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Interested Parties: Do you ask for feedback or wait for complaints?

17 August 2017
Is there an answer to this question? Only after a number of other questions have been asked...

Is there an answer to this question?

Only after a number of other questions have been asked…
When making the transition to ISO 9001:2015 or ISO 14001:2015 it is important to understand the context of the organization and its interested parties. Only then can questions be asked and decisions made regarding how to approach complaints, feedback and the external perception of the organization.
To determine if an organization can sit back and wait to see if complaints arrive or if action can be taken to avert complaints in the first place the following steps should be considered.

Identify the organization’s interested parties

One of the ways an organization can identify interested parties is to review the context of the organization in the areas of:

  • Political
  • Economic
  • Social
  • Technology
  • Legislation and regulation
  • Environment

Then identify the interested parties for each element. Interested parties can be direct such as customer, suppliers and employees or indirect such as local government, neighbouring businesses etc. The level of contact and control will place the interested parties on the direct/indirect spectrum.
It should be remembered that the context and therefore interested parties are variable and unpredictable also an organization might be reactive or proactive in regard to its context, risk averse or risk taking in regard to its activities. Regulatory constraints may play a key part in how an organization reacts to its context.
Many issues to consider and it is important to take time to thoroughly evaluate the organizational context to ensure a good foundation for the development of management systems.

Evaluate the needs and expectations of the interested parties and the business risks of not fulfilling them

Once the interested parties have been identified the next step would be to consider what the needs and expectations of the interested parties would be. These will be unique to each organization but a starting point might be:

  • Employees – Employment security, safe working environment, training, professional development, working relationships, reward.

  • Shareholders – Investment return, investment opportunities, reputation.

  • Suppliers – Financial stability, payment, good working relationships

  • Customers – Competitive pricing, quality of service, quality of products, on-time delivery, reliability of service, timely response

  • Service Providers – Financial stability, payment, good working relationships

  • Regulatory Bodies and Trade Associations – Participation, compliance

  • Neighbours – Working relationships, respose, participation

Once the interested parties have been identified, the associated business risks can be evaluated. The results will be influenced by the organizations approach to risk and the risk profile (is the organization risk averse or risk taking). 

Develop initiatives to gather feedback to establish the current perception and level of satisfaction

The next step is to identify the current perception and level of satisfaction for each of the interested parties. Placing the interested parties on the direct/indirect spectrum with enable priorities to be established when deciding on the initiatives and activities to be undertaken by the organization.
The ISO requirements do not specify how feedback should be gatherd from interested parties as this is unique to the organization and industry sector in which it operates. The industry sector may be very open to communication from the organization or closed and it may be difficult to initiate communication channels so a realistic approach is required. An understanding of the limitations regarding communication is essential.
Methods which could be considered include (but not limited to):

  • Surveys – Not a popular approach and unless a high return rate can be achived the informaton may be of questionable value. A 20% return rate may be from disgrunteled interested parties ans leaves 80% as an inknown. The runnig of survey systems should be evaluted for the cost, resources and benefits to the organization.

  • Business Sector Information – Many trade associates provide benchmarking opportunities and general feedback on the current business environment.

  • Meetings – Any meeting can provide the opportunity to tap into interested parties as a source of information regarding perception and satisfaction.

  • Objectives – The organizational strategy and objective programmes should be used to formulate the questions to be asked of interested parties. This is to ensure the strategy and objective programmes align with the needs and expectations of the interested parties.

  • Marketing – An understanding of the needs and expectations of the interested parties will ensure effective marketing activities. The potential for marketing to alienate interested parties should not be underestimated. Consider the effects on a business of incorrect marketing or sponsorship.

Evaluate interested party perception

However the information has been gathered it needs to be evaluated carefully. The context and situation facing the interested parties will be an unknown and pressures they may be facing will have had an effect on any feedback gathered.
Once an understanding of the current perception and level of satisfaction has been determined the original question can be asked…

Complaints – should an organization be proactive or wait for complaints to arrive

With the information gathered and an analysis of the context, interested party perception and satisfaction an organization can now ask the following questions:

  • What are the business risks associated with complaints – The implications will be different for each organization. For example the implications of complaints regarding unsafe bay food will be very different to those regarding the wrong colour chair being delivered to an office.

  • What effect will a complaint have on the reputation of the organization – If the organization has a high industry or public profile a complaint may be very damaging to the reputation and future business?

  • What is the cost of handling a complaint – It may be the cost of resolving a complaint, not just financially but also in time and resources may be far greater than preventing a complaint in the first place.

  • What effect does a complaint have on the morale of employees – Dealing with unhappy customers day after day may lead to high absenteeism and staff turnover?

  • How does a complaint affect productivity – Taking time and resources to handle a complaint removes time and resources from productive aspects of an organization?

A long answer to a short question but maybe this blog will lead organizations to conclude that it is better to prevent complaints than wait for them to drop through the letterbox!