MAN4050M Operations Management Module
1 – Introduction
Connect Housing is an RSL that provides housing and housing management services to over 3,000 households across West Yorkshire. The majority of services are paid for from rental income and customers do not usually pay again to access a particular service.
The Anti-social behaviour management service is one of those housing management services. Staffed by three Housing Officers and one Senior, it receives and manages reports of ASB from customers and anyone else living, working in or visiting the areas in which Connect operates. The ASB service is not open to competition (people cannot choose to use the service of another RSL), though customers may choose not to use it at all or to use an agency like the Police for certain cases. The service deals with around 300 new reports each year, ranging from noise nuisance to incidents of violence, drug dealing etc.
Though service standards are in place (appendix one), these focus on:
- definitions of types of ASB
- Connect’s approach to the management of ASB
- the speed with which the association should respond to certain categories of report.
The standards include limited information that would enable a customer to assess service quality. Though levels of satisfaction are measured, Connect has not asked customers what is important to them in the service and does not benchmark it against other organisations. Service improvement is ad-hoc and unfocussed.
This paper outlines how certain theories about quality management and particular tools for quality improvement apply to the ASB service and discusses reasons why application of some aspects of theory may be difficult. It also makes recommendations about how service quality may be defined and measured in future and about new approaches to service improvement.
2 – Defining Quality
Slack et al note “There is no clear or agreed definition of what quality means.” (2007, p 538). Compounding that lack of clarity is the fact that “Much of the theory of quality comes from work with processes which are by their nature reproduced many times -” (Brown et al, 2000, p 216). The ASB service, called upon in 300+ cases in the last 12 months, is effectively a different service every time it is provided because:
- It is provided by different staff, likely to provide inconsistent levels of service no matter what training is provided.
- It is provided to different customers, interacting with the service, including other customers) in different ways, regardless of their obligations under the terms of their tenancy agreements.
- Each case is unique – even noise nuisance cases require different types of management, dependent on factors like the type of property in which they occur (flat, house etc), the nature of the noise nuisance (vehicles, domestic disputes etc), the involvement of other agencies (local authority noise teams, Police etc) and so on.
The degree of customisation of the service affects the extent to which quality management theories, developed for use in processes that are repeated many times, can be appropriately applied to the service.
Quality gurus like Feigenbaum extended principles developed in production settings to services operations and developed definitions of quality such as the following:
“The total composite product and service characteristics…through which the product or service in use will meet the expectations of the customer”. (Feigenbaum, 1983 in Brown et al, 2000, p 194).
Such definitions are difficult to apply to services such as the ASB service. Dotchin and Oakland (1994, p 14) note “a service package constitutes elements which are different from each other, are difficult to measure objectively and for which the consumer may use completely different methods of assessment”. Garvin (1988, in Brown et al, 2000, p 194) raises two significant difficulties of relevance to the ASB service:
- Customers may have very different perceptions of quality
- It may be difficult to identify the key attributes that connote quality
Such confusion about the definition of quality affects how RSL’s measure service quality. Williams et al (1999, p 367) note that measuring service quality in the housing sector is done largely through use of hard, easily quantifiable data. That approach to the measurement of quality is reflected in the ASB service standards, in which the only measurable attributes of the service are defined as:
- speed with which staff will respond to reports
- fact that Connect will accept hate incident reports
- use of methods to resolve disputes, including use of legal action where appropriate
Slack et al (2007, p 541) provide a definition of quality that may be helpfully applied to the ASB service, that being:
“Quality can be defined as the degree of fit between customers’ expectations and customer perception of the product or service.”
The diagram below outlines the implications of such expectation / perception gaps.