Standards don’t guarantee quality. The execution is up to you.

A few years ago, a customer who accounted for less than 2 percent of our revenue demanded its suppliers become ISO 9000 certified. The International Organization for Standardization develops and publishes standards that support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges.

The ISO 9000 family of quality management systems standards is designed to help organizations ensure that they meet the needs of customers and other stakeholders while meeting statutory and regulatory requirements related to a product or service. 

While we didn’t need this customer’s revenue, we did proceed to become ISO 9000 certified and were one of the first companies in our printing industry to do so. The debate we heard was, is this a quality improvement program, or a marketing tool for future business? The answer is yes and yes.

We already had numerous quality assurance systems in place. However, the most interesting part of the implementation was the open communication required by the managers on their processes. We met weekly to review all required written documentation created by each department manager. Managers began questioning if everything written was really being done. The frontline staff started to question the written procedures. 

We weren’t consistent at all, and thus, a new phase of accountability began. I can now say that the implementation of ISO created a solid training platform for new employees. It created metrics that we still measure to ensure continuous improvement to our goals. Yes, it is truly a quality improvement program when implemented and maintained properly.

How about as a marketing tool? Our target market is Fortune 500 companies. Trying to create new business within this market requires us to find prospects that are open to new suppliers.

Most of these clients have had long-standing relationships with their current supplier, so we must differentiate ourselves from the competition. We need to be at the right spot at the right time when a new client has a pain point and is looking for a new supplier. 

That is when ISO becomes a key selling point. Large corporations require a quality audit of potential new suppliers. When we say we are ISO 9000 certified, that clears a huge hurdle of their cost and time. The client knows we have a quality system in place that meets very stringent requirements. 

Some people believe ISO 9000 guarantees quality. It absolutely does not. ISO ensures that everyone is following the same process. If you have poorly written documentation, you will produce poorly produced products or services. I remember my wife surprising me with a new hot tub in our backyard.

She said the salesman told her these are the best hot tubs money can buy because they are ISO 9000. She knew I was a champion for ISO, but I told her the salesman needs a lesson in what ISO really does for an organization.  

Yes, ISO will improve both your quality program and marketing tools. It is well worth the investment in time and money.

Dolf Kahle is CEO at Visual Marking Systems Inc.