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Rob Fenn

Standards

ISO 9001: ‘It Really Helps’

This year’s customer survey by The British Assessment Bureau shows that the standard increases competitiveness

Published: Monday, August 4, 2014 - 16:44

Arecent client satisfaction survey conducted by our company, the British Assessment Bureau (BAB), a UK-based certification body, highlighted the benefits of achieving certification to ISO 9001. Here is a summary of the results.

As our client base has increased over the years, we have moved the management of our annual client satisfaction survey to Lake Market Research, an organization that assists in the design and ultimate administration of the survey. This has allowed us to considerably increase our sample size, reduce any bias associated with an in-house survey, and encourage honest responses via respondent anonymity.

The survey has been an enormously helpful continual improvement tool that also garners industrywide attention due to the publication of the results. As reflects our client base, the respondents from 2014’s survey are most likely to be small or medium enterprises (SME). However, the industries covered are wide and varied; the construction, oil and gas, retail, and technology sectors are just a handful of many found within the survey’s sample. Of those that took part, there was a balance between clients who had recently achieved certification and those who have had the standard in place for some years.

We previously shared our results with Quality Digest readers back in 2012, when we found that 44 percent of respondents said that they had won business as a result of certification. As with previous surveys, 2014’s edition asked clients what benefits they had seen through certification. Lake Market Research then grouped these benefits into categories.

The results

This year’s survey showed that 81 percent of BAB’s clients found that ISO 9001 certification had helped them to be more competitive. Breaking down that figure, 25 percent of respondents said that ISO 9001 certification allowed them to bid for more contracts, 33 percent said they had won contracts, 20 percent said they had raised their profile, and 3 percent said they now have an advantage over their competitors.

Currently, the United Kingdom is the fifth biggest adopter of ISO 9001, putting the country ahead of those with significantly higher populations. The reason for the success of the standard is that, to fulfill suppliers’ specifications when working for the public sector, ISO 9001 is seen as a must-have. UK businesses also find that certification to the standard is stipulated when looking to export markets.

Just as important, certification has proven to help retain business: 17 percent of respondents said that ISO 9001 had given their clients more reassurance, while 13 percent said that certification had specifically helped them to hold onto existing contracts.

Of course, fundamentally ISO 9001 is aimed at providing a framework for organizations to help bring greater consistency and traceability to what they do. This wasn’t lost on clients, with 55 percent of respondents saying that implementation had led to internal improvement.

Interestingly, only 31 percent cited internal improvement as an initial motivation for certification. The prospect of new business was the biggest attraction, with 47 percent saying they pursued certification to help them qualify for and win new contracts. Meanwhile, 38 percent said the motivation was to satisfy existing clients, and 20 percent said they wanted to increase their organization’s profile (you could argue, to win more business). Encouragingly, the results showed that certification had exceeded expectation.

Commentary

Anecdotally, our survey has shown that clients tend to fit in one of two “camps”: those looking for business improvement and those looking to win new business. From an industry perspective, the fear is that if the latter reason continues to dominate, ISO 9001 will be viewed as a tick-box exercise rather than a business improvement tool.

Here in the UK, ISO 9001 acts as a prequalification tool. The idea is that it saves companies both time and money in avoiding having to check every would-be supplier. Certification provides a level of assurance that rigorous checks have already been done by a certification body. The trouble is, meeting the requirements of the standard and truly living it are two very different things.

Moving forward then, our challenge—and I’d suggest the industry’s—is getting the two “camps” to see both advantages. Implementing ISO 9001 leads to greater efficiency, happier clients, and a more profitable business. Certification is a market differentiator and, as the survey has shown, can be the difference in winning or losing lucrative contracts.

Fortunately, the upcoming ISO 9001:2015 revision will help bring these perspectives together. This is because the new version offers a strengthened requirement for top-level management to take a more active role. This involvement should aid awareness and buy-in considerably; I’m fascinated to see how that will affect the landscape over the next few years.

How is ISO 9001 viewed in your country? Do you think ISO 9001:2015 will shake things up, or is will it be business as usual? Leave us a comment below.

For more information about the ISO 9001 standard, see the Quality Digest knowledge guide, “What Is ISO 9001:2015?”

Discuss

About The Author

Rob Fenn’s picture

Rob Fenn

Rob Fenn is a director at the British Assessment Bureau, a UK-based certification body. Fenn is an experienced published writer and speaker on ISO's management standards, with a keen interest in helping organizations achieve engagement and reap maximum benefit from implementation.