Quality

Lessons From Luxury: Quality is a Habit

Aristotle was not in the luxury industry, nor was he a craftsman - but he surely knew a thing or two about quality. He famously once said “quality is not an act, it is a habit.” The role of quality goes beyond just the quality of a product. Having a top-quality product is only one of the many chapters in the ‘Book of Quality’. Creating, and doing the very best you can forms part of your ethical code; your values or in short, your internal (corporate) culture. Implementing a qualitative strategy is as much about the dedication you instill into your culture (input) as it is to produce and deliver high quality products or services (output).

The new economies of quality are part of a larger cultural shift toward the inner paradigm of authenticity, purpose and sincerity, which is very much diametrically opposed to the mass-production realm in which many brands are caught up. It is based on refusing to sacrifice quality for quantity. It is focused on creating a culture par excellence in which the quality of the relationships between employees and customers increases. For brands and people, this is about maximizing the quality (not quantity) of messages in communications in order to build stronger bridges within companies, between brands, cultures and for individuals.

 

“Today’s world economy is shifting its priorities,

 from quantity and volume to quality and value.”

 Dr. Clotaire Rapaille

 

Quality Applied Universally?

In an ever more connected world, it is evident that we are succeeding in boosting the quantity and speed of connections. However, it is not only the quantity of connections but also their quality that, I think, deserves equal, if not more, attention. There are countless initiatives by global technology giants to connect ever more people to the Internet (web), people with business and people (networks) and increasing machines (AI) with people and businesses.[1] Connecting everyone? Making life easier? Making the world a better place? Saving the world? Sure, these are all good directions to take. But how about complimenting them with the direction of building paradise on earth? How about an earthly paradise in which relationships are at the qualitative heights? What is the secret of maximizing the quality of communication and relationships? How can we build stronger bridges within companies, between individuals and for the world in general?

A good proxy to look at for answers is the recession-proof world of luxury. Perhaps counter-intuitive, but these companies can teach us about building an internal culture in which quality, a higher purpose and relationships operate together in a mindful way. Cultivating internal culture par excellence is what non-luxury brands can learn from this space. Manfredi Ricca and Rebecca Robins put this very nicely in their book Meta-Luxury:[2]
Meta-luxury is the economic reflection of a culture of excellence, embodying the human quest for unique achievements that can stand the test of time, enduring and evolving from one generation to the next. They challenge the boundaries of knowledge, transforming history into the future, Sustaining excellence into eternity.”

Dr. Clotaire Rapaille’s also framed it very nicely with his example of Ritz-Carlton’s internal culture as in “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”[3] This principle creates a culture in which the quality of the relationships between employees and customers increases. I call this the high mirror or ‘eye-level’ principle. This is about much more than just a formula for a luxury hotel brand. This magic principle has the potential to improve the internal culture of corporations both big and small outside the luxury industry too.

 

“Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.”

Aldo Gucci

 

As Ritz-Carlton viewed it, service costs nothing. Not as in opportunity or labor cost - of course there are indeed costs associated with training and maintaining high service standards. But you don’t have to be an ambassador or an aristocrat to behave as a gentleman or as a lady. Etiquette, well-mannered and, to some extent, theatrical behavior costs nothing except the time spent on training. Anyone could apply the high mirror principle – provided both understanding and attitude to strive for the best are in place. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we apply the high mirror principle for the purpose of improving societal relations on a macro scale? Being a lady or a gentleman, whether you work in a luxury hotel or work as consultant in a large corporation, means being on the extreme opposite of vulgarity not only in appearance but also in attitude or mindset. If this magic principle is applied in micromanagement of our relations and conversations with others in daily life, it would have an enormous positive outcome.

 

Benefits of Prioritizing Quality

 

Differentiation in the Market

In addition to status as a driver of value, luxury brands differentiate themselves through a focus on unique design, craftsmanship, and quality. Non-luxury brands can stand out in the market by emphasizing quality in areas such as functionality, reliability, and user experience. A commitment to quality can be a key differentiator, especially in industries where customers value durability and performance. Emphasizing and delivering on quality allows non-luxury brands to differentiate and command premium pricing. Great examples here are Zippo with its reusable metal lighters that are durable to the point that they come with a lifetime guarantee; or take Patagonia, offering high-quality, ethically produced clothing often seen as investments due to their longevity.

