Customers are the bread and butter of any business. Therefore, any communication with existing or potential customers needs to be high quality, informative and honest. Most communications with customers can be separated into 4 main categories:
- General communications to existing or potential customers – advertisements, marketing information, including social media posts
- Responses to customer inquiries, or an order
- Communications related to customer feedback and complaints
- Handling of after sale inquires and contingency actions; where applicable
In ISO 9001:2015 there are requirements in regard to these communications, and how an organization must handle them.
According to section 8.2.1 of ISO 9001:2015 an organization is required to have defined processes in place for communicating with customers under the aforementioned categories. These processes must be built around the customer, particularly the way information and inquiries are handled.
Marketing materials and advertisements are the first steps of communications with customers. It needs to clearly outline what the organization is offering, and in return what is expected of the customer. An organization needs a process in place to handle customers that come through this means of communications, alongside making sure the communications are following the legal requirements applied to such marketing practices. This process must be strictly defined while still flexible to not put off customers from following through into a completed order.
Responses to Customer Inquiries and Orders
Customers who need extra hand-holding throughout the order process, or those that may need a little more discipline, require a specific internal process for staff members to handle them correctly, while still processing their inquiry and developing it into a sale. When customers lapse in providing required information for an order, there needs to be a policy in place to obtain these details before the order is placed, and communicating this requirement to the customer (section 7.2.2. of ISO 9001:2015).
Communications Relating to Customer Feedback
Receiving feedback and complaints from customers can verify the effectiveness of previous communications as well as other processes within the developmental stages of products. Customers are quick to identify defaults that may not have been obvious under controlled tests as part of the quality control steps. Having a defined process to handle this feedback can turn it into a valuable resource of information for the developers and management. Keep customers apprised of the steps taken from their feedback to help build loyalty, and encourage future feedback.
Handling of After Sales Inquiries and Contingency Plans
These forms of communications are associated with the risk-based thinking of ISO standards. Identifying different types of risks that could possibly occur, and providing a process in place for staff members to follow when this risk occurs. These can be a contingency plan for replacing a product immediately upon a non-repairable malfunction, or a support plan in place if the product can be repaired. The faster the turn around the more satisfied the customer will be – a large basis of ISO 9001:2015.
Take the journey through your organization from the customer’s point of view, and identify areas where you could improve the process, streamline it, and improve the overall experience. Not only will customers be grateful, but your staff will also save time having to chase for information, repeating information to customers and overall reduce the time spent second-guessing their handling of a communication stream.