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Denise Robitaille


The Standard Answer: Ship Shape

Fulfilling customer requirements includes more than just quality product at the right time.

Published: Tuesday, October 11, 2005 - 22:00

How is it possible to ship customers the right product, on time, and still fail to fulfill their requirements? Most organizations do a pretty good job of determining what product the customer wants. Based on what I’ve observed during surveillance audits, they’ve also improved their processes for controlling the variables that can affect delivery. Much of this is attributable to improved practices for qualifying and monitoring suppliers, getting reliable information from vendors before quoting a project or accepting an order, and assessing the organization’s capacity to meet the order requirements. Companies are even doing a better job of reining in the maverick salesmen who make unrealistic promises just to land an order. And yet, we still fail to meet some of the customer’s requirements.Companies increasingly rely on their suppliers to comply with additional requirements in order to streamline their own supply chain management and to bring more consistency and reliability to their receiving and warehousing processes. Following are examples of customer-specified requirements that exceed the traditional quality product and on-time delivery.

  • Documentation and records. Does your customer require a certificate of analysis or a certificate of compliance? When do they need it? Some companies prefer to review certs before the shipment arrives. Since they use the information as the acceptance criteria for receiving the material, having them ahead of time facilitates this process. Do they prefer that the certs accompany the shipment to ensure they have the information ready at hand, allowing them to move the product directly from the dock to the manufacturing area, or do they prefer that the certificates get faxed so they don’t end up getting lost or discarded with packing materials?
  • Similar questions apply to records of final inspection and test. Considerations include:
    • Information required
    • Media (electronic or hard copy)
    • Format, including whether or not they have their own form for you to fill out
    • Whether the test result are sent separately or accompany the shipment

    Some products require additional documents like MSDS sheets, product inserts, precautions and operating instructions.

  • Traceability. Does your customer need lot traceability? Have they requested that the product be serialized and that the serial numbers be listed on the packing slip? Are they required to track country of origin? Do they require their own part numbers to be referenced on the packing list?
  • Labeling. Does the customer have bar coding requirements? Do they have special labels that must be affixed either to the cartons or individual packages? Do they furnish the labels or do you? Have they specified the location of the labels? Are there additional regulatory or statutory labeling requirements?

One client I worked with had several customers who required them to tag each individual unit with a unique job number so it could be quickly routed upon arrival.

  • Packaging. Has the customer specified bulk packaging or individual units—or some other variation of multiples? Do the units have to be configured in a special pattern in the container for ease of retrieval when they are used? Do they provide special containers that are recycled multiple times between your facility and theirs? Do they have requirements relating to their pallets? In some industries raw material is delivered directly to the production floor and has to accommodate the allocated floor space near the machinery.
  • Is the product temperature sensitive, or is it being shipped to a particularly harsh climate—i.e., someplace extremely arid or tropically humid? Do the components need electro-static discharge precautions for both handling and packaging?
  • Shipping and delivery, Do they have a preferred carrier? Do they have a specific time when they can receive shipments? Have they requested tracking information?
  • Additional quality requirements, What quality procedures and protocols do they require of their suppliers? Do they require your company to have a third-party registration to ISO 9001 or another QMS model? If they do, you should consider automatically sending them a copy of the updated certificate you get from your registrar after your certification is renewed.

Customers will often assemble these requirements into one file or binder and send it to their suppliers. Organization should periodically review these documents to ensure they haven’t changed. These documents may be considered “documents of external origin” as referenced in sub-clause 4.2.3 of ISO 9001:2000, and should be appropriately controlled.

In addition to all the examples given, companies will have requirements that are specific to their industries. For instance, some biomedical companies require evidence of a formal pest control program.

Clause 7.2 of ISO 9001:2000 mandates that the organization must determine the requirements related to the product. These include such items as packaging, labeling, etc. Failure to comply with these customer requirements result in problems that can range in severity from the inconvenient to the catastrophic. To achieve customer satisfaction, it’s important to recognize that these additional requirements are actually part of the delivered product.


About The Author

Denise Robitaille’s picture

Denise Robitaille

Denise Robitaille is the author of thirteen books, including: ISO 9001:2015 Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.

She is chair of PC302, the project committee responsible for the revision to ISO 19011, an active member of USTAG to ISO/TC 176 and technical expert on the working group that developed the current version of ISO 9004:2018. She has participated internationally in standards development for over 15 years. She is a globally recognized speaker and trainer. Denise is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality and an Exemplar Global certified lead assessor and an ASQ certified quality auditor.

As principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped many companies achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. She has conducted training courses for thousands of individuals on such topics as auditing, corrective action, document control, root cause analysis, and implementing ISO 9001. Among Denise’s books are: 9 Keys to Successful Audits, The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2015 Transition and The Corrective Action Handbook. She is a frequent contributor to several quality periodicals.