What Constitutes A Great Audit Experience?
At our recent conference, NQA invited a plenary panel from the Testing, Inspection and Certification industries to discuss what constitutes a great audit experience. Companies that we have seen performing well are the ones who incorporate their management system into every area of their business, including all levels of personnel, so they are aware how it works along with the benefits and consistency it provides.
Standard audit experience
When buying a new car we now take certain functions for granted… electric windows, auto responsive wipers, possibly even heated seats! Just like when buying a new car, our industry represented plenary panel had certain expectations of standardised outputs from a third party audit.
Primarily the auditor’s role is to deliver the agreed audit plan and produce an accurate report. The audit plan should not only be a fair representation of the scope and the organization, but it should also aim to add value where possible.
There are a number of ‘must haves’ clients quite rightly require as part of this service and during the audit process:
The report needs to be true to life and accurate, companies cannot fix their non-conformances if they have not been properly highlighted.
There are too many certification bodies that do not pay attention to the smaller, less critical details. I.e. making sure that the company name is correct on a neat and structured certificate shows respect and professionalism and care in all departments. The client is paying for the service so they should receive a well-rounded experience even outside of the audit.
The audit plan should reflect the operations of the client and take a process based approach. This enables the auditor to follow audit trails and find potential areas of improvement where different departments or processes interact but not necessarily in a controlled manner.
An accurate audit report with objective evidence also allows clients to use it as supporting evidence that their management systems are compliant to their current and existing clients as the objective evidence contained within the report should be traceable/repeatable.
What’s the difference between a good and a great audit experience?
We believe that there are 6 key criteria that set apart a great auditor to a good auditor:
Know the products/services
Before going in to audit an organization it’s critical to know what the company does and the very basics as to how they operate and what they produce or what service they offer. A great auditor will conduct some research prior to coming in, as well as hopefully having some experience in the industry, so that they know what they are walking into.Learn the business
A great auditor will be capable of conducting a report into a wide range of industries and businesses. This can only be perfected if they are actually putting time and effort into going to see different companies. An auditor that stays pigeonholed in their comfort zone and does not attempt to learn something new will often produce a less detailed report and will not be able to give such in-depth guidance.
A company can have a number of different reasons for looking at obtaining certification however one thing is for sure and that is that they are looking to improve their processes and create consistency. It is in everyone’s best interest to tell the client what they need to hear versus what they want to hear. A great auditor can be brutally honest. This is hard especially if this may not be what management are expecting to hear but ultimately leads the company to a transparent process and the integrity will be respected in the end.
It is not possible for an auditor to know the answer to every question but a great auditor can find the answer to almost anything. Great auditors have a vast network of external contacts (i.e. other auditors, industry experts, etc) alongside useful company contacts and understand the concept of shared knowledge and will do their best to provide answers even if they have to do some digging.
Get the answers tactfully
Observing and querying are two of the biggest tools in an auditor’s toolkit. Anyone that has previously been through an audit knows that an assessor must ask a lot of questions. Unfortunately, questions typically make people feel uncomfortable. Effectively asking questions requires style, tact and skill. A great auditor will make their client feel relaxed and not as though they are being ‘interviewed’ and will find any non-conformances without making anything awkward.
For large complex organizations, it is important to provide consistency with an auditor or audit team. It often requires heavily detailed knowledge of the industry and the standard but also the organization and how it operates. This is achieved much more easily when the auditor has been in previously and built a relationship with the internal team. However for smaller organizations it can often be beneficial to have a change in auditors every few years as it brings a fresh set of eyes to the audit. A great certification body can identify this.
With all this said, a great audit experience does not solely lay on the auditors shoulders. For a certification body to be recommended and remembered for their great service the process from start to finish needs to be flawless. This includes initial contact, the time it takes for the company to make a meaningful connection, the ease to which audits can be scheduled, the relationship with their account managers and the final audit report and certificate all play a significant role. These practices need to be smooth and as easy as possible because a stress-free audit is what keeps clients happy, something the NQA prides itself on and is apparent when we look at our 10 year average customer lifespan.