What Is Quality? An Integrative Framework of Processes and States

Peter N. Golder, Debanjan Mitra, & Christine Moorman
Journal of Marketing
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Executive Summary
Quality is a critical aspect of business strategy. Firms compete on quality, customers search for quality, and markets are transformed by quality. It is a key force leading to delighted customers, firm profitability, and the economic growth of nations. It is therefore surprising that defining quality has been an elusive goal. Engineers view it as how well a product conforms to design specifications. Economists view it as applying to only a subset of product attributes where higher performance is universally regarded as better. Customers view quality as the performance of all attributes relative to their preferences. These different perspectives have hindered both the literature and practice and, the authors argue, leave the study of quality at a crossroads not much different from Pirsig’s observation made over 30 years ago in the cult novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “even though Quality cannot be defined, you know what Quality is!”

The authors present an integrative quality framework (consisting of three quality processes and three quality states) that captures how firms and customers produce quality, how firms deliver and customers experience quality, and how customers evaluate quality. Their unifying view of quality generates numerous benefits for managers seeking to measure and manage quality processes and quality states. First, the authors provide a common language for engineers, manufacturers, and marketers to discuss quality and related constructs. For example, quality is an assessment of attribute performance relative to a performance standard, whereas customer satisfaction is an assessment of quality relative to a quality standard. Second, the authors generalize across goods and services while classifying all offerings according to the nature of their attributes—universal, preference, and idiosyncratic. Third, they delineate several customer filters that affect how attributes delivered by a firm are perceived, or misperceived, including customers’ measurement knowledge and motivation, attribute expectations, and emotional state. Fourth, the authors describe specific roles for three types of customer expectations—‘will,’ ‘ideal,’ and ‘should.’ Finally, the framework offers 20 strategies to increase customer satisfaction, only 4 of which call for modifying product attributes.

Peter N. Golder (PhD, University of Southern California) is Professor of Marketing in the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. His research focuses on innovation, market entry, and global marketing. He is the coauthor of Will and Vision: How Latecomers Grow to Dominate Markets, which won the Berry Book prize as the best book in marketing and was also selected as one of the Top Ten Books of the Year by Harvard Business Review. His research has won six best-paper awards and been featured several times in The Wall Street Journal, as well as in The Financial Times, The Economist, Advertising Age, and other publications. He was recognized with the American Marketing Association’s Varadarajan Award for Early Career Contributions to Marketing Strategy research.

Debanjan Mitra (PhD, New York University) is Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business Administration. His research focuses on the nature, metrics, and effects of quality and innovation across organizations and markets. He has published in Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Marketing Science, Management Science, Journal of Retailing, and International Journal of Research in Marketing. His research has been recognized with the AMA Excellence in Global Marketing Award, Marketing Science Institute Buzzell Award, and as finalists for the INFORMS John Little Award and Frank Bass Award.

Christine Moorman is the T. Austin Finch, Sr. Professor of Business Administration in the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. Her research examines the nature and effects of learning activities by consumers, managers, and organizations. It has been published in Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Research, Marketing Science, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, International Journal of Research in Marketing, Academy of Management Review, and Administrative Science Quarterly. Professor Moorman is an associate editor for Journal of Marketing Research and an area editor for Journal of Marketing, founder of The CMO Survey (www.cmosurvey.org), and author of Strategy from the Outside In: Profiting from Customer Value (Winner of the 2011 Berry Book Prize). Her research has been supported by grants from Marketing Science Institute, Institute for the Study of Business Markets, and National Science Foundation, and she has served on the Board of Directors and chair of the Marketing Strategy SIG for the AMA, as Director of Public Policy for the Association for Consumer Research, and as an Academic Trustee for MSI. Professor Moorman was awarded the 2012 Paul D. Converse Award, the 2008 Mahajan Award for Career Contributions to Marketing Strategy from the AMA, the 2008 Distinguished Marketing Educator from the Academy of Marketing Science, and the 2006 Bank of America Faculty Award from Duke University.

Journal of Marketing, Volume 76, Number 4, July 2012
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Author Bio:

Peter N. Golder, Debanjan Mitra, & Christine Moorman
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