Case Analysis: Detail & Quality
The quest for quality, especially in the food business is a funny thing
Photo Credit : Bivash Banerjee
Bhala uski sushi meri sushi se achhi kaise? And the answer might well-nigh lie in QA! But before that, to address the end question, HR is also about listening to employees and distilling what is heard into inputs for management. These seem to be impossible tasks for startups to undertake. To say that today, is to make a lame excuse. HR can be outsourced. Anu Sharma, an HR veteran, started The HR Practice (www.thehrpractice.in) to provide top quality HR services to organisations that can’t have, or may never need, their own HR teams. The same goes for quality assurance and quality control (QA and QC). A startup needs to think of ways in which it can do exactly what a large competitor does, but at lower cost with smarter outcomes. When Kaizad says, “You know hotels are big. Startups are small. To have such detail in QC means more people,” it shows a poor understanding of how startups need to function. Yes, admitted, it may be difficult to outsource QA and QC in the food industry… and if that is the case, there you are: Kaizad has another business opportunity to think about.
But let’s deal with the core problem that Kaizad and Sanjeev are grappling with as provider and consumer. The provider’s main goal is to keep the customer happy, or so we are given to believe by the canonical B-school mantra: ‘Do what(ever) it takes, but keep the customer delighted’. One way to do that is to offer discounts. Another is to offer freebies or full refunds when a customer is unhappy. But the challenge before Kaizad is far greater: process rigor for an outstanding product.
What should be Kaizad’s priority, customer delight or process rigor? The answer depends on who
is asking the question. A marketing person will insist on customer delight being given precedence. After all, it takes money to acquire customers and without a customer, who needs to produce anything? For an entrepreneur, the customer is not a priority. Solving a problem is the priority. If the entrepreneur cannot solve a known problem, his very raison d’être for existence comes into question.
Kaizad’s challenge is solving lunch time hunger pangs. His product, a prime rib steak sandwich (add some provolone cheese, rocket lettuce and relish for me) solves it. How the sandwich is put together requires as much attention to detail and quality as Sir John Wolfe Barry and Sir Horace Jones brought to the London Tower Bridge. It’s not about to fall down in a hurry.
The goals of QA and QC can be a challenge and a motivation, and appear to be costs, especially when the entrepreneur himself is the subject (product) matter expert. But very quickly they lead to savings in time and cost and strategic factors of success like customer satisfaction, pricing flexibility and investor interest.
The quest for quality, especially in the food business, is a funny thing. I recollect watching a documentary on Jiro Ono (‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’), the revered 91-year-old sushi master and owner of the 10-seater Michelin 3-star restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro located in the Tokyo subway (yes, 3-star Michelin in a subway). In the documentary, Jiro says that he buys his rice — the hero ingredient in sushi — from one specific rice dealer. The quality of the rice is a significant factor in his success. But here is the upside of maintaining that obsessive focus on procurement: the rice dealer says that many large hotel chains in Japan have approached him for the rice he provides Jiro. But he has refused to sell the rice to anyone else. This is because no one else would be able to use and respect his rice the way Jiro does. Can you imagine a better competitive advantage than this being the result of obsessive procurement in the F&B business?
The real lesson for Kaizad should perhaps be this: in the food business, procurement processes should be rigid and instead of breaking them, take the item off the menu while the process is healing or being repaired. That way, great customers like Sanjeev will have lesser reason to complain (they will still be upset and want to know, “Why is my favourite prime rib steak sandwich off the menu?” but the answer will satisfy them) and the brand won’t take a hit.
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