ISO Certification: ISO 9001:2000 and Customer Satisfaction

November 1, 2001
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In the last “ISO Certification” column (April 2001, p. 51), we discussed the need to develop a clearly defined transition plan, with a review of the quality policy and objectives as a good starting point. Also important, however, is a thorough review of quality performance measures, including customer satisfaction. In fact, customer satisfaction is one of the key new requirements of ISO 9001:2000.

What Are the New Requirements?

The traditional approach of relying on customer complaints monitoring is no longer sufficient. Instead, the new standard requires a positive measure of customer perception. This measure should be used as a primary monitor of the effectiveness of the quality management system. Without such a link to customer feedback, the effectiveness of a quality system cannot be truly gauged.

The methodology used to determine customer satisfaction should be clearly defined and robust. Related clauses on “measurement, analysis and improvement” in ISO 9000:2000 point to continuous improvement targets being set for customer satisfaction, along with a robust methodology that allows an adequate breakdown of the data to clearly identify priorities for improvement.

Current Approach

Two extremes appear to exist when it comes to a defined methodology or potential methodology for determining customer satisfaction. The first, commonly used by the larger corporations, is to outsource the process. External surveys—often telephone surveys—are typically commissioned every one to three years and include comparisons with the company’s competitors. Results are analyzed, and clear objectives for improvement are set. In many ways, this is an ideal solution, but such surveys can be difficult to execute and often cost tens of thousands of dollars, so they aren’t always practical.

At the other extreme is the small firm that by its very size tends to be closer to its customers. The general approach here is to use established customer meetings and reviews held by the sales team to provide a formal channel for recording feedback and defining action. While such a basic methodology could, theoretically, comply with ISO 9001:2000, it is difficult to see how such a system would allow a clearly focused improvement program based upon customer needs.

Figure 1. Identifying areas for improvement.

Developing a Methodology

A reliable measure of customer satisfaction can be used to set improvement targets and can also provide a real competitive advantage. In developing a methodology, the following points should be considered:

The whole idea of developing a measure is to allow ongoing improvement targets to be set and performance to be monitored. For this reason, it is suggested that a customer satisfaction index be developed. The index is calculated by monitoring both importance and satisfaction. The relative importance is used to calculate a weighting factor, which is then used to adjust the satisfaction scores. These scores can then be combined to provide an overall satisfaction index. The benefit of such an approach is that it allows for the fact that what is most important can change, but the year on year results are still comparable, provided the sample size exceeds around 200 responses. Using the relative importance and satisfaction parameters, a simple bar chart like the one shown in Figure 1 can be produced, which provides clearly identified targets for improvement.

Many surveys fail because they do not ask the correct questions. Prior to conducting a survey, exploratory research should be conducted to identify what is actually important to the client. This is likely to vary across clients and will change with time, so will need to be repeated on a regular basis.

For most companies, the Pareto principle will apply—i.e., a relatively small number of clients will account for a significant proportion of the revenues and profit. A different approach, typically a personal meeting, should be used with these clients instead of a telephone or mail survey. The questions asked are also likely to be different from those used with smaller clients.

Achieving True Benefits

Developing an effective methodology for monitoring customer satisfaction is strongly recommended as a key area for transition to ISO 9001:2000. While simply formalizing sales feedback may go some way toward meeting the new standard’s requirements, a structured approach is far more likely to yield true business benefits.

SIDEBAR: Internet Tools

Internet tools such as can provide the information associated with expensive outsourced surveys at a fraction of the cost. Although they can never fully automate the process, they can make survey design quick and simple, and can automate the distribution, collection and analysis of results to provide both a satisfaction index and clear identification of areas for improvement. By using such tools, it may be possible to get the benefits of both the broad survey and personal feedback methods, without their respective problems.


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