When ISO 9000 first appeared
on the scene, many considered it simply another fad for
quality managers with short attention spans. Others saw
it as a ploy to line the pockets of consultants who’d
already made lucrative use of total quality management,
quality circles and reengineering in their advertising literature.
Only seven years ago, a surprising number of quality leaders
still viewed ISO 9000 with suspicion (see www.qualitydigest.com/april97/html/cover.html).
At the time, it seemed that organizations were less interested
in what ISO 9000 offered in terms of a quality management
system framework than in what registering to the standard
might do for their marketing profiles. Companies were quick
to see that “ISO 9000-registered” looked impressive
in print and on banners in airports from Detroit to San
Of course, for companies with international customers
or--as the standard continued to evolve--to conduct business
with automakers, ISO 9000 registration became a requirement.
This led some to view it as a trade barrier and others to
chalk it up as necessary but nonvalue-adding work.
Lost during much of the initial ISO 9000 clamor and acclimation
were those voices that cried in the wilderness: “The
standard is really going to benefit your business.”
By December 1998, nearly 272,000 companies were registered
worldwide, with 33,500 of those in North America (“The
ISO Survey of ISO 9000 and ISO 14001 Certificates, 12th
cycle, 2002,” www.iso.org/iso/en/iso9000-14000/pdf/survey12thcycle.pdf).
During that same time, Quality Digest began conducting
annual surveys about the satisfaction of registered companies
with their registrars as well as the standard itself. We
published three annual surveys related to registrar customer
satisfaction and three more concerned with ISO 9001:2000
(one on how the standard was perceived and two detailing
the transition status from the 1994 to the 2001 version).
This, our seventh survey, comprises three facets. The
first focuses on why companies get registered, the second
on satisfaction with registrars and the third on plans that
registered companies have for the future. The survey was
sent to all registered U.S. and Canadian companies for which
we had fax numbers. The results that follow are based on
about 1,150 respondents.
Twenty years after its inception, ISO 9001 is largely recognized
as a reliable framework for an organization’s quality
management system. Some criticism still exists, but--particularly
given ISO 9001:2000’s process approach--most companies
now believe that registration does have value above and
beyond attracting and keeping new customers.
In this year’s survey, when asked whether the initial
motivation for registration was due to market pressure,
to stay ahead of competition or for the actual perceived
benefits of registration, 58 percent of respondents indicated
that the benefits of registration were their motivation.
This was significantly more than the 47 percent for market
pressure or 42 percent for competitive purposes. (See table
1 above. Note: Respondents were allowed to reply with more
than one answer for this question.)
However, the high percentages of all three responses indicate
that while benefits might be the most important motivator,
competition and market pressure are still viewed as significant.
Following past surveys, registrars have asked us whether
responses varied depending if companies were required to
register. Not surprising, the above data (segregated by
whether a registered company’s clients required it
to be registered or not) show two very different perspectives.
Of those who are required to register, 57 percent say that
market pressure is the prime motivator, followed by 54 percent
for benefits and 41 percent for competition. Compare this
to those for whom registration isn’t required: 72
percent report that benefits are the prime motivator, followed
by competition at 45 percent and market pressure at 18 percent.
This raises the question of whether companies that are
required to register view the value of registration from
a marketing perspective only, or whether they believe the
standard adds value to the company’s overall quality
“I think this varies by industry,” says Gary
Minks, certification body director for TÜV America.
“Companies in regulated manufacturing areas like the
medical devices industry may not initially see the value.
For example, to CE Mark a medical device for Europe, one
requirement is having a quality management system in place.
The prime motivator there is the industry requirement, but
even where it isn’t required, certified companies
do see the value.”
To test whether companies see intrinsic value to registration,
we asked if they would keep their registration even if it
wasn’t required. Only 16 percent indicate they wouldn’t.
More than 60 percent of respondents say they would keep
their registration even if it wasn’t required, and
the remainder are unsure. One interpretation of this data
is that, as Minks points out, the initial motivator might
be an industry requirement, but eventually companies see
the internal value as well.
About 90 percent of respondents indicate that their ISO
9001 registration came from an accredited registrar, and
their response to the question, “What value do you
place on this accreditation?” indicates that they
Fifty-one percent of respondents say they place great
value on accreditation, while 38 percent place only some
value on it. In addition, as shown in table 5, 43 percent
indicate they wouldn’t keep their registration if
the certificate wasn’t accredited, whereas 29 percent
indicate they would keep it. When this question was asked
only of those who put great value on accreditation, 56 percent
indicate they wouldn’t keep it, and 20 percent say
“I think that a heavy percentage of those [who would
keep an unaccredited certificate] may not understand the
value,” says Minks. “Chances are their customers
wouldn’t accept a certificate if it wasn’t accredited.
The accreditation mark gives the customer the assurance
that the registrar is creditable. It also ensures that all
registrars are playing by the same rules--it levels the
Based on past telephone surveys with registered companies,
we identified two questions that represent overall customer
satisfaction with registrars: “I am satisfied with
the level of service my registrar has given us” and
“I would recommend our registrar to our suppliers
or customers.” As with past surveys, registrars scored
well with both questions, landing at the very high end of
the four-point scale. (See table 6.)
About 92 percent of respondents either agree or strongly
agree with the statement, “I am satisfied with the
level of service our registrar has given us” (47%
strongly agree, 45% agree).
About 90 percent of respondents either agree or strongly
agree with the statement, “I would recommend our registrar
to our suppliers or customers” (47% strongly agree,
43% agree). These high scores are consistent with what we
observed during the first three years we conducted customer
Registrars also perform well on each of the attributes
that clients consider most important when dealing with a
registrar. This year we asked respondents to rate the importance
of various aspects of the client-registrar experience. Not
too surprising, the top five responses dealt with the auditor--the
“face” of the registrar.
