Quality Management for Service industries

After a frustrating experience with an online game recently I thought it would provide a great example of how ISO 9001 can relate to a service industry mostly outside of certification – online gaming.

Sniper Fury

I’ve been playing Sniper Fury by Gameloft for some time now and enjoyed the online gaming experience, but this morning I uninstalled the game and it got me thinking about quality management and how it applies to all industries.

So the whole premise of the game is about progressing through a range of levels, obtaining gear as you go through ‘purchases’ with rubies which you earn through game play or you can buy them with your hard earned cash.

So a couple of weeks ago I noticed my rubies total drop twice without making any purchases. This was annoying, but as I hadn’t actually parted with any cash, I persisted and a week or so later I was rewarded with a gift of 200 rubies from Gameloft as an apology for ‘technical issues’. On balance I think I probably broke even or maybe gained a couple of rubies as a result of that glitch.

This weekend I entered a small competition to win gear. I was placed in the top ten so I was expecting to receive the top prize, but had to wait until the competition had concluded to be sure. This morning I logged in and no mention of the competition, the prize or how I had done. That was annoying – I’d invested significant time to get into the top 10.

Then I attempted to use an item of gear during game play. It got used, but I never received the boost that the gear was supposed to provide. I tried 5 or six times to use gear and saw my gear totals dropping away, but no boosts.

The upshot of all of this was that I decided I’d wasted enough time on the game and uninstalled it ……..and then I started thinking about what made me uninstall it and software company’s quality management.

The first thing was that although there is a way to report this sort of issue via the game it’s all very anonymous and buried in menus. The second thing was that although I received my apology gift I was guessing at why I received it as the apology gift gave no explanation other than ‘technical issues’. I was also guessing whether the gift made up for my losses.

So how do ISO 9001 principles apply here? Well the following should all be in place for it to meet ISO 9001 (or to achieve top customer satisfaction):

  1. Ensure that customer satisfaction is the focus of the organisation [ISO 9001 s 5.1.2]. As the game is successful we can assume that the company are already customer focused, but there’s always room for Improvement [ISO 9001 s 10]. If staff aren’t already measured on their ability to deliver customer satisfaction that would be an area where Quality objectives and planning to achieve them [ISO 9001 s 6.2] would be relevant to drive that customer focus throughout the organisation.
  2. The company will need a mechanism for customers to feedback [ISO 9001 s 8.2.1]. They had one of these so we’ll give it a tick even though it could have been more user friendly.
  3. If you deliver a non-conforming output [ISO 9001 s 8.7] to your customers (in this example the output is the proper functioning of the online game service) and you do decide to notify them of a fault the following approach is good practice. To the company’s credit they did notify me of the error. What they didn’t really provide was any advice to show that they understood what the error and its cause was or any advice that it had been fixed. Throwing a refund out there is great to make people feel better about a poor purchase, but that doesn’t give people a reason to continue to use your service. Would a refund for the cost of poor quality meal mean you’d be happy to go back and eat at the same place again? Where you have a non-conformance show you understand the issue, explaining what was wrong and assure the customer it won’t happen again as this builds up trust. The message would have been so much better if it went something like this “Due to a technical error with our software calculations your account recently lost 138 rubies. As such we have resolved the error and have credited your account 200 rubies”. This shows you have exactly understood and quantified the issue and you are saying it won’t happen again – two vital messages to convey if you want customers to return. The problem was that it also wasn’t an isolated non-conformance.
  4. Determine the degree of customer satisfaction [ISO 9001 s 9.1.3]. The only feedback the company can take from my account is that I was playing one day and the game was uninstalled the next. This is true of customers in many situations. The first time you know you’ve stuffed up is at the point your customer stops buying from you and by then it’s too late. You need to interact with your customers and understand satisfaction levels and understand how you are tracking against their expectations continuously. Understanding when a customer starts to be disgruntled allows you to avert the ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’ moment when they stop using the service. If you are only measuring customer loss that’s called a lag indicator and only shows the results of what you have already done well or badly. So how could the online gaming world do this as they potentially have millions of customers and they can’t keep sending out surveys? They could use a user panel playing the game for hours and analysing the game’s performance and response in detail is one way to obtain a representative sample of customer satisfaction. A simple glitch reporting mechanism available at all times is another. You may not take any notice of a single glitch report, but if you suddenly start getting hundreds reported of the same type it’s time to take action. With software it’s sometimes possible to build in fault identification code so the software can notify you when things go wrong.
  5. Those software errors shouldn’t really have got past the testing phase so, there’s obviously something wrong with the Company’s design and development controls [ISO 9001 s 8.3.4]. Now I know this is a low risk activity and getting it wrong isn’t going to get anyone killed, but the adequate control of design and development is what ensures a service does what it’s supposed to. We’ve grown up accepting software which rarely really does all that it’s supposed to, but if the risks of it not working are sufficient to stop people buying it you have to address the issues. Imagine a spreadsheet whose calculations you couldn’t trust or a word processor which would occasionally jumble up words for you. Software whose basic function is unreliable is unlikely to be a success. The whole premise of this game is about progressing through the levels, but glitches were putting up unreasonable barriers to that progress, thereby undermining it’s purpose.

This is just a quick look at the obvious quality requirements which relate to the online gaming software service I encountered. ISO 9001 aims to help companies deliver products and services meeting customer expectations. The standard may not have originally been written for the service industry, but there’s much within it that is of value to that sector.

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