Thursday, May 22, 2008

What Executives Need to Know about ISO 9001

When is the last time you had a bad experience as a customer and complained about it? Was your complaint resolved to your satisfaction? When your experience as a customer doesn’t meet your expectations, it creates a gap between you and the business.


Let’s say you walk into a jewelry store and to drop off your favorite watch for repair. They tell you it will be ready in three days. On the third day, you realize you can’t find your receipt. In fact, you don’t remember getting one when you dropped off your watch, but you don’t think much about it. So later in the day you go back to the store and find out they can’t find your watch and they have no record of your order. You ask for the manager and the clerk on the other side of the counter smiles and tells you he’s the owner.

It’s good business practice to create a record of an order and to have an organized and efficient system to track customer property. These are standards that most people expect when doing business with a reputable company. These are also examples of two ISO 9001 standards regarding record-keeping and customer property.

The Greek word for “equal” is “iso.” ISO is also an international organization that publishes over 16,000 standards. Companies worldwide voluntarily follow the standards in order to facilitate their efficiency in doing business with others. It is the largest standards organization in the world. ISO 9001:2000 is one, among many, of their sets of standards. This 25-page document describes the basics for running a business with a high quality management system. It outlines management responsibilities for managing resources, products and services. It also describes minimal requirements related to measuring improvement of the business, such as improving cycle time or customer satisfaction.

ISO standards are developed by experts who understand their trade. Professionals come from every industry including: medical, engineering, communication, construction, technology, transportation and distribution. Experts typically distribute drafts of standards for public review and feedback. Then they debate them until they reach consensus on new standards or updates on existing standards. They tell stories and think about examples of how their criteria might apply to various organizations throughout the world. They criticize every word in every standard. They must be clear, concise and thoughtful to make it work worldwide.


Companies wanting to meet the standards of ISO 9001 are required to track their mistakes and find ways to prevent employees from making the same mistakes week after week. In ISO language, this translates to tracking nonconformities and following through with corrective actions to the business processes. ISO 9001 certified companies are also required to monitor customer satisfaction. The standard outlines best practices for any type of business.

If you own a small company, you may not want to pay an outside agency for official ISO 9001 certification, but if you learn the basics of the standard and apply them, and you’ll have a better company. If you own a large company and aren’t already ISO 9001 certified, look into certification immediately. You’ll be surprised at what this standard can do for the culture of your company and how much it will empower your employees to make it a better place to work and a better place to do business. If you’re interested in learning more about basic ISO 9001 standards, contact Dr. Lorraine for a consultation. A few years ago, I didn’t know much about the ISO system, but today I’m a believer in its value for businesses and the customers they serve.

Knuckleheads put themselves out of business. Talented people learn from others and build businesses that last years. Time is money.

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