In this series (which can be read as one, or as standalone articles), I’ve tackled the subject of the actions organisations can take to actualise the Management Principle Number 1 – Customer Focus (“the primary focus of quality management is to meet customer requirements and to strive to exceed customer expectations”). So far, we’ve examined businesses operating in the travel, tourism and hotelier industries. But today, the organisation I'm focussing on is my own: the Scottish Quality Management Centre (SQMC). And the action I shall focus on is:
Actively manage relationships with customers to achieve sustained success
In the interest of impartiality, this article is not written solely by myself, as either an SQMC Director, or its resident QA Manager; but rather, with input from a customer who this year undertook his Lead Auditor training with us, Mr Philip Eben.
"What more can I ask about the Scottish people and SQMC?!"
If you’re reading this, you're likely aware of SQMC already. We’re the friendly, down-to-earth, easy-to-speak-to ISO specialists, based not far from Edinburgh International Airport. We like to think we demystify the subject of management systems, auditing and certification for our clients, who come to us from all over the globe. Indeed, our mission statement includes promises to “conscientiously seek to exceed our clients' quality of service expectations … ever-mindful to be respectful, ethical and reliable in all of our relationships; 'walking in your shoes', and going that extra mile on your behalf.”
That's what we ourselves would expect, from an organisation that preaches ‘Quality’! And, probably quite rightly, preaching ‘Quality’ tends to attract a higher level of scrutiny from our customers. So here is a short interview with Mr Eben, to glean his personal perspective of his week with SQMC:
KMcK “Firstly, to set the scene, please tell us why you decided to take an ISO 9001 Lead Auditor course?”
PE “Because as a Lead Auditor you have the opportunity to work in many sectors.”
KMcK “How did you discover SQMC, and what made you travel all the way from Northamptonshire (past plenty of our competition closer to your home!) to take your training with us?”
PE “On the internet. There was an opportunity for candidates [from far afield] to self-study ISO 9001:2015 through distance learning; while other training organisations oblige you to pay for a foundation training before attending the internal auditing/lead auditor course.”
KMcK “So what did you think of our website? Did you find it quick and easy to book your course, as we designed the process to be, for our customers?”
PE “The Express Booking Form is one of the easiest and quickest forms I’ve ever filled in. It can be done within 2 minutes.”
KMcK “How did you enjoy your week here with us?”
PE “It’s an experience that I’ll never forget! The instructors were fabulous, always willing to assist you whenever you have doubts. They even have lunch with us; they make you feel free with them. All the delegates were very friendly, talking freely to each other. Everybody was willing to give me lift home! I had a particular delegate by the name of Gordon who picked me up in the morning and took me to my hotel after training each day. What more can I ask about the Scottish people and SQMC?!”
KMcK “How did it feel to pass your exam first time?!”
PE “I was over the moon when I heard that I’d passed my Lead Auditor exam!”
Behind the scenes
The IRCA Lead Auditor course which Philip attended took place in March 2016 in Dunfermline, with a group of 12 participants and 2 tutors (yours truly, with Bob Bell in a support role) - see the photograph above. Days before I set foot in the classroom, I’d received from Lynn in our office a synopsis of each participant (and their organisation if they were representing one) plus any particular information I should know to facilitate the course successfully.
My brief advised me that Philip – a native Cameroonian – would be sitting the exam in his second language, so I was aware that there might be linguistic issues, and perhaps more time necessary to ensure Philip fully reflected and absorbed the outcome of exercises and activities. I achieved this by discreetly checking with Philip during breaks, and by deploying my support tutor to ensure Philip was comfortable with the pace and style of the learning intervention. By the end of the week, Philip had become very well attuned to all the Scottish accents in the room!
Attention to detail
All participants on this advanced auditing course receive an element of homework some evenings, but we specifically tailored some of Philip’s to suit his own unique requirements. This was done through our normal practise of calibrating and recalibrating the effectiveness of the training in line with the feedback collated during the day, through questions asked, outcome of activities, monitoring the progress of learning against set targets, as well as the marking of assignments.
Philip was not the only participant to benefit from extra support, care and attention on this course, as similar methods were used for all of those in need at various points. Bob and I also made ourselves available during breaks, lunchtime and at the end of each day to go over any areas which may have been ‘lost in translation.’
The extra mile
I think, too, that it’s important to emphasise that we didn’t just ‘wash our hands of’ our course participants as they walked out the door each night; we made ourselves available by phone or email and, for example, assisted Philip in finding his accommodation and advising him about restaurants, transport and the quickest way to get back to the training centre the next day.
On the day of the exam we allow around an hour for individual study before the exam, which Bob and I spent this with those participants – including Philip – who sought our help to better understand some of the new concepts we’d introduced them to during the previous four rather intense days. We also granted an extra half-hour invigilation during Philip’s exam, invoking a dispensation permitted by IRCA for students training in their second language.
Then, at the end of a hard but satisfying week, SQMC staff made sure to give him a lift to the station to get his train home in plenty of time.
An excellent opportunity for our readers to arrange a bro bono audit
A Scottish Quality Management Centre-schooled Lead Auditor, Philip Eben, is offering to carry out supplier or internal audits free of charge for organisations in commutable areas of Northamptonshire, the Midlands, and the south of England. This is an excellent way for perhaps a smaller company or charity with limited budget and resources to benefit from a pair of ‘fresh eyes’ auditing your processes – or a particular department. Moreover, it can count as one of your scheduled internal audits as required to maintain ISO 9001 certification, because Philip holds the most highly recognised QMS auditor qualification in the world. You see, it’s beneficial for newly-trained auditors to put their auditing skills into practice quickly after learning the theory, while IRCA themselves require evidence that a number of audits have been performed before they will accept personal registration requests. This is, therefore, a win-win opportunity for everyone, and we’re happy to provide the platform for Philip to advertise it.
In fact, this has been the story of SQMC’s sustained success over the years – do the right things and the right things happen.