As I have said before, there are generally two types of ISO auditors: the “tin badge sheriff” who intends on proving how smart he is by angrily demanding you rebuild your QMS to his liking upon (the empty) threat of decertification, and the “best friend” auditor who never writes up anything, because he just wants you to be his BFF.

The latter often resort to hyperbole and exaggerated compliments to ensure their clients come away thrilled. They don’t write nonconformities, and then tell the clients how amazing their QMS is. The clients, without any other experience to guide them, have no idea that the auditor says this to everyone, and it’s just a trick to ensure they get a good customer satisfaction survey out of them.* It’s only years later when the CB sends in a different auditor who actually writes up nonconformities do they find out they were being hoodwinked the whole time. (Check out this report of how one company suddenly faced 23 nonconformities after having been soft-audited by a “best friend” for the prior six years.)

So I am pretty sure I know what happened behind the scenes to justify this breathless press release from Canadian floor manufacturer American Biltrite. Have a look (this is the release in its entirety):

American Biltrite Earns Perfect Score on 2015 ISO Certification
Sherbrooke, Quebec, May 7, 2018

Not only did American Biltrite receive a perfect score on the new 2015 ISO certification but the company was also advised by the designated auditor that no other organization that it audited achieved perfection in all six areas of the audit: management systems, internal audits, corrective actions, continuous improvement, operational control and resources. Based on this phenomenal performance, American Biltrite was designated as a benchmarking model. This special status is for both ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certifications.

There are a few things wrong here, obviously. First, ISO 9001 audits are not “scored,” but companies are just given a report that lists the nonconformities. We can assume this means they received no nonconformities, then, and not an actual “perfect score.” (American Biltrite’s CB is Intertek, so we know they follow the normal accreditation rules for their final reports.) The claim that they “achieved perfection” in the six areas — related to the main requirement areas of ISO 9001:2015 — hints that this is actually what they meant: no nonconformities.

Next, there’s no such thing as an ISO 9001 registrar “designating” a company as a “benchmarking model.” Certainly, Intertek doesn’t have any such program.

Finally, when American Biltrite says it was “advised by the designated auditor that no other organization that it audited achieved perfection,” you know you have a “best friend” auditor scenario playing out. American Biltrite only went through this audit, and has no other experience or data set; they don’t know passing an audit with “zero findings” is the new normal. As I’ve written, auditors not only do this to ensure the client loves them, personally, but also because writing nonconformities costs the auditors money out of their pockets.

The thing is, American Biltrite probably deserves some credit for doing the hard work of developing a QMS and then subjecting it to an audit by (shudder) Intertek. And I really hate to be “that guy” that pours cold water all over their picnic basket. But their auditor did them a disservice if he (or she) filled that closing meeting with hyperbolic, gushing praise that is at best an exaggeration, and at worst an intentional lie. Intertek has tens of thousands of certified companies, and there’s simply no statistical way that after issuing those certificates for decades, American Biltrite was the first one ever to go through an audit without any nonconformities. Heck, at least 5 of my clients had the same result with Intertek over the years!

So now the client walks away with an overinflated sense of its QMS’ health, and can become lax. It won’t be until Intertek swaps out auditors in a few years that they run the risk of getting the “tin badge sheriff” auditor next time, who will brutalize them.

The moral: if your CB auditor says you’re amazing, thank them very much, hand them a donut and a check, and let them leave. Then be sure you ignore whatever they said, and work to find the problems and holes in your QMS anyway. Your customers deserve more than hyperbole.

(*In a weird coincidence, as I was writing this I got a smug email from an angry SAI Global auditor who cited his client’s satisfaction survey ratings to justify his claim that I make up shit about auditors for personal profit. He has no idea that clients fill those out to “buy” themselves less NCRs at the next audit.)

    About Christopher Paris

    Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 25 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.