By Nader Fathi
Ensuring good product quality continues to be a defining issue for many companies these days. Far from being a minor detail in a company's overall strategy for success, it has now taken center stage as the key player in a company's market dominance. Even with good practices in place, many large global manufacturers still ship products that eventually require recall. Some blame quality issues on their suppliers, while others are simply so eager to get their products out the door that they overlook product quality tracking procedures altogether. Regardless of how the degradation in quality occurs, its affect is undeniable – a decline in customer confidence, tarnished reputation for the brand owner and a negative impact on the brand owner's bottom line.
In this new age of consumer empowerment and social networking, consumers have access to information faster than ever before, and that information spreads via the Internet at an astronomical speed. When a problem occurs in a product, the result may be an angry blog or even a bad product review or testimonial. Either way, once the information is on the Internet, it is readily accessible and, with a shelf-life that's virtually infinite. Because the flood of information can bring inquiries from the media, customers and prospective customers, brand owners no longer have the opportunity to delay releasing recall information or details regarding a potential problem to the public. Brand owners are also frequently put in a position of having to respond to an issue before they have a well thought out plan in place.
Of course, for those companies that wisely invest in shipping products with minimal or even zero defects, the future is much rosier. They stand not only to realize a healthy return on their investment, strengthen their brand and create loyal, repeat customers, but also to significantly reduce their warranty department overhead and customer complaints. Luckily, product quality management tools are available today to help companies achieve these goals. By quickly and easily managing product quality throughout the supply chain, from manufacturing through end-of-life cycles, companies can mitigate risk, better manage quality and in turn have satisfied customers.
Why Recalls Happen
To better understand how to address product recalls and quality issues, it's important to understand why recalls happen in the first place. Often times, they are due to one of the following reasons:
- Design Issue – An issue pertaining to the fundamental design of a product or the components, modules and/or subsystems on which it is based.
- Component Supplier Issue – An issue that stems from the supplier, such as the 2006 Dell recall of an estimated 4.2-million notebook computer batteries. The problem, which involved the batteries catching fire under certain circumstances, lay with Dell's battery supplier, Sony.
- Manufacturing Issue – A known or unknown problem that isn't eliminated during manufacturing and that results in the shipment of defective products
- Product Inconsistencies – An issue arising from a manufacturing inconsistency between the various manufacturing sites (e.g., in-house and a contract manufacturing facility in Singapore).
Aside from these causes of product failure, there are a number of external factors complicating how companies today are dealing with quality issues. One such factor is the troubled global economy, which has forced consumers to think twice about purchases and, beyond that, which brand name will serve them best. This makes consumers more apt to switch vendors if they are dissatisfied with a product. As a result, brand owners simply can't afford to take quality or customers for granted, and customer retention has become all the more critical. The worst thing that could happen to a company in an economy like this would be to face a major recall, as this action literally could mean the company's demise or, at the very least, the closure of facilities.