How the ISO 9001:2015 standard can help improve relationships with your customers
The ultimate aim of the ISO 9001:2015 standard is to enable a business to satisfy its customers effectively. It can be argued that all components of all clauses contribute toward providing your customer with a consistent and rewarding experience from your goods or services, but the standard deals with “customer satisfaction” directly. It states that the “organization shall monitor customers’ perceptions of the degree to which their needs and expectations have been fulfilled.” It goes on to list examples of how this information can be obtained, citing customer feedback and surveys, warranties, and dealer reports as examples. These can be effective ways of establishing whether the customer is satisfied with the organization, but delivering satisfaction stems from more than sending out a survey to solicit feedback. So, what within the ISO 9001:2015 standard can we take to help us toward building a closer relationship with, and ultimately, satisfying our customers?
What the standard says to help us improve relationships
ISO 9001:2015 is even more focused on customer satisfaction and improving and maintaining client relationships than any previous version. In order to understand the path to improving relationships with our customers, let us look at the specific parts of the 9001:2015 standard that provide guidance in this field, either directly or in a more subtle way:
- Leadership requirements: Ensuring that your business leaders take extra responsibility can only be good news for your customers. Imagine the scenario where the organizational leader takes the time perhaps once per quarter, over and above formal QMS (Quality Management System) customer feedback solicitations, to contact the organization’s main customers and ask them how the service delivery could be improved. Not only will that provide a real opportunity for improvement, but imagine how valued your customers will feel and how your relationships could benefit? For more information on leadership requirements in the standard, please refer to the article How to comply with new leadership requirements in ISO 9001:2015.
- Performance Evaluation: A critical part of ISO 9001:2015 deals with performance evaluation in general, with customer satisfaction specifically mentioned in one section. Evaluating, taking action, and improving the QMS is always going to improve the delivery of your goods or services, but you should think carefully when it comes to the issue of measuring customer satisfaction. We looked at this issue before in the article Handling customer satisfaction with code of conduct and complaints procedure, and it is vital that you can demonstrate your effectiveness in dealing with problems and complaints via your corrective action system. Effectively dealing with a quality problem and displaying your ability to fix it and prevent reoccurrence can often bring your customer closer to you. Likewise, ensure you solicit customer feedback on a regular basis and in a precise format. If your customer provides feedback, show evidence of action and closure to provide assurance that the feedback is read, valued, and most importantly, acted upon.
- Control of External Providers: Controlling the performance of your external suppliers is another key aspect of the ISO 9001:2015 standard. Simply put: the better service your organization receives, the better positioned you are to pass improved goods and services on to your customers. You can read more in the article How to control outsourced processes using ISO 9001.
- Operational Control: Operational planning and control always has been, and still is key to satisfying customers – all the way from the planning of the processes, product and change management, through design and development controls and all the way to control of external product and how it is tracked and managed. Needless to say, the more effective you are at this process, the more you will satisfy your customers with a consistently excellent product. Should your customer choose to audit your business, it is imperative that you can gain his/her confidence by showing an effective operational control and planning process. This can be a vital component in gaining the trust of your customer and strengthening your relationship accordingly. You can read more about measuring and monitoring in the article Analysis of measuring and monitoring requirements in ISO 9001:2015.
Winning the customer over, and keeping them
So, we can see that almost everything we do within the confines of satisfying the clauses of the ISO 9001:2015 standard has an effect on your customers, and therefore the relationships that you have with them. What becomes clear is that the more open, honest, and inclusive you can be with your customers, the more your relationships can flourish. Use the action suggested by 9001:2015 as a foundation to build relationships with your customers. Engage them through formal feedback, demonstrate that you value that feedback by taking tangible action against it, drive corrective action to address any concerns customers may have, and provide consistent product and improved services through excellent operational planning and control of suppliers. Don’t wait for your customers to ask if they can audit you; be proactive – invite them. Be confident and open in displaying the process control and confidence you have due to your adherence to ISO 9001:2015 principles. Display that you are using ISO 9001:2015 for the benefit of your organization, and the customer’s, and your relationship will benefit.
To find out more about ISO 9001, why not enroll in a free ISO 9001:2015 Foundations Course?