Quality is in the Eye of the Cup-holder

  • September 9, 2013


How a coffee lid led to a nationwide quality call-out and brand slam

By Natalie Harper

People have been experiencing issues with Tim Horton’s lids for years, but the brown plastic cover was thrown in to the media spotlight recently after a clever letter was sent to the company regarding its lid.

The firestorm of negative commentary on social media came fast and furious, and the letter went viral.

It took Tim Horton’s some time to react and reply to the situation, and provide their version of a solution.

The solution? To have customers request a dome lid instead of the flat lid upon product order. Seems like a simple fix, but like the lid, the fix appears flawed and many question how such a large organization failed its customers with a poor quality product.

I spoke with David Hall, President of ProSolve Consulting Ltd. – a management consulting company specializing in quality and productivity.  He used his trademarked The Quality Ladder® to explain how quality was compromised by Tim Horton’s, and the negative result it likely had on its brand and bottom line.

Perception of Tim Horton’s Using The Quality Ladder®

EXPECTED RESULT (Scenario required to achieve quality)

Screen shot 2013-09-09 at 4.07.00 PM

ACTUAL RESULT (Why quality isn’t being achieved)

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The Cost of Quality

Tim Horton’s has had a customer complaint, or a non-conformance, which requires the company to make a correction, and to take corrective action.  This requires management to investigate the root cause as to why the original lid failed to satisfy customers.

The quick fix that Tim Horton’s has made public has some issues.

First issue – it puts the onus on the customer to ask for a better quality lid rather than proactively providing a better choice lid. Customers have taken to social media in a second wave of shared disdain for the brand and this decision. Many asking why the company wouldn’t just replace the lids.

“Replacing a component to a product is not as easy as many customers perceive it to be. There are many considerations in doing this,” says Hall. “We don’t know if the company has a contract with a manufacturer to produce those lids for a certain duration. There is also an issue of what happens to the inventory of lids currently in stores, warehouses and distribution centres. Wasted inventory adds to the cost of quality.”

Second issue – some customers have noted that once they request the dome lid, the customer service representatives must walk farther away to get them. This results in lower productivity by adding to wait times and subsequently becomes an issue of output and fast delivery to the customers.

David can only make guesses about the costs associated with this, but let’s look at a hypothetical scenario to paint a picture on the potential loss, or cost of quality.

Let’s say each Tim Horton’s location loses one XL coffee sale per day as a result of its lid, or increased wait times due to slowed productivity and output capacity.

$2 per store lost per day

x 3,400 (the estimated amount of Tim Horton’s locations in Canada)

x 365 (days of the year)

Cost of quality = $2,482,000 in one year (estimated)

“So, what is the cost of quality by not satisfying customers? How much did they lose from this?” wonders Hall.

Even customers are questioning the quality of the product:

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Is there a solution for Tim Horton’s? David Hall says yes.

“If a company has a quality management system in place, has all their processes laid out, and they are following their plan, they will be taking corrective action. This leads to an investigation to uncover WHY their customers aren’t happy, and make changes to remedy the situation,” says Hall. “When companies focus on putting quality into the process, in addition to or above focusing on the product quality, situations like this can be avoided most of the time.”

Hall also accounts for the reality that there is likely a different process for each store location as well.

“You should be able to go to any store in a chain, any where, any time, and get the same consistent result when a proper operation and quality management system is in place,” says Hall.

Experiencing Quality First Hand

I decided to put Tim Horton’s to the test to see first-hand if various locations met my expectations as a customer to produce a consistent product. My expectation and perception of a quality product for this scenario is the following:

  • Tasty double/double coffee in an XL to go cup
  • Coffee filled close to the rim without coffee spillage or seepage
  • Dome lid provided when asked

Screen shot 2013-09-09 at 4.06.43 PM


If we were to apply the results of this test to Tim Horton’s as a whole, they would fail in delivering a quality product at least 25 per cent of the time.

Not to mention, they failed to reach optimal productivity at least 75 per cent of the time by not knowing or understanding the process, and slowing down product fulfillment.

I can only assume that this is a result of poor communication from the head office to the franchisees because staff failed to understand the request for dome lids 100 per cent of the time.

Test Quality and Win!

Visit any fast food chain, and consistently order the exact same thing at four different locations. Note:

1)    Did the product meet your expectations all four times?

2)    Was the product consistent (the same) all four times?

3)    Was the delivery of the product the same all four times?

4)    Was anything different that you noted? If so, what?

Let me know your result. Email natalie@harperpr.com and you will be entered into a random draw to win a $50 Starbucks gift card.

Learn more about David Hall and ProSolve’s Quality Management Systems and Productivity Services at http://www.prosolve.ca

Tim Horton’s Lid Photo Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATim_Horton’s_takeout_coffee_cups_have_distinctive_lids.jpg