The Quality Circle and TBI’s Utter Lack of Quality

I was teaching Business English the other day to a Pre-Intermediate class and I came across a reading passage on ‘The Quality Circle’. This is a common term which is thrown around in business books these days and no doubt it is already last decade’s news on the corporate training circuit. But like most of these models, it is worth a look. It embodies a fair amount of common sense. Regardless of what TBI says about the old class of TBI manager, we achieved growth in our schools, which is much more than a lot of TBI schools can manage today. Look at the Kuningan income sheets and you will see that C***** was achieving 35-40% higher sales than Luke and Wati did just a year before- this amounted to an increase of upwards of Rp 200.000.000 a month at times. The team at Kelapa Gading turned around years of losses to make Rp 30.000.000 to Rp 50.000.000 profits per month within a year of starting. We know what we are talking about, and, of course, what we read about Binsar Simorangkir’s management strikes us as a complete and total embarrassment on every level. Let’s look at the four main points that this ‘quality circle’ said you have to maintain to be a viable, competitive business in the long run. Let’s also look how TBI measures up at Head Office and at Bekasi.

1. Listens to Customer Needs

This is just a horrible area for TBI Kuningan and Sudirman. C***** lobbied for new computers for students there for 2 years and was turned down time and again and again. He was told on the sly that Ibu Ning was siphoning off all the funds for the UIC Design School, which her kids ran. Customers were endlessly complaining about the slow, old computers. Note too that the virus-ridden computers at Bekasi sound as bad if not worse. Also note that Binsar was cheating his students out of a large chunk of their Native Speaker component on multiple classes: the students had said they wanted Native Speakers and Binsar short-changed them.

The worst point in this category though is Head Office’s arrogant dismissal of the clearly stated preference of customers that they want Native Speakers. Ashley Platts has ignored this principle entirely and insisted that TBI customers don’t know what they are talking about, and they really want Indonesian teachers. While Combo is usually acceptable, it is often a second-choice. Platts has instituted a culture of contempt for the wishes of customers.

2. Acts on Internal and External Complaints Fairly and Positively

This is real joke as far as TBI is concerned. When we complained that Luke and his self-confessed mistress Lilies had worked together to remove C***** from Kuningan by lying that Tante Vera was threatening to have him deported, Mariam professed to be too busy to meet us for 2 weeks. In the end she refused to discuss Luke’s fraudulent behaviour and made us sign an agreement not to further investigate Luke’s murky past with previous victims in order to receive C*****’s owing Rp 50.000.000 in wages and bonus! Ning claimed to be too sick to take an interest in the matter. Likewise the Bekasi victims were treated with the utmost contempt, with Pak Hery, Luke’s replacement as Head of Franchise, washing his hands of the THR matter and letting Binsar get away with ripping off teachers. Nice company. Not. Great publicity there.

In terms of customer complaints, they do a little better but they ignore them completely if they aren’t convenient. Look at the computer issue, for example. Money is eveyrthing to these people, and their first thought is not “Is it right?” but “Is it expensive?”

3. Moves with Trends and Technologies

Look at the TBI website. It is a typical example of a bad, unhelpful website. It does not have class times or price lists or anything that would be really informative to students. It has a ‘Today’s Vocabulary’ feature, which far from being updated daily is stuck on the same word for months at a time. This kind of sloppiness and laziness is completely normal at Head Office. But the biggest problem here is the lack of computer or online learning at TBI. Wall Street zoomed ahead first here but now the posh new school at FX Mall is leagues ahead too, with a lot of interactive software. TBI Kuningan has long been the only TBI school with computers in its classrooms, and these are now looking very old and tired too. TBI is a technological laggard for sure.

Why Does TBI Stay in Business Then?

If TBI is so completely lacking in these three areas, why hasn’t it folded altogether? That is a challenge which has been thrown down to us several times by TBI management types. I believe that there are two parts to this answer. First, its competition had long been quite weak too. But in recent years this has changed, with their competitors upping salaries and moving to the poshest malls in major cities. Also TBI paid more, especially at Group Schools, which was of course popular with teachers. But clearly, despite the weakness of some TBI’s competitors in terms of expat relations, they have been killing TBI for years, and that has become much more obvious of late. For example, there are six times more Wall Street students than TBI students in Jakarta, with the upstart WSI boasting a massive 8000 students. Also, as the Bekasi informant told us, their main rival in that city has four times as many students as TBI Bekasi. This pattern is widely repeated. To see why TBI has managed to survive at all, we have to come to the final area of the ‘quality circle’ and the only one where TBI has something to boast of.

4. Offers a Good Service to Customers

Why hasn’t TBI Bekasi failed? Though our informants are much too modest to say so, I think they are a big part of the reason why TBI Bekasi hasn’t collapsed completely. The teacher whose reports we have been featuring for the past month was hard-working, writes and communicates well and worked 6 days a week for Binsar. He honoured his contract with TBI, even though TBI repeatedly betrayed him. He ‘turned the other cheek’ to Bisnar’s outrageous behaviours. Surely his personal integrity was also demonstrated in the classroom, helping to support some degree of student numbers in the school. The previous Bekasi victims were also prfoessional people who boosted student numbers through their hard work and initiative.TBI had some excellent Indonesian teachers at several branches, and their hard work and professionalism was a sharp contrast to the narcissism and laziness of a Mariam Kartikatresni.

Indeed, the only thing TBI has going for it is the hard work of some of its teachers. The friendly and enthusiastic approach of some expat and Indonesian teachers in the classroom is the glue which has held it together- until now. But basically, TBI is only delivering in one out of four areas of the ‘quality circle’ to any extent, and it is clearly a shrinking and increasingly irrelevant player.

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