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Miriam Boudreaux

Standards

Who Is in Charge of Customer Satisfaction?

Is it the quality department or the sales department?

Published: Monday, September 16, 2013 - 10:16

If your company is ISO-certified or thinking about becoming so, you may already know that meeting customer requirements and achieving customer satisfaction is paramount to the certification. However, it’s not always clear who should be in charge of determining whether customer satisfaction has been achieved.

Who should send fact-finding surveys to customers? Who should collect them? And, most important, who should analyze the data and figure out what they all mean? Ownership of this process typically comes down to a heated discussion between the two titans of customer relations—quality and sales.

The problem

I’ve seen this question play out at many organizations. The sales and quality departments are both busy, and although both want to achieve customer satisfaction, neither wants to take on more work than they already have. Sometimes the discussions about the division of responsibility can get very serious and almost defensive, with both sides making excuses for why their department shouldn’t have to do the work. But one may ask: What is the real problem? Let’s explore the excuses and the reasoning behind them, and decide which side should really be responsible for the customer satisfaction process.

Excuse No.1: Customer satisfaction is part of ISO and consequently it is quality’s job.

Obviously this is an excuse often used by sales. But why would sales think that everything ISO should be owned by quality? Perhaps:

• The quality department failed to involve sales in the ISO implementation process until the point when customer satisfaction information was needed. Therefore, sales feels a bit left out and is uninterested in jumping onto a moving train. If the sales department had been involved from the beginning, perhaps they would be more inclined to participate and take on some of the responsibilities of implementation.

• The company did not adequately apply the second ISO 9000 principle of “involvement of people” and pretty much let quality run most of the ISO-certification show. This, of course, alienated many departments. Because quality was allowed to have it all their own way, there is no room for other departments to contribute.

• Customer satisfaction is being regarded as merely one item to be checked off the long list of requirements for ISO, and not as a real source of information that can help the company improve.

• Better training is needed to ensure all employees see the enormous value that seeking customer feedback can bring. Sometimes, in order to save money, organizations conduct lackluster training that does not provide much knowledge or motivate employees to get on the ISO bandwagon.

Excuse No.2: Customer satisfaction deals with the customer and therefore is sales’ job.

Certainly this is an excuse that quality folks will use. So let’s see why quality might think that everything customer-related belongs to sales. Perhaps:

• Sales, whether internal or outside, owns most processes that deal with customers. Therefore, it is a given for quality folks that sales should take the lead in seeking customer feedback. When sales doesn’t let other departments interact much with customers, or when sales let’s quality interact with customers only when things have gone wrong, the quality department might be happy to let sales take on the responsibility for customer satisfaction. Perhaps if sales involved other departments in customer relations from time to time, they might be more inclined to view customer relations as a shared responsibility.

• The company did not adequately apply the first ISO 9000 principle of “customer focus” and pretty much let sales continue to believe that customer focus is only sales’ job. In fact, this principle makes it clear that customer focus is everyone’s job, and also, that when talking about customers, we are referring to inside as well as outside customers.

• Quality is too overwhelmed with tasks to get the organization ISO-certified. And although most of these tasks can be distributed to other departments (e.g., operations), sales often seem to be in a separate little world, rather than a part of the organization that can be asked to pitch in. 

What’s really involved in determining customer satisfaction?

From all this discussion over who should be responsible for the customer satisfaction process, you might think that it’s as complicated as design and development. In truth, customer satisfaction can be extremely simple.

Section 8.2.1 of the ISO 9001 standard requires organizations to “monitor information relating to customer perception as to whether the organization has met customer requirements.”  That’s all ISO is asking: That we find out, on a regular basis, what the customer is thinking about us, specifically whether they think we as an organization are meeting their requirements.

The ISO standard also says, “The methods for obtaining and using this information shall be determined.” The standard never said that you must conduct a survey, electronically or otherwise. The standard doesn’t say you must use Survey Monkey, or have your customers fill out a 30-page form. The standard’s intention is to allow your organization to figure out what method is the most effective way for you to seek meaningful feedback.

So could a one-on-one conversation with the customer’s representative be sufficient? Maybe. Depending on the type of industry you’re in, and product or service you offer, you may just need to talk to your customer and find out if you are doing well. 

What about the statistics and all the fancy charts you’ve heard so much about? Ah, they are neatly tucked in under section 8.4—Analysis of data. It’s in this section that the standard actually requires the organization to determine, collect, and analyze the customer satisfaction data. In other words, although verbally seeking customer satisfaction is OK, you need to record the results for subsequent analysis.

This need to record the results is why many organizations decide just to use surveys, which bring their own problems. Because designing, sending, and collecting surveys may be seen as time consuming, no one wants to be in charge of them—which brings us back to our original question: Who should control the customer satisfaction process?

The shared approach to customer satisfaction

In my opinion, the customer satisfaction process should be shared not just between sales and quality, but actually sales and quality plus other departments because customer satisfaction affects and is affected by the entire company. So here is how I would break down the responsibilities (assuming surveys are being used to obtain customer satisfaction information):


Table 1: Responsibility-sharing matrix for customer satisfaction

Of course, depending on the resources your company has, you may need to adjust this matrix. The goal of this matrix is to ensure that the customer satisfaction process is not department-centric as well as to get everyone involved in this great task.

Survey says…

In my experience, about 60 percent of companies believe quality should lead the customer satisfaction effort, as opposed to sales, so there’s almost an even split. In practice, however, I usually see quality doing the work, whether due to the size of the company or the resources available. 

It takes time for companies to change, so if you want to share the responsibilities of customer satisfaction research and analysis with other departments, be prepared for resistance.  Before you implement a responsibility-sharing system like the one I describe above, I would advise that you get some really high-quality training in ISO 9001. With proper training, your employees will come out with renewed knowledge of and enthusiasm for the standard, ready to take on new roles and share responsibilities.

Discuss

About The Author

Miriam Boudreaux’s picture

Miriam Boudreaux

Miriam Boudreaux is the CEO and founder of Mireaux Management Solutions, a technology and consulting firm headquartered in Houston, Texas. Mireaux’s products and services encompass international standards ISO and API consulting, training, auditing, document control and implementation of Web QMS software platform. Mireaux’s 6,500 square foot headquarters, located in the northwest area of Houston, houses their main offices as well as their state-of-the art training center. Mireaux itself is certified to ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 27001:2013. To get in touch with Miriam Boudreaux, please contact her at info@mireauxms.com.

Comments

an old adage

An easy but very important thing was not done because - despite any one could have done it - no one wanted to do it, or felt responsible for doing it. Maybe when we'll stop looking at organizations like sealed-compartments submarines and look at them as vessels in which my life depends on yours and viceversa, ISO 9000 will have made a great leap forward.   

Great article!

I have been working towards the ISO 9001 certification for my company for about 9 months now (stage 2 audit in 3 weeks!). Sales has been especially resistant to documentation and record control. I doubt though that they would be more willing to help gather customer satisfaction data, if I had gotten them more involved from the beginning. Other then that, all of the excuses you list are spot on!