Quality in consulting : How Hard is it in Application

user Yulia V. Akinfieva, M.B.A,LL.M. calender 22 Mar 2016 views 2090 Views

TQM is commonly known for the principles of continuous improvement, awareness of total cost of quality, recognition that everyone holds responsibility for quality, customer orientation/focus, process

orientation, commitment of senior management etc.

However, quality has been commonly associated with industries where it originated and not with services which are difficult to measure, evaluate and apply a zero-defect concept to. Therefore, ‘the quality units appropriate to industrial products, such as zero defects and performing to specifications, were less appropriate to the intangibles that are at the heart of service’[1]

When it comes to association of quality with service in consulting, many questions naturally arise such as: How do customers rate service quality provided by a consultant? What elements of consultant’s delivery are associated with customers’ poor/high ratings of the service quality? What are desirable and expected outcomes?; among many others. Taking into consideration that definition of quality of services is very subjective and depends on perceptions, the reasonable approach would be to base understanding of how customers rate quality of service on customer’s expectations and key performance indicators set forth by a consultant and a customer. Hence, the more the expectations are fulfilled the more the customer would be satisfied, and if expectations are exceeded satisfaction would increase.

In addition, when talking about service it is important to take into consideration instrumental and expressive performance indicators. In other words, a customer would evaluate a service provided on these two dimensions answering a question of “how well does the product do what I need it to do?” (instrumental performance), and “how comfortable did I feel during the process?” (expressive performance)[2].

This in itself in consulting in particular presents a challenge because normally a customer would not have enough technical expertise to rate the delivery of a consultant; hence, he would have to use secondary information to make the judgment such as benchmark a consulting provider against its competitors on the market, look for ISO or any other quality certification, seek information in the business network, compare its delivery to delivery of other consulting firms etc. To a great extent, however, the rating of service quality will depend on a consultant or a team of consultants delivering services on the ground and their interaction with the customer.

A customer would evaluate the interaction process and quality throughout the project/initiative, assess consultant’s credentials, experience, references, physical appearance, body language, attire, mimics and ability to influence, establish rapport and gain trust and credibility. Secondary will come the evaluation of the outcome of the service provided and its cost-benefit analysis, cross-matching of delivery on the ground with the initial expectations.

Keeping the above in mind and thinking about the quality initiative I was asked to undertake I think it is important to split the notion of service into two integral parts: physical and intangible. Physical include: materials used by consultants (presentations, documents, tools etc.), processes involved in creation of a service;Intangible: mode of delivery, consultants’ negotiation and communication skills, presentation skills, conduct of behavior at the client’s site during delivery, client/consultant interaction mode etc.

Instilling Support Pillar-Quality Oriented Organizational Culture

First and for most, being an organization development management consultant, I understand that essential factor of success of the following recommended actions is a proper quality oriented culture that needs to be instilled in the organization at the very beginning of the change process. Preaching about organizational culture to our customers, we as an organization need to start applying and instilling one of quality for ourselves. Consultants as well as the management of the firm need to realize and establish awareness, gain motivation and commitment of employees, pass understanding of the meaning of quality of service and its importance before introducing the any kind of QI.

Hence, step one would be consulting consultants on organizational culture, instilling and institutionalizing the proper quality oriented culture and raising awareness.

Turning to physical and intangible aspects of service the following is recommended:

Physical Dimension of Service

Internally it is recommended to introduce mechanisms, processes and quality assurance unit which will instill a framework which will serve to produce standardized tools, documents and methods used by consultants to deliver quality service.


Introduce a process of creation of delivery materials, tools and methods utilized by consultants on the ground. This will include clear guidelines for resource center, consulting team and design team on how to develop necessary materials for a given project.

Set KPIs and standards, evaluation to be used during the process. Create guideline manual with standards and technical specifications.

Intangible Dimension of Service
KPIs and Expectations

Set KPIS and Expectations both internally as well as externally to make sure there is a reference for evaluation.

Consultants’ Conduct and Behavioral Indicators during Delivery

Introduce internal training, development programs for consultants and other functions to address the intangible side of the coin. Workshops and training sessions might focus on: psychology, communication and negotiation, ethics, technical knowledge, presentation skills, proper conduct at the client’s side, establishing rapport and building trust, body language, communication at the C-level, managing client’s expectations.


To facilitate the embedment of quality mind-set quality control and performance should be linked with performance management system to motivate employees to adhere to the processes set forth and ensure quality delivery.


Quality in services is undoubtedly a challenging matter to handle; in consulting it is even more challenging when it is related to ‘soft’ deliverables detached from technical data, calculations and processes such as change management programs, leadership development, organization culture enablers etc. However, quality is still an integral part and one of the key players in consulting business.

Quality delivery to both internal and external customer brings credibility, image, and buy-in of the customer which in turn will eventually lead to good references and recommendations, easier and faster business development as well as effective competion with other players on the market.

The initial QI with its surveys as well as recommended action plan should be carried on and perfected on the way building the right environment for quality. How sustainable it will be will depend on the buy-in and diligence of all employees, management support, and outcomes which will necessarily need to be analyzed, quantified and linked to the ‘bottom line’.

[1] Chowanec, G.D. (1993) TQM: Evaluating Service Quality. Consulting Psychology Journal

[2] Chowanec, G.D. (1993) TQM: Evaluating Service Quality. Consulting Psychology Journal