Quality is a lousy word. It’s hard to define. Quality sounds a little boring. But Quality, we often hear, is King.

Seth Godin talks about quality in his new book “Poke the Box.” On page 20: “Just about everything on offer – from a car to an iPad to an insurance policy – does exactly what it’s supposed to… Most of your competition is now without defects as well…” Is doing “exactly what it’s supposed to” quality? It is part of quality.

To be a useful word, to be King, quality must be more than not failing. Quality is the way the phone feels in your hand, quality is the sound of your voice the client hears over their speakerphone, quality is the solid feel of your car when you make a right turn; quality is the ease of entering your destination into a GPS system.

Quality is a thousand subtle things about the products you use every day.

If your product gets 400 of those thousand things right, it’s a dog; 800 of those thousand things right, the product’s a winner; 900, a legend.

Sadly, we hear about quality when it’s lacking. Talk about quality, talk about complaints. Ask customers about quality, you’ll hear what they don’t like – at least at first.

“Quality,” Dr. G. Taguchi once told me, “is what the customer doesn’t want!”

I don’t want my car to be noisy, I don’t want may phone to drop calls, I don’t want my LCD television to lock up, I don’t want slow downloads, I don’t want uncomfortable furniture.

The trick in today’s market is to give the customer exactly what they want – give them the 1000 things that they can’t even tell you about. So, quality is not about giving the customer what we think they want, or what a survey says they want. Quality is about understanding your customers at an “anthropological” level (David Kelley, IDEO).

“Know your customers better than they know themselves,” said Akashi Fukuhara.

All well and good. Quality is giving the customer exactly what they want. How?

Start by listening. Stop talking, start listening and seeing. Listening is observation and understanding. People who design products or services observe their potential customers, human beings, in the customer’s “natural habitat.” Passively observing customers without judgment or editing is the path to products and services that “get it right.” This is not analysis or research. It’s a visceral understanding of how human beings can best use the products or services you produce. Get out of your studio, your office, you cube and start listening.

Want the highest quality products? Don’t talk – learn to listen & see.