The aspect that respondents indicate as most important
are the “knowledge and ability of auditors,”
which received an average score of 1.6 out of 10, with 1
being most important and 10 least important. (See table
Next is “consistency in standards interpretations
and audit findings,” with a score of 1.8.
Based on past surveys and conversations with ISO 9001
managers, our interpretation of respondents rating these
two aspects as most important reflects two primary complaints.
Often, when clients are dissatisfied with their registrar,
it’s because the auditor didn’t understand the
client’s industry or how to apply the standard within
that context. Another peeve is lack of consistency from
one audit to the next or between auditors. Therefore, it
isn’t surprising that most respondents prefer to work
with the same auditor each time. Nearly three-quarters (73%)
of respondents indicate they would rather work with the
same auditor or team of auditors at each audit than have
to pull from a pool of auditors.
The third most important aspect rated by respondents is
“service received from auditors.”
The least important aspects are the “registrar’s
response time for a quote” and “value-added
After asking respondents to rate the importance of these
aspects, we asked them to rate how well their registrars
did in each of them. In table 2, we’ve ranked registrars’
performance in 13 aspects, according to the mean scores
for each. The aspect where registrars performed the best
(indicated by the smallest value) is at the top. Next to
that, we’ve shown the importance ranking based on
the data from table 3.
It’s encouraging to note that the aspect rated most
important to clients--”knowledge and ability of auditors”--is
also the one that registrars did best on. The aspects rated
three, four and five in importance were also in the top
five spots. This means that registrars are performing well
in areas that are important to their clients, with one exception:
The aspect rated second in importance by respondents--”consistency
in standards interpretations and audit findings”--received
only a mediocre score. Registrars would do well to flag
this as an area for improvement.
In past surveys, no single aspect could be said to strongly
affect any aspect of the registration experience and overall
customer satisfaction. This year, working from the assumption
that the experience as a whole affects overall satisfaction,
we looked at the problem in a slightly different way.
As mentioned, respondents were asked to indicate the importance
of each aspect of the registration experience. They also
were asked to rate their registrars on these aspects. We
then compared the two sets of answers and ranked registrars
on how well their performance matched their clients’
expectations. That score was then correlated to the registrars’
rankings in the two overall customer satisfaction questions
The comparison shows a fairly high degree of correlation.
In general, the more aspects of the client-registrar experience
on which the registrar performed well, the better it was
perceived. Put another way, while there are some aspects
of the registration experience that have more effect on
overall satisfaction than others, there isn’t any
one overriding aspect (such as cost, size of registrar’s
company, knowledge of auditor, etc.) that strongly affects
a client’s overall perception of the registrar. Rather,
it’s how many of these aspects the registrar performs
well on that affects overall perception.
For those who are interested, table 4 on page 26 shows
the statistical data of how registrars as a whole performed
on each of the client-registrar aspects. For each question
from the survey (questions 30 to 44, except 31 and 32) we
have shown the data displayed as both parametric and nonparametric
statistics. When reading the graph, keep in mind that responses
range from 1 to 10, with 1 being most favorable and 10 being
least favorable. (Any graphs that extend below 1 are the
result of how our statistical software handles the data.)
Another indication of whether clients are satisfied with
their current registrar is whether they seek new quotes
when it comes time to renew their registrations. When asked,
“Do you seek quotes on the anniversary of your reassessment?”
only 24 percent answered yes; more than 70 percent answered
“This doesn’t surprise me at all,” says
Minks. “They feel they’re getting value from
their existing registrar. So for the small savings they
might see, it isn’t worth their while to change.”
This also indicates that registration isn’t a commodity,
says Mark Romanowski, TÜV America’s marketing
director. “The value of the registration lies in the
relationship between the client and registrar,” he
observes. “They want to continue to strengthen that
Romanowski’s statement is likely true. In a highly
competitive market--there are fewer than 100 registrars
in the United States and Canada--registrars have a client-retention
rate that most industries would envy. More than 92 percent
of respondents said they would retain their current registrar.
Strongly supporting the belief that ISO 9001 is an ongoing
process, the majority of respondents indicate they would
like their registrars to supply a variety of services to
help with ISO 9001 implementation. Particularly wanted are
helpful guidance, standards interpretation and information
Understanding the latest ISO 9001 revision is an issue
for most registered companies. More than 73 percent of respondents
indicate that more industry- or application-specific guidance
for ISO 9001:2000 would have been useful during their transition
or registration. More than three-quarters of respondents
indicate they would like access to more information about
the standard, and about 44 percent of respondents indicate
they still need help interpreting it.
Most registrars apparently understand this need and have
made efforts to keep their clients informed. In response
to the statement, “Our registrar provides interpretive
guidance in the form of guidance documents, checklists,
cross-reference tables, etc.,” 23 percent strongly
agreed with it, 49 percent agreed, 17 percent disagreed
and 7 percent strongly disagreed.
About 28 percent of respondents plan to purchase management-related
training courses within the next 12 months. Of those, 56
percent will purchase training in ISO 9001:2000, 30 percent
in ISO/TS 16949 and 21 percent in ISO 14001.
Now nearly 20 years old, ISO 9001 is firmly entrenched
as a framework upon which a company can build a viable quality
management system. Working in a highly competitive environment,
registrars continue to provide excellent service to their
clients and have a high percentage of client retention.
While consistent standards interpretation and audit findings
are an area where registrars could improve, in most other
aspects of the client-registrar interaction, registrars
are right on the money, focusing their efforts on the elements
that matter most to clients. As in the past, clients continue
to desire more training and information from the registrar
to get the most out of their registration investments.
Dirk Dusharme is Quality Digest’s technology