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What is quality management?

13 min read
Quality management is how you can drive continuous improvement across your business and drive greater customer satisfaction. But how does it work? Here’s everything you need to know...


Quality Management (QM) is the process of continuously improving business processes based on setting goals, identifying deviations from these goals, and adjusting processes and behaviors accordingly.

In other words, quality management is the mechanism by which a business finds areas of the business where things could be running more smoothly, and takes action to close experience gaps.

Understanding quality management systems in business

Customers’ expectations are higher than ever, so companies who successfully meet these rising expectations have a tremendous opportunity to differentiate themselves. These heightened customer expectations and increasing standards mean that quality assurance and quality management are incredibly important.

In business that means keeping a keen eye on every process and touchpoint to find out where things could be made better – and how. Two example areas where quality management is most applicable are manufacturing/shipping and customer support.

Quality management principals

Because quality management is the combination of quality assurance (QA) and process improvement, it’s a critical component of successful contact centre operations, as one key example.

Potentially a customer’s first point of contact, the contact centre presents a unique opportunity for an organisation to directly and often permanently impact a customer’s experience and overall perception of the company.

If a representative fails to disclose a privacy statement, or is rude to a customer, for instance, that could inadvertently land the organisation in legal trouble, elicit bad press, or both.

Quality control and quality management systems can improve that contact centre performance by clearly defining desired representative behaviours, identifying interactions that miss the mark, and providing mentorship based on these “coachable moments.”

So, a mature quality management program not only improves customer perceptions of an organisation but also empowers representatives to become and remain effective frontline drivers of both positive CX and consistent regulatory compliance.

Quality improvement methods: What are the stages?

Total quality management is essentially your strategic approach to ensuring quality.

This includes planning as well as evaluation, helping to change QA scores from negative to positive through targeted action. While quality assurance methods are vital for a business to provide services that are productive and memorable, quality management takes things one step further. It helps you not only to flag potential quality issues but to take action to ensure that other issues across your business are resolved.

While there is a spectrum of maturity, most quality improvement methods follow these core steps:

1.    Establish Expectations

Rubrics or scorecards often evaluate performance by examining desired behaviours and outcomes. Some of which may be easier to consistently measure than others, but the goal here is to figure out what the ideal scenario is.

2.    Evaluate

In the example of a contact centre, we’d then evaluate a percentage of representatives’ calls. Auditors look to compare adherence to our expected behaviours.

3.    Coach and adjust

If we find discrepancies or areas for improvement in our example contact centre, we’d then look to coach and adjust representatives’ performance to reinforce our organisational standards and expectations.

4.    Analyse Trends

QM programs build on QA processes by uncovering trends – these trends are then turned into operation-wide improvements. At the end of the process, you’ll analyse your results, and begin the process over again to keep things continuous and cyclical.

Another way of looking at quality management principles is through the ‘PDCA’ model, in which a testing environment encompasses the following steps:

Plan – The planning phase is where the initial quality standards are drawn up and decided upon. Whether you’re following a standardised framework or not, this is where your quality engineer will decide what ‘quality’ means for your product, service, or team.

Wheel chart

Do – The ‘do’ phase is simply where you carry out the processes and procedures that you’ve defined in the planning phase.

Check – In this phase, we collect data to see how well things are performing based on the criteria we’ve designed. You’ll compare actual outcomes with your expected ones, and see how that marries up to your overall quality objectives.

Adjust – Also known as the ‘Act’ part of an overall quality test strategy, this is where you’ll make the changes that your findings point to, to improve whatever it is that your QA testing was tracking. As we’ve mentioned, the quality improvement process is an ongoing one, so it makes sense that the process for quality management – whether it’s for customer support or in software testing – is cyclical. With that in mind, it’s best to think of the ‘Adjust’ phase as leading back into the ‘Plan’ phase.

What is a quality management system (QMS)?

The above section describes the overall process flow for quality management, but how do you actually put that process into practice? How do you ensure total quality management?

A quality management system (QMS) is the answer here – a formalised process and toolset that documents each step, the desired outcomes, the ways to improve, and the results.

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Quality management re-imagined

Some quality management systems are bespoke to individual organisations, others offer a quality management system standard for cross-industry certification. For example, the ISO 9000 and ISO 9001 are internationally-recognised frameworks for quality management, describing seven quality management system principles:

●      Customer focus
●      Leadership
●      Engagement of people
●      Process approach
●      Improvement
●      Evidence-based decision making
●      Relationship management

Likewise, the CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integrated) framework works on the principle that organisations willing to put time and resources into process improvement are more mature and capable than others. It describes maturity and capability across several stages, from ‘Incomplete’ to ‘Defined’.

