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Are you customer focused in the way ISO 9001:2015 requires you to be?

09 December 2019
Customers have to be the heart of every business, similar to the human heart they are a pump that will initiate the transportation processes that brings results.

If we don’t look after our heart eventually we will notice serious problems and similar to our own health, customers, in terms of the ISO 9001:2015 Standard are often overlooked. The result of no custom equals the death of your business.

The aim of the following article is to break down the 5.2.1 clause and hopefully assist you in bringing customer focus back into the heart of your Quality Management System.

We know in business there’s often a difference in shareholder v stakeholder aims and objectives, and in the current climate meeting a customer need is becoming harder in some industries due to; what the customer wants to spend, wanting a quality product or service and the reality of what a company has to charge in terms of costs to meet this and margins.

The first part that the ISO 9001:2015 wants you to meet in regards to this tells you that it is mandatory that; “Top management shall demonstrate leadership and commitment with respect to customer focus by ensuring that:
a) customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements are determined, understood and consistently met;” (5.2.1)
This actually helps the cost argument for you!
It does not matter what industry you are in there are legislations for you to not only consider but comply with, there are many consumer protections which will likely apply to everyone, this is before we consider the sales of goods legislations, safety and this is just UK, there will be more if you trade outside of the UK.
It may be said that the purpose of this clause is simply put; if trading, production or delivery is stopped your customer will be affected and therefore by not complying you are not making the customer your focus.
This ties into many other parts of the Standard, if you are not controlling your suppliers for instance delivery; by not performing a due diligence you cannot be certain that driving licences are checked, weighing is taking place, statutory testing is taking place on vehicles eg LOLER, MOT and even Tachograph compliance. Those who are certificated to the ISO 9001:2015 Standard will be able to produce audits on this and allow you as a company to audit them perhaps.
Your own operations; COSHH regulations, LOLER, Health and Safety regulations – these are all considerations  directly linked in relation to customer focus for the same reasons that production can stop (not to mention the users of these functions are also interested parties whose needs you need to meet.)
Understanding your customer requirements are also vital (generally at contract review), this saves time on returns, re-works, and understanding the consumer law requirements helps create compliant policies surrounding this, and also your companies rights in respect of your suppliers!
Top management are responsible for these things and there may be legal implications for not complying therefore all of these are vital aspects of your QMS.

As with all aspects of business there are both risks and opportunities where customers are concerned, an example of this may be taking on a large client with high demand. The opportunity is that it may open more doors, enhance your reputation, and greatly improve your cash flow long term. The risks are more complex; do you have the resources in terms of labour, production, time, as failure to meet the contract will damage all opportunities aforementioned.
Some may say this is the simple practical application of supply and demand however the considerations are than production of units or hours required to fulfil if a service based industry.

Not enough labour and resource is likely to produce product non-conformances whether defect, or lateness, this can be converted as a cost to your business and may compromise other custom which is less money but steady revenue. Increase of resource may open up issues if it turns out to be a one off.

Alternatively you may be a larger company looking to trade with a small unknown who has the potential to become large and you want to be involved with the rise of this however the risk of losing money on this is a large factor, can you provide the quality of the product for lower price they may need you to do it for?

So far this is good business sense and basic transaction of a customer requirement and fulfilment, but have you enhanced your customer satisfaction?

What makes you as a provider different than any other in your industry that makes your customers say you’re amazing, you can provide what they ask for and get it right first time, order process was simple, and you’re on time… so are others.

Often this can be done with people! People need the right product but people will often feedback on what ‘someone’ did particularly well, having a key person to communicate with, building relationships and generally making your customer a VIP!
All of the above is what the second part of the clause in the Standard is telling you to do; “b) the risks and opportunities that can affect conformity of products and services and the ability to enhance customer satisfaction are determined and addressed; c) the focus on enhancing customer satisfaction is maintained” (5.2.1)
Often during the external audits we will hear:

Often management review minutes show the same.
It is likely you are supplying a customer with something they need; a part for their product for them to sell, a service required such as market research or building something for them. Ask yourself the question: what do I pay for that I NEED and actually do I get enhanced customer service…

  • Utilities – gas and electric, water

  • Mobile phone provider

  • Place to buy groceries

By continuing the usage of these contracts or shopping at a particular supermarket it doesn’t mean you think they are great, it may be convenience, lack of expectation, no time to change supplier, or stick to what you know. Are the re-orders you receive the same?

How do you know?

Importantly how do you show your auditor!
Ways you might show the first part of the clause in relation to statutory and regulation may be a legal register, policy, and statistics on accident rate or near miss, certificates of testing, and your internal audits, meaningful discussion at management review. (These also help show meeting interested party needs, internal audit results, management review and leadership as well as some operational processes).
The second part which was risk and opportunity and enhanced customer satisfaction can be showed perhaps in the following ways; new and repeat business with notes of aftercare calls, diverse contract review, risk register, management review, internal audit of the process and what you learnt.

Now may be the time to read your own quality policy and if the statement “we are customer focussed” appears or words to that effect; ask yourself; how and consider the points discussed above.