A New Global Quality Organization: Developing Customer Loyalty

 In 2005/2006 I left my responsibility for the ISO standardization to my successor and longtime friend Jean-Louis Mercier. Now I could focus entirely on the Quality organization and  I had a discussion with the CEO Philippe Alfroid and Henri Vidal, Vice President Human Ressources, about  the experience of almost 10 years with a decentralized Quality organization, its strengths and its weak points and its way to handle and solve Essilor’s  quality issues. We discussed particularly the way how major quality topics were treated on top management level. In the Executive Committee (Comex) once a month the Vicepresidents of head office resources and market zones met to exchange about the evolution of market and competition and major Essilor movements and projects. We agreed that for the Comex people it was absolutely necessary to have a complete insight into topics as customer satisfaction by market and distribution channel and that in this body the quality aspects of new revolutionary technologies, as for example  the Free Form technology, a new manufacturing process for sophisticated progressive designs, had to be discussed . So Philippe Alfroid together with Henri Vidal decided to launch a reorganization project. We hired an external consultant, the Bernard Julhiet company, with a very experienced and dynamic project leader, Dominique Bacquet. The members of the Steering Committee were Philippe Alfroid, the Vicepresidents of Marketing, R&D and Operations divisions and myself. The project started mid 2005.

At that time the decentralized Quality organization existed for nearly 10 years. My role as Central Quality manager was to coordinate cooperation between the operational quality departments of the resources divisions and the markets on one hand and to initiate and stimulate developments of new goals and methods on the other hand. The hierarchic relationship between the central organization and the operational Qualities was by dotted lines. One of our principal fields of activity was the development of new spectacle lens products, a task performed by multidisciplinary project teams including a quality representative. Conflicts about intermediate and final product validations, not rare in new product projects were generally solved directly between operational qualities, as it was the basic idea of the decentralized organization. In Project Reporting meetings Central Quality represented Market Qualities and mediated in case of disagreements. So in the matrix structure of the decentralized organization the coordination function of a relatively weak Central Quality was superimposed on the powerful hierarchy of the operational departments. There was no real leading role of the central organization and a lack of a truly mission beyond the simple task to support and coordinate operational qualities.  In order to improve our cohesion and cooperation we established the IQM (International Quality Meeting) where we met twice a year on different quality sites in Asia, Europe and USA in order to discuss the ongoing Quality projects with our colleagues from Marketing and R&D. These projects comprised new methods to improve the quality of the product development process and its results , the evolution of the methodology of customer satisfaction surveys, the quality criteria for new technologies and the progress in testing our own and competitive products.  The IQM was a very efficient meeting because all the senior quality managers were well aware that only if Quality was perceived as a compact and closed unit, we could reach acknowledgement for this not always popular activity. Nevertheless what was lacking in Essilor’s Quality organization was the mission expressing the specific contribution to the company’s profit as well as the implication and public commitment of the top management, i.e. the chairman and/or the CEO.

In the first quarter of 2006 Dominique Bacquet and the Steering Committee had finished their proposal for a new organization with a powerful mission. It was presented to Philippe Alfroid and accepted with only some minor modifications. As quantitative market surveys showed, that customer satisfaction is clearly correlated to the profit of a company, the new Quality organization should be directly responsible to develop customer loyalty to Essilor . So we postulated, that the mission of the new Global Quality was to make Essilor a reference for customer satisfaction, not only for the ophthalmic optics business, but across all industries. This was admittedly a very ambitious goal, but worthy of a market leader.

 

To this end a first necessary  element was the implementation of an efficient measurement method of our customers’ satisfaction. The second element was to initiate and support development and implementation of tools and methods in order to increase continuously the level of excellence of our products and services. And finally another decisive element of the new strategy was to include the feature “customer service” into the Quality scope. Obviously already in the past for an Essilor employee in contact with the client, excellent service was part of his work. But to manage service quality systematically, following a well-defined plan across all activities and regions, was a new strategic element. This new responsibility for customer satisfaction, as a result of products and services supplied by Essilor, gave to  the Central Quality organization an independent and distinctly more influential position. One consequence of this new position was a regular meeting on General Management level, the Quality Committee, a meeting convened by Global Quality to give a status report on Essilor’s general quality situation and particularly to inform on the progress of major quality projects. Next to General Management the other participants in this Committee were the Comex members, i.e. the Directors of the zones and the resources or upstream depart­ments.