Whichever quality management system (QMS) you choose to apply, you’ll want to employ the use of intelligent, enterprise quality management software that can handle some of the heavy lifting – and scour large datasets – for you. We’ll cover those shortly, but first…

Why are quality management systems important?

Implementing a thorough and standardised quality management system is the only real way to guarantee measurable improvement to your business’ systems on an ongoing basis. Through documentation and planning, a quality management system aids with compliance, organisational buy-in for change, transparency, and – ultimately – builds customer satisfaction.

Quality management systems, aided by the right technology to implement them, also ensure that opportunities don’t slip through the cracks – and the more robust the system, the more you can track.

For example, when evaluating call centre performance on an ad hoc basis, soft skills requirements can seem fuzzy and leave much up to the subjective interpretation of your auditors. Manual quality management processes can also introduce the potential for subjectivity and human error.

These one-off endeavours are also limited by the number of audited calls, hours in a day, and the audit timeframe. And without a system in place, coaches may not give feedback to agents until much later, making any interaction harder to learn from. A lack of historical records and documentation, meanwhile makes it challenging for agents and supervisors to track improvement over time.

In fact, there are three clear benefits to implementing a quality management system within your business:

Consistency

By documenting, testing, and improving your organisational processes, you’re effectively stamping out inconsistencies. An ever-improving business will naturally be an ever-more consistent one, and that consistency is often synonymous with cost-saving efficiency.

Evidence-based change

With total quality management, you can take the guesswork out of prioritising what needs to change and what’s working well. A statistical quality control methodology leads to decision-making steeped in empirical evidence.

Increased profit

There are several documented reasons why quality management systems can lead to increased profits, most notable among which are improved efficiency and an improved reputation within your marketplace.

Beyond all this, however, is the fact that for both business partners and customers/clients, not having a robust quality management system in place is now seen as bad practice – with many businesses requiring their partners to have a recognised certification.

After all, if you don’t have a quality management system in place, it sends a message that you’re not seriously invested in improving the quality of your processes, products, or services.

How to choose a quality management system

When we talk about choosing a quality management system, in practice we’re talking about choosing a business intelligence software suite. That’s first because a QMS is more than just a series of guidelines, and secondly because the kind of data capture that modern businesses should want to undertake is often too large (and too always-on) to be done manually.

Extreme sampling can make it harder to find significant trends that inform smart coaching, but if an organisation only considers a small sample of interactions, the insights it finds may be misleading or inaccurate. So a software-based QMS, powered by AI and with real-time data capture, is the best way for most organisations to implement quality planning and management.

Here are four factors that should go into your decision when choosing your quality control tool:

Industry relevance

Not every kind of QMS applies to every industry, so be wary of relevance for your industry. For example, while ISO 9001 certification can be applied to any industry, the automotive industry has IATF16949 certification, and Food is measured against the ISO 22000 standard. Moreover, does the company whose software solution you’re looking at have experience in, and understanding of, your industry?

Performance and Scalability

Any decent quality improvement software should be able to scale with your business and be able to monitor any process in your business – no matter how big or small. Being able to run in real-time and with large datasets is a plus, as is being able to visualise data in an understandable way.

Performance & scalability

Intelligence

AI and machine learning can help modern quality management systems complete tasks at a scale that humans can’t, but they can also offer quality management across traditionally qualitative vertices. In a call centre, for instance, you’ll want your chosen software package to be able to automatically understand sentiment, points of friction, and emotion – not just the number of resolutions.

Suggestions and actionability

Finally, you’ll want your software-based quality management suite to be able to suggest actions that can really make an impact on quality. That means providing a holistic view of the overall operation, alongside one that’s granular enough to make practical, actionable suggestions that boost customer satisfaction.

Quality, controlled: The Qualtrics approach to quality management

Powered by Clarabridge, Qualtrics’ quality management solution is specifically designed for contact centre professionals and harnesses the power of our entire product suite. With it, you’ll be able to move from manual sampling to automatically evaluating 100% of contact centre interactions, leveraging powerful rubrics and targeted coaching opportunities that cater to every member of your organisation.

Eight Fortune 100 companies are already using our intelligent quality management solution to explore insights, uncover potential call deflection and self-service opportunities, automate QA/QM, enable efficient agent coaching processes, measure drivers of customer satisfaction, and improve customer experience across all channels.

Discover across all channels

With that powerful feature set, Qualtrics is driving higher loyalty, frictionless customer journeys, and reduced churn more easily and accurately – increasing QM efficiency by 30% on average as a result.

With Qualtrics and Clarabridge, every member of the contact centre – from supervisors to representatives to speech analysts – is involved in a humanistic cycle of improvement.

Learn more about quality management with
Qualtrics + Clarabridge