‘How would you measure something like that?’: Quality in a Retail Bank

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Abstract

In this paper we explore a case study of total quality management (TQM) within the financial services sector. We demonstrate that a ‘conformance to requirements’ approach towards TQM is concerned with increasing management’s physical and financial control over procedures, documentation, systems and people. Such an approach only partially addresses quality because (a) there can never be a precise ‘conformance’ and (b) this approach neglects customers and employees. We illustrate that often management do not understand the flaws/problematics and underlying philosophy behind TQM. Thus they continue to adopt ‘inconsistent’ approaches, such as attempting to control costs and employees while espousing the importance of the customer and the need for a trust-based culture. Yet, whether or not they understand the rationale behind TQM and attempt to widen their focus by considering people and customers more directly, we argue that management cannot easily adopt a ‘consistent’ approach because a preoccupation with controlling costs is bound up with career-based identities and hierarchical power relations. Ultimately we argue that management cannot control ‘quality’ in any simple top down way, essentially because of the ‘indeterminacy’ of labour, the ‘intangibility’ of customer satisfaction, and the complexity of organizational power and identity relations.

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