Although quality has been defined in many ways, The American Society for Quality Control offers this standard definition: Quality is "the totality of features and characteristics of product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs"
David A. Garvin argues that quality can be used in a strategic way to compete effectively. There are eight dimensions of quality that are important from a strategic point of view:
- Performance involves a product's primary operating characteristics. For an automobile, performance would include traits like acceleration, handling, cruising speed, and comfort; for a television set, performance means sound and picture clarity, and the ability to receive distant stations.
- Features are supplements to the basic functioning characteristics of the product or service. Examples include free drinks on a plane, permanent-press cycles on a washing machine, and automatic tuners on a colour television set.
- Reliability addresses the probability of a product or service. Among the most common measures of reliability are the mean time to first failures, and the failure rate per unit time.
- Conformance refers to the degree to which a product's design or operating characteristics meet established standards. When new design or models are developed, dimensions are set for parts and purity standards for materials. These specifications are normally expressed as a target or "centre", deviance from the centre is permitted within a specified range.
- Durability is a measure of how much use a person gets from a product before it deteriorates or breaks down to such a point that replacement makes more sense than continual repair.
- Serviceability refers to the promptness, courtesy, proficiency and ease of repair. Some of these variables reflect differing personal standards of acceptable service. Others can be measured quite objectively.
- Aesthetics - how a product looks, feels, sounds, tastes, or smells - is clearly a matter of personal judgment and a reflection of individual preferences. However, there appear to be some patterns in consumers' rankings of products on the basis of taste.
- Perceived quality refers to individuals' subjective assessments of product's or service's attributes; indirect measures may be their only basis for comparing brands. A product's durability, for example can seldom be observed directly. In such circumstance, images, advertising, and brand names can be critical.
A firm's first challenge is to use these eight dimensions of quality to explore the opportunities it has to distinguish its products from another firm's wares.