Ultimately, this risks leading to firms remaining focused on managing technical product quality rather than managing and improving the whole customer experience."

What do you hope your research will lead to?

“I hope that my research will lead to improved understanding regarding how firms can become more customer focused in their quality management work by developing their customer-firm interfaces, customer feedback processes, and absorptive capacities needed to turn customer feedback into both concrete improvements and increased customer knowledge. Since my research also highlights the importance of small data as a guiding light in the ocean of big data and as a means of understanding perceived quality-in-use, I hope that future research will continue to unveil how to integrate big and small data to truly unlock customer understanding.”

Text compliation: Daniel Karlsson

The thesis defence will be online on Zoom, 4 December at 13.15, see link on thesis’ page (pwd: 818623)


Page manager Published: Mon 30 Nov 2020.