The quality management standards are intended to provide customers with the service and products that meet their requirements and to improve customer satisfaction. Why is it not a focus of the CB and AB auditors who are auditing companies to these standards? Isn’t it time they practice what they audit their customers to?

A client (customer) contacts a CB to set up an initial audit. The client and the office agree on the timing (date/s) for the audits and how much time the audit will take and for which the client is going to pay. Sounds just like a service contract the auditor may be auditing!

The auditor and the client then agree on a tentative schedule as to what will be audited when. Right? Wrong in so many cases. Recently, a client was on their second-year surveillance audit and after scheduling the date with the CB office, they were contacted by the auditor. The auditor wanted to start the day at 7 a.m. When the client explained that the management worked from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., the auditor explained she needed to leave the client site no later than 3 p.m. to catch a plane that she had already booked. The client indicated the timing was not acceptable but the auditor held firm and indicated they would have to pay for a plane change fee if they did not meet the 7 a.m. time. The representative from the company indicated they would have to start without some of the management and the auditor indicated she would write a nonconformance report (NCR) if management was not there to show they supported the program (as she called it). To avoid the NCR management did show up early.

Is this what customer service and customer satisfaction is all about?

In another example, a relatively new auditor was sent to audit a long-term client of the CB. He was clearly not trained and was overbooked. It took 3 months from the time of the audit and the representative had to keep hounding the auditor to get his certificate before the current one expired. In this case, both the auditor and the CB did not meet customer satisfaction.

The ISO standards define how much time should be needed to perform the various stages of the standard. An auditor did a surveillance audit which, according to accreditation rules, required one day. She left early but in her closing audit meeting she indicated she was going to ask for 2 days the following year because she could not do a full audit of the system in 1 day. Her lack of skills and lack of what a surveillance audit should include means the client should pay an extra audit day?

One auditor wanted to write an NCR on a client for not keeping the paper copies of records, even though the client’s procedure called for entering records into a database and then discarding the hardcopies; she did this because the company she worked for previously required keeping all original paper copies. She did not care what the standard or procedure said, she wanted it her way. Is that what the service is about? Make the client do it your way? Is that what the client expects? The real question should have been does it meet the standard and your procedures. That is the service the client is expecting.

While there are so many more examples of a lack of understanding what the service expectations are for the client, it is clear that all too many CB auditors do not understand what client satisfaction is.

Accreditation Bodies Are To Blame, Too

Now to the AB auditors. These auditors perform audits of the CB’s auditors and their offices. For this article, we will look only at the audits of the CB auditors, and not the periodic office audit. In such cases, the AB’s direct “clients” are the CBs. They arrange to have the AB perform an independent “witness audit” of their CB auditors to ensure they are performing their tasks of auditing the clients.

There are indirect clients as well. The AB auditors are asked to help ensure to the clients of the CB — and the customers of those clients — that the audits are being performed and help improve the confidence of the services and or products the end customers are receiving. Chris Paris has been doing a great job on pointing out companies where the CB audits are not effective for a service or product received and thus erode confidence in some services or products.

Having been through a couple of AB audits of myself as a CB auditor and having spoken to other CB auditors who have been audited, it seems here too, we have some lack of understanding about expectations and thus customer satisfaction. Like their clients, the CBs themselves prefer to have no NCRs arising from an audit. As the person being audited, I was hoping for and expecting to have a good and fair audit. If there was something I was missing, this would be a good opportunity to learn how I could improve my services to the client.

What I found was a lack of good auditing skills by the auditor. Part of the time, the AB auditor was absent (somewhere else than auditing me). When I asked if I needed to wait, he told me to continue on without him. How can he be auditing when he is somewhere else? I heard from another auditor that the people that they frequently took smoke breaks. Is this what AB auditors are supposed to be doing? It may be a good example of why the companies Chris has pointed out are having issues: poor CB audit along with poor AB audit equals bad results.

In another audit I found the AB auditor checking out the stock prices and news on his cell phone while I was auditing a management meeting at the client. While it may have been a bit boring for him if I was missing something. I could not count on him to notice and ask me about it later.

At one point I was trying to resolve an issue and make sure not only that I understood what the client was doing, but that the client understood what I was asking, the AB auditor told me to just give them an NCR and move on. His job was to observe and discuss in a separate meeting after I closed the audit; it was not his job to interrupt my auditing. This also interfered with my ability to clarify the situation. Both the client and I looked at each other with concern since he did not let us finish our dialogue. Later the client and I had a discussion about what transpired and what the AB auditor had said. Was my client satisfied? Was I satisfied? No to both.

Isn’t it time that those who audit others to ensure customer (client) satisfaction be held accountable to the same requirements? While all CBs and ABs are required to have a complaint system, too many clients are afraid if they complain about an auditor the auditor will take it out on them at the next audit. So they under report or never report issues with auditors. Even if they do complain and the CB or AB removes the auditor from that client and or even from their company, the auditor just moves on to another CB or AB. Isn’t it time to take a look at how many complaints an auditor gets and have a list of auditors that should find a new job in life?

I have done consulting for more than 25 years. I have my own list of auditors that I recommend my consulting clients not use. I have talked to some other consultants who have their own lists of who they do and who they do not recommend. But there is no central list of the good, the better, and the best auditors. Maybe it is time for that kind of list.

    About Phyllis Naish

    Phyllis Naish is a telecommunications expert, and ISO 9001 / TL9000 consultant. She has audited for various accredited certification bodies.