Conference article

The Usage of the Customer Concept in the Service Sector

Magnus Svensson
Quality Technology & Management, Mid Sweden University, Östersund, Sweden

Håkan Wiklund
Quality Technology & Management, Mid Sweden University, Östersund, Sweden

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Published in: 10th QMOD Conference. Quality Management and Organiqatinal Development. Our Dreams of Excellence; 18-20 June; 2007 in Helsingborg; Sweden

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 26:56, p.

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Published: 2008-02-15


ISSN: 1650-3686 (print), 1650-3740 (online)


The customer concept is central within Total Quality Management (TQM); see Dahlgaard et al. (1994) and Bergman & Klefsjö (1994; 2003) for instance. This concept in turn; is often described as a general concept that is useful for quality work in all organisations; no matter about line of business; who the customers are; what type of products that is produced (goods as well as services); or which form of ownership and purpose that is connected to the producing organisation; the organisation might be private companies as well as public.

During a long period we have got personal experiences from different types of situations; and we agree about the general usefulness of the main thoughts within TQM. However; there are some difficulties connected to the usage; at least at a detailed level when utilizing the concept within service producing organizations. This is valid especially when the service production is complex; for instance when there are several groups of customers existing; with different needs to be fulfilled and the production at the same time is advanced and the product embraces several different aspects that have to be considered.

Another important part within TQM is the process focus; see Dahlgaard et al. (1994) and Bergman & Klefsjö (1995; 2003) for instance; which might be seen as a network of repeated activities for transformation of input from suppliers into output to deliver to the customers afterwards. This idea to connect different activities to each other in a network; or to view the production as a flow activities; is useful within service production. But the view of transformation of physical input into an output; which is delivered to the customers is not useful within service production because of two facts. Firstly; no such flow of materials exists within service production and the customer and secondly; one characteristic of service production is the simultaneous production and consuming of the product which imply the interaction by the customers during the production activities; customers might be seen as co-operating within the process.

One special situation within service production is when the it is advanced; the service might for instance be characterized by knowledge intensive activities within the producing organisation. One step further is when both the producers work and the cooperating customers participating activities is characterized by knowledge intensive work; which is the situation within education. Here we have one example when the general view of service production as producing and consuming at the same time will not give the whole picture; activities for learning is aimed to give a remaining result of new knowledge and experiences that can be useful in the future.

The usage of the word customer within educational organisations is sometimes problematic since the word sometimes is not accepted in certain contexts. However; we will not discuss that matter here; this topic is on the other hand discussed by for instance Svensson (2004) and Svensson & Klefsjö (2006).

To sum up; both the customer focus and the process focus is to some extent problematic when they are applicated into service production. This field have to be discussed and there is also a need for descriptions to handle this TQM usage within service organisatons.

The purpose with this paper is to search for a description of TQM usage within service producing organisations in general; but in educational organisations in particular; in order to clarify the difficulties mentioned above and to find a solution how to handle the TQM usage.


Total Quality Management; Quality work; Customer focus; Process focus; Service quality; Educational organisations; Quality practice


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