Towards a Model for Process Quality of Outcomes

A process exists for a purpose: meet or exceed customer expectations of the customer experience.

Fine and dandy, but what does this mean and how do we operationalize the definition? What strategic and tactical levers do we have to craft, operate and evolve a predictable customer experience?

This line of thinking is taking us towards a model for process quality of outcomes.

I had occasion to deep-dive into this subject matter in my MBA Thesis where I concluded that we can center the discussion around the concept of value and customers’ perceived quality.

My inspiration came from a paper that treated quality as a judgment based on perceptions. (Steenkamp, J.-B.E.M.(1990) Conceptual model of the quality perception process,” Journal of Business Research, Vol. 21, December, pp. 309(25))

This is interesting because it specifically addresses the vagaries of human perception, something which has famously been expounded upon in considerable detail by for example the Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman in his recent book “Thinking Fast and Slow.” (If you haven’t already read it I recommend that you do.)

But back to quality.

In addition to the specific inclusion of perception, Steenkamp criticized current quality definitions for ignoring the role and influence of moderating factors.

In other words, it’s not just about the narrow engineering specification or definition of a product or a service; it’s the whole messy experience bundle and time and place it all happened in.

The model we can construct from this is quite nuanced, but in my opinion adds a lot of interesting challenges for our thinking.

Three Dimensions of Value

We can think of three dimensions of value:

  • Preference
  • Subject-object interaction
  • Consumption experience

I am going to quote myself here (Chapter 3, pg 8-10). (The reason the examples are related to seafood should be obvious: the thesis was about total quality management in salmon farming.) Furthermore, for ‘product’ you can also read ‘service’.

Preference Dimension

The preference dimension refers to consumers’ evaluative judgments like favourable disposition, liking or affect. Steenkamp argues that the distinction between the acquisition and consumption of a product is important because consumers evaluate different aspects of a product at the time of purchase than they do at the time of consumption.

In Steenkamp’s terminology, consumers use quality cues prior to consumption and quality attributes during or after consumption.

Quality Cues

Quality cues are defined as: “informational stimuli that are, according to the consumer, related to the quality of the product, and can be ascertained by the consumer through the senses prior to consumption” (Steenkamp, 1990, p. 312).

Quality Attributes

Quality attributes are defined as: “the functional and psychosocial benefits or consequences provided by the product. They represent what the product is perceived as doing or providing for the consumer. Quality attributes are unobservable prior to consumption.“

Steenkamp further distinguishes between intrinsic and extrinsic quality cues and experience and credence quality attributes.

Intrinsic Cues

Intrinsic cues are those cues that are part of the physical product and which cannot be changed without also changing the physical product itself (e.g., color or odour of salmon flesh).

Extrinsic Cues

Extrinsic cues are those cues that are related to the product without actually being physically part of it (e.g., price, store or brand).

Experience Attributes

Experience attributes are those attributes that can be ascertained by the consumer on the basis of actual experience with the product (e.g., taste or ease of preparation).

Credence Attributes

Credence attributes are those attributes that cannot be directly ascertained by the consumer even after normal use for a prolonged time or without consulting an expert (e.g., health and nutrition or reliability).

Subject-Object Interaction Dimension

The subject – object interaction dimension is intended to illustrate three phenomena.

First, that perceived quality is personal and differs between individuals. The personal factors are identified as involvement (i.e., degree and intensity of interaction with the product), prior knowledge (i.e., past experience or exposure), level of education (i.e., as related to consumers’ information processing abilities), perceived quality risk (i.e., as related to difficulty of determining quality and effects of buying “bad“ or “wrong“ quality) and quality consciousness (i.e., as a mental predisposition to respond in a consistent way to quality-related aspects) (Steenkamp, 1990).

Secondly, that perceived quality is situational by being dependent upon the context where the quality evaluation occurs. The situational factors identified by Steenkamp are usage goals and time pressure. Usage goals refer to the intended uses of a product while time pressure refers to the time available to make quality judgments.

Thirdly, that perceived quality is comparative because products are evaluated in comparison to other products.

Consumption Experience Dimension

The consumption experience dimension captures the idea that products are valued because of the services these products provide to the consumers. In other words, it is not the acquisition of a product that ultimately determines the perceived quality, but the consumption of a product.

Comprehensive Definition of Quality

Based on the three dimensions of value (preference, subject – object interaction and the consumption experience) and the concepts of quality cues, quality attributes and moderating factors, Steenkamp has formulated the following comprehensive definition of quality (Steenkamp, 1990, p. 317):

“Perceived product quality is an idiosyncratic value judgment with respect to the fitness for consumption which is based upon the conscious and/or unconscious processing of quality cues in relation to relevant quality attributes within the context of significant personal and situational variables.“

This is the definition of quality that I have drawn on in my work ever since.

High Level Perceived Quality Model

We can put this together in a graphic for easy reference and to help us think.

Here’s the image I built in my thesis to illustrate the concepts outlined above.


Structurally, the model tells us that there is something going on with belief formations and passing of judgments that take place over time that is moderated by personal and situational factors.

The time dimension identifies five points in time that we should consider:

  1. The time leading up to the point of purchase
  2. The point and time of purchase
  3. The time between point of purchase and point of consumption
  4. The point of consumption
  5. The time after point of consumption

Learning Points for Further Thinking

The main learning points from this model are:

  • Take a holistic view of the customer experience
  • Understand belief formation about specific products or services
  • Consider the belief life-cycle not just the product or service life-cycle
  • Consider moderating influences

Read more at my blog: http://prebenormen.com

Nathaniel Palmer
Author: Nathaniel PalmerWebsite: http://bpm.com
VP and CTO
Rated as the #1 Most Influential Thought Leader in Business Process Management (BPM) by independent research, Nathaniel Palmer is recognized as one of the early originators of BPM, and has led the design for some of the industry’s largest-scale and most complex projects involving investments of $200 Million or more. Today he is the Editor-in-Chief of BPM.com, as well as the Executive Director of the Workflow Management Coalition, as well as VP and CTO of BPM, Inc. Previously he had been the BPM Practice Director of SRA International, and prior to that Director, Business Consulting for Perot Systems Corp, as well as spent over a decade with Delphi Group serving as VP and CTO. He frequently tops the lists of the most recognized names in his field, and was the first individual named as Laureate in Workflow. Nathaniel has authored or co-authored a dozen books on process innovation and business transformation, including “Intelligent BPM” (2013), “How Knowledge Workers Get Things Done” (2012), “Social BPM” (2011), “Mastering the Unpredictable” (2008) which reached #2 on the Amazon.com Best Seller’s List, “Excellence in Practice” (2007), “Encyclopedia of Database Systems” (2007) and “The X-Economy” (2001). He has been featured in numerous media ranging from Fortune to The New York Times to National Public Radio. Nathaniel holds a DISCO Secret Clearance as well as a Position of Trust with in the U.S. federal government.