Long-Term Cost Savings

Luxury brands often invest in high-quality materials and craftsmanship, leading to longer-lasting products. The same goes for talent: training and retention reduces costs associated with high turnover. Non-luxury brands can benefit from a focus on quality by reducing the frequency of returns, repairs, or replacements on products; and strong cultures make it attractive for people to stay. While the initial investment in quality may be higher, the long-term cost savings from reduced warranty claims and customer complaints can be substantial. A good example here is Nespresso with premium positioning, consistent quality, sustainable value chains and club-like ecosystem.

Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Luxury brands often benefit from positive word-of-mouth marketing due to the perceived quality of their products. Non-luxury brands can leverage positive word-of-mouth by consistently delivering quality products that customers are eager to recommend to friends and family. Satisfied customers become brand advocates, helping to expand the brand's reach organically. Ikea is one of the well-known examples among non-luxury brands, providing affordable furniture in flat-pack-form and in solid-quality with an uncompromising focus on helping customers create their own living spaces.

 

“Quality begins with the intent, which is fixed by management.”

 Dr. W. Edwards Deming

 

How to Integrate Quality Into Your Culture

Which one of your values is linked to quality? And how does it do so?  Embedding quality as a trait within your value system is an effective way of driving quality-behavior. In order for this to work, implementing rigorous quality control measures can ensure that the products or services align with the stated values. This demonstrates your brand’s commitment to delivering what it promises, reinforcing the value of customer satisfaction.

Another way to integrate quality is if your organization promotes a ‘Continuous Refinement’ culture, it implies a commitment to ongoing development of processes and products. Embedding quality assurance practices into your culture ensures that every team member is dedicated to identifying areas for improvement. Leica, known for its high-quality cameras, exemplifies a 'Continuous Refinement' culture by constantly innovating and refining its camera technology and manufacturing processes. This relentless pursuit of excellence ensures that each Leica camera is not just a product but a culmination of ongoing development and meticulous attention to detail. The brand's focus on quality assurance practices reflects its commitment to delivering exceptional image quality that photography enthusiasts have come to expect. This commitment to quality becomes a defining characteristic of the brand's DNA, distinguishing Leica in the market as a company that values and upholds the highest standards of quality in every aspect of its operations.

 

5-Step Action Plan

 

  1. Define your quality standards. Establish clear benchmarks of excellence that all products and services must meet or exceed. Keep it simple. For example: Every product must survive 10 durability tests before release.
  1. Use quality as a value guiding your internal culture. Make quality a cornerstone of your company ethos, influencing every decision and action. Be clear. For example: Each team member acts as a quality ambassador in their daily tasks.
  1. Integrate quality control/management systems. Implement systematic processes to monitor and improve the quality of every aspect of your business operations. For example: Incorporate a Six Sigma approach to reduce defects and inefficiencies.
  1. Keep learning more about quality from luxury brands. Study high-end brands to understand how they maintain and ensure the highest standards of quality. Adapt what works for you. For example, adopt Ritz-Carlton's credo for unmatched customer service standards.
  1. Train and empower your team for continuous refinement. Educate and encourage your staff to constantly seek out ways to enhance the quality of their work. For example, create an open-feedback policy and run regular “what can we do better?” forums.

 

The Journey is the Destination

Quality should be seen as a strategic investment that pays off in terms of customer loyalty, positive word-of-mouth, and long-term business success. Prior to making any strategic decision it is best to remember the ancient Latin saying: Quam Bene non Quantum. In plain English, it’s not how much, but how well you plan and manage your brand that will make the difference. Quality brings quantity and not the other way around.

Whatever line of work you are in, make quality an unwavering dedication to the artistry of your craft, a symphony of skills honed with precision and care, much like the luxurious brands that inspire this article. And remember that the pursuit of quality is a relentless voyage, not a destination.

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[1] In the Race between Google and Facebook over Global Connectivity ..., venturebeat.com/business/in-the-race-between-google-and-facebook-over-global-connectivity-everyone-is-winning/. Accessed 5 Jan. 2024. 

[2] Robins, Rebecca. Meta-Luxury - Brands and the Culture of Excellence. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 

[3] Rapaille, Gilbert Clotaire. 7 Secrets of Marketing in a Multi-Cultural World. Tuxedo Production, 2004.

 

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