[This series of articles tries to emphasize the benefits of ISO 9001, and how to yield results from each major clause of the standard.]
The 2nd sub-clause of Section 8 of ISO 9001:2015 deals primarily with order handling, but you’d be forgiven for not realizing this based on the wording that appears int eh standard. Previous editions called this clause “contract review,” which was far simpler to understand, but ISO updated this since not every order or set of requirements comes as a result of a literal “contract.”
The authors also chose to dump a paragraph on “customer communication” in this sub-clause, which doesn’t really fit, but I suppose there was nowhere else to put it.
The first sub-sub-clause is just that — “Customer Communication” — and just tries to ensure you have methods to properly handle the various forms of communication the customer may engage in. The clause gives a list of these, in case you needed it. Implementation of this clause is always very simple — what company isn’t communicating with its customers in one way or another? — but it’s a good time to double-check to make sure you are properly talking and listening to your customers in all the possibly ways they could want.
Clauses 8.2.2 and 8.2.3
I lump these two together because they really provide a single set of requirements, and the way they are split up in the standard can be confusing; so just ignore the split!
Essentially, the standard is asking you to do two things: capture the requirements of your customer, and then review those requirements to ensure you can fulfill them before you agree to take the work. If your company is plagued with the problem of aggressive sales people promising the moon before ever talking to production or engineering, this clause is for you. (The problem is more common than you realize.)
The literal wording of the standard gets a little confusing, as it seems to suggest you determine the requirements your products will fulfill before you offer them for sale, but let’s chalk that up to poor wordsmithing. Most people understand this to mean that you have to obtain clear instructions from your customer (what they want, when they want it, etc.), and then add on any additional requirements the customer may not literally call out (statutory, regulatory, etc) and review the entire thing to be sure you have the capability and capacity to take the job. For some companies this may mean a literal contract, for others it’s a purchase order (PO) from the customer, and for others it might be a catalog order received over the internet. Whatever, the rules all still apply.
For large customer who bombard you with huge contracts filled with fine print, yes, you have to read it all before you accept it. This is a nuisance, but the risk of failure here is that you get sued, or worse.
The last paragraph of this clause then just asks that you have a formal method in place to address when orders are changed after they’ve already been accepted. This may be driven by the customer (who changes their order after placing it), or by you (when you have to notify the customer that something isn’t in stock, or you won’t make their delivery date, etc.)
In all cases, just be sure to communicate (remember 8.2.1) everything to the customer, including whether or not you can accommodate their changes, and if you are making any changes. In the latter case, you may need permission first.
When implemented properly, Clause 8.2 should result in the following tangible benefits for your company:
- Putting together a brief procedure on rules for communicating with the customer will help ensure everyone knows how to route calls, respond to emails, and (sometimes) when to escalate feedback to top management. A basic rule of “stay polite” should also be in place, since that’s just good business. This will help eliminate confusion if you get a call or email that is out of the norm, such as a major complaint.
- Having robust procedures for the intake and review of orders or new work will help ensure that you never take on a job you aren’t absolutely sure you can fulfill. You may want to create “contract review checklists” for complex jobs, to reduce risks further. Doing these things will eliminate those embarrassing apology calls to customers when you realize, too late, you should have never taken the job in the first place.
- Robust contract review and record keeping also helps reduce legal liability tremendously. I can’t emphasize this enough. Contracts and purchase orders are legally binding documents, and sometimes a screwup on your part can result in “liquidated damages” or some other financially ruinous action. Often, customer contracts may invoke actual laws, and if you sign the contract, you sign up to comply with that law, too, so be sure you know what you are signing!
- Linking this to the internal communication clause of 7.4 will also help ensure that no one within your company is surprised when a new job hits the floor. When implemented properly, 8.2 should ensure that jobs are taken with an eye on current production schedules, equipment and staff availability, raw materials, etc. The days of someone deep inside the company screaming, “why did we ever promise that due date!!??” will be over, forever.
- Finally, a simple but effective method to handle changes to orders will ensure that you maintain customer satisfaction despite uncertainty. When the customer wants to change something, you will be able to react in time and (hopefully) accommodate them; if you can’t you will have a procedure in place on how to communicate this to them, and possibly renegotiate. If the changes are triggered by you, you will likewise be able to communicate with the customer honestly and openly, and not frustrate them because you appear disorganized.
Click here for the full series of articles on The Benefits of ISO 9001:2015.
About Christopher Paris
Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001:2015. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.