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Innovation also needed in product quality

While companies are spending billions of dollars in technological innovations, they are doing precious little to ensure the product lasts several years. Quality has taken a backseat.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

I have few memories of early childhood. One of those is of a bird that came and sat on my head. At first, it terrified me, but when my mother asked me to make a wish (there is probably some superstition associated with birds--when they sit on you, your wish comes true), I instantly got over the brief trauma.

I must have been four years old. So I made a wish: "God, please give me a fridge." And God did. We acquired a 165-litre Leonard refrigerator. It changed our lives. We got cold water, ice-creams, puddings and so much more.

In those days, life was simple. Most middle-class households in India had radios, some had a refrigerator, and during the late 1970s, some even had a television set. Only the very rich had cars.

The fridge served us for over two decades. Not once did we have to call an engineer for repairs. And it would have continued to serve us but with newer technology coming in, people preferred frost-free refrigerators.

Our neighbours and relatives were selling off their old refrigerators for double-door, frost-free refrigerators. Sometime in the mid-1990s, my mother too parted with her reliable Leonard and bought a double-door refrigerator. The new refrigerator served us for a decade. In the meantime, I got married and had my own household to run.

In this age, most of us don't have patience with products. We want the latest technology. Last year, I decided to purchase a fancy side-by-side refrigerator, and hooked it up with my reverse osmosis water purifier. Life seemed really good. I got cold water, ice, and crushed ice from the dispenser. And there was ample space to store all kinds of things, from ice-creams to sauces, spreads, dips, vegetables, fruits, and much more.

But the good life was short-lived. Last week, I came home to find a huge puddle around my humungous 10-month old refrigerator. It had stopped cooling.

Barring automobiles, which have really improved the lives of people in India, I see every other product giving nightmare to its owners--be it mobile phones, washing machines, air conditioners, or LCD/LED/plasma televisions. And repairs can be very expensive, often costlier than the resale value of the gadget.

Companies today want customers to go in for extended warranties, which also don't come cheap. How long the product will serve you is anybody's guess.

In the case of mobiles, most customers change their handsets every two years, if not earlier, since technology keeps changing and you want your phone to have the latest applications and features. 

This is the age of innovation. But while innovation is happening in technology, product quality seems to have taken a backseat. I wonder why back in the 1970s and 1980s, we did not require extended warranty. How could a Leonard offer superior quality back in 1976 even when the technology was a lot more basic?

I wonder if this is a deliberate strategy of manufacturers. It appears as if products are programmed to start giving trouble within the first few years. In a booming economy, this strategy can work wonders--either you buy their extended warranty schemes, or sell off the product and purchase a new product. In both cases, the company or its competitor stands to gain.

In such a scenario, does technology offer you more convenience? Or does it give you more headaches?

Today a customer may be king in terms of the choice she has. But when it comes to quality and customer service, she is just a cash cow. It is high time companies focused on quality and customer service. Newer products and more features mean nothing if the product stops working in no time.

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