I drove for 1/2 hour to Wal-Mart to buy a set of windshield wiper-blades only to find that the type I needed was out of stock. Is it a unique experience?
Have you also been bothered by the fan of your Dell laptop blowing hot air on your (right) hand-wrist as you were handling your mouse?
Beyond the fact that both types of customer dissatisfaction come from icons of our economy, is there anything else these companies share? Of course, they are both representatives, each in its own industry, of the transformational nature of technology and ensued operational efficiencies.
Wal-Mart, by operating a just-in-time supply chain, and Dell, by manufacturing-to-order, have managed to be the most efficient organizations in their given industries. The common knowledge goes on to say that the customer gets the benefits (read savings) when dealing with anyone of these two. Yet, driving twice to the same store to get wiper blades more than doubles my cost, and taking all the heat from a poorly placed fan is all I remember when the lower price I paid for the laptop is forgotten.
So, when you have a long supply chain, long in weeks and miles, or when you change suppliers of your parts every now and then, "to keep them honest," it becomes easy to overlook 'subtleties' in your service/product like the ones above.
To the extent these are not isolated occurrences, what can drive such organizations back to consider quality of service/product?
Could there be anything like a customer revolution or are we in a race to the bottom?
Juran saw the problem with quality (too) many decades back... Somehow, had he had mostly Japanese and European students?
Addendum: The minimalist approach throughout!
Ikea makes an interesting case study: Not the greatest service on the floor, several items out of stock unless shopping on the first floor or the warehouse, one's shopping experience is more like a crawl than a flow. Yet, Ikea manages somehow to offer simple lines / functional furniture, an entry level to Scandinavian design (as far as price and quality,) that is still popular with shoppers for the lack of alternatives. In the end, the model behind Ikea's success is keep it minimalist (assembly, features, price, logistics, etc.) The only exception from minimalism seems to be its global scale.
To understand the difficulty through which change comes about, at a macro-level, it's worth recalling how Thomas Kuhn used to say that mere disconfirmation or challenge never dislodges a dominant paradigm; only a better alternative does.