ISO 9001:2008 and the Service Industry

By Dave K. Moskal

ISO lead auditor trainingWhen the ISO 9001 standard is mentioned it seems that people generally think of it being applied towards a company that produces a physical product that is purchased by either another company or by a consumer. However this is not always the case. ISO 9001 can be applied to the service industry just as effectively. What is meant by service industry? The service industry is comprised of companies that provide a ‘service’. The services provided can include such things as office or house cleaning, heating and air conditioning installation or repair, storage, plumbing repair, accounting, temporary or subcontracted workers, restaurants, computer repair and IT services, just to name a few of the nearly endless list.

One of the main keys to success for any company is providing quality service to their customer. This is especially true for a company where service is their business. If poor or inconsistent service is given to the customer, it is very likely that they will be looking for another company to provide that service to them in the future. Therefore is just makes good business sense for those companies in the service industry, whose product is service, to embrace the ISO 9001 standard.

Employees Need Consistent Standards and Documents for Offered Services

Companies that provide a service to a customer need to have an established quality management system such as ISO 9001. It provides them with the structure of having documents controlled so that all personnel are working with the same procedures and forms. The processes that are being used by personnel in the company are the same, have been reviewed and approved by management so that they know what to expect. It is also important to have those processes documented and accessible to employees so that they can be referred to when questions arise. You also want new employees to be trained to those procedures so that they are doing the processes the same way as others. What kind of chaos would be created if a new person decided to use a different accounting program for a customer’s account or did not follow company protocol when performing IT services on a customer’s computer system. It could lead to some very unhappy customers who did not get the service that they had expected or cause a lot of additional work for others in the company to ‘clean up’ their mess.

Quality Checks Should Be Part of the Service Process

How about the quality of the service that is provided? Somehow you need to know if the services provided met the criteria that are expected. It is no different than making sure that the window shade that you receive from a company will work as you expect it to. You don’t want it to fall apart or not open when you install it. That would be a problem. Instead the company that makes the blind will have quality checks throughout the process and at the end to ensure that everything has been made correctly, that it is put together correctly. The same is true with the service industry. Quality checks need to be made through out the processes to ensure that the customer receives the service that was expected, that they paid for. To ensure this the accountant does checks during their processes to make sure they have all of the information that is needed, that all calculations are performed correctly, and at the end the correct numbers are provided to the customer.

Established Process For Handling Complaints

If something were to go wrong while providing the service to the customer, obviously it is important to identify what went wrong and how to take care of it. This is the same as when a feature on a physical part is not correct. There needs to be an established process for identifying it, either replacing or redoing the process, repairing or fixing the issue, and having designated personnel that have the necessary skills and have been given the responsibility to review it to make sure that all was performed according to the company’s processes. All of these activities need to be documented to have the ‘paper trail’ of what happened so that if there are any questions or concerns later, the facts can be reviewed. It’s also important to have the ability to review problems to see if the same or similar issues keep happening over and over again. If they do then it is time to have a process so that these issues can be resolved so they don’t happen anymore. Otherwise they will continue and cost the company time that could be used to service the customer which in turn will obviously cost the company resources and money.

Established Process For Reviewing Customer Satisfaction

This leads into the process for customer satisfaction that is one of the cornerstones of ISO 9001. It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, customers need to be satisfied. If they are not, chances are very great that they will find someone else to provide either the service or product that they need. How do you know if your customer is satisfied? The truth is that there are many different ways to know if your customer is satisfied with the service that you provide them. Some of the ways to determine this is if they are a repeat customer; they talk highly of the company; they give the company some tangible feedback of how they are doing to name just a few. When personnel are interacting with the customer they need an established method to record this information so that it does get forgotten about. Companies need to have an established method for not only receiving this information, but also analyzing and reviewing it. Management needs to be able to understand this information so that, if necessary, adjustments can be made in the service that is provided.

So as you can see, ISO 9001 is just as valuable and important in the service industry as it is in any company that makes a physical product. All of the same processes and structure can easily be applied to benefit the company.

Cavendish Scott, Inc. has been working with service industries for 25 years, training, consulting and auditing in ISO 9001 quality systems.