The tug-of-war between ensuring you have a great product and meeting the cost or resource demands of fast scale is never far from mind at a high-growth company.
The greatest challenge with product quality is sometimes you don't realize you're compromising it.
Take Big Food for example. Little by little, companies cut corners with their products in the interest of margin increases. As a business owner, it can be easy to understand why. But now, it's costing the industry billions in lost sales and consumer confidence.
Product quality is also a challenge because it often comes at odds with fast growth. Sourcing, manufacturing processes, and any number of elements can play a factor.
This month, my company is growing 3x over last month. It's exciting, but it makes managing product quality incredibly painful.
You also need to figure out what good product quality is - by your standards as well as your customers' standards, because it might be different. Apple has seen this many times with its software and hardware product updates.
It's not as easy as saying, "don't sacrifice the product." Quality is something you actively manage every day. Here's how we tackle it at Simple Mills:
Start With Consumer Testing
It can be very expensive to test your product with consumers. But, it can help ensure a great product from the start - and save money in the end.
Rather than skipping this key step, find a cost-efficient way to do it.
At my company, we leveraged in-store product demos - as people tried our products, we tracked and recorded their feedback.
As we've grown, we've scaled our efforts. Today, we send product to 50-100 consumers in our target market, and they submit an anonymous survey with their feedback.
There are other ways to get product reaction. Be sure to choose an approach that enables you to track data so it's accurate, unbiased and you can react to it.
Rise Above Consumer Standards
With Amazon and other online sites enabling customer reviews of products and services, consumers are seeking more from everything they purchase - better taste, better quality, better function, faster delivery.
Make sure you can deliver on these expectations from the beginning.
For example, we conduct distribution testing before launching a product to check for product breakage. It helps ensure that we don't see too much breakage - and helps us avoid potential product issues later.
We've spent weeks making recipe modifications to make tiny changes to product quality. You have to sweat the small stuff.
Manage Product Vigorously
Establish and measure each quality metric and issue frequency. Put the small steps in place to improve.
By constantly testing and managing product quality, you'll spot problems early -- and long before your customers do.
Establish a testing protocol and schedule to stay on top of testing. By infusing it into your overall production and business process, it won't get forgotten or set aside by other demands on your time and resources.
Product Quality Can Only Be As High As Your "Ingredients"
Work with your suppliers to set quality specifications - how the ingredients are processed, what they're processed with, and other details.
For us, this is very serious - ensuring no gluten contamination, no maltodextrin corn processing aids, no soy contamination. Even things like crop quality can impact flavor and nutrition.
We also constantly work to ensure suppliers are giving us the same thing every time. Confirm this with testing on your end to make sure what you receive day 1 is the same thing you receive on day 455.
Measure Consumer Feedback
Every single consumer comment is recorded at my company - whether through social media, phone, or email. We listen at every consumer touch point.
It can be easy to neglect small or less frequent places customers share feedback. But, it all adds value.
We meet monthly to discuss, watch trends, determine what the largest issues are, and solve against those. Assessing and triaging what changes might need to be made can save time, money and resources, too.
And We're Not Perfect
It's impossible to avoid some product missteps and mistakes. You don't want to excuse it, but you should expect it.
The small things you didn't notice, the issues you thought were workable. There are plenty of things you'll never see coming, or can't anticipate with data, research and testing.
Put a plan and process in place for how you handle slip-ups - both internally across your entire organization, and externally with media, customers, and stakeholders. It's not just the mistake that matters, but also the recovery.
Knowing how you'll execute advance of issues can help you rebound when things go sideways, and potentially save you millions.