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Denise Robitaille


Push Back

Remember, your auditor works for you

Published: Tuesday, April 11, 2006 - 22:00

As an auditor, I have a hard time maintaining my composure when individuals tell me they’re unhappy with their registrar and yet have taken no action to address the matter. If clients are dissatisfied with the conduct of an auditor or service they’re getting from their certification body, it reflects badly on the auditing profession and on the integrity of the entire certification community—it makes me and my colleagues look bad.We can’t really fault the clients. Information about registrars, accreditation bodies or appeals processes is still not filtering down to the end-user in the marketplace. All that we ever hear about is one bad experience, the one that reinforces the unfounded conviction that this ISO standard stuff is just a paper shuffle and really doesn’t amount to anything. Unfortunately, just as in the media, bad news travels fast and makes the most lasting impression.

It’s time to push back and remind people about the benefits of good auditing and to enlighten the market about the options available for addressing those infrequent bad experiences.

The majority of auditors are well-qualified, industrious, highly ethical and intelligent. The work they do is invaluable in helping organizations recognize problems and identify genuine opportunities to improve. They do this through the application of their expertise in objectively assessing an organization’s conformance to a quality management system, regulatory standards, its own procedures and customer requirements. A registrar’s certificate should reflect a reliable standard of conformance. It implies that an organization fulfills the basic requirements that are intended to ensure its ability to serve its customers. With a certificate, it’s reasonable to infer that the company has a sincere commitment to making good product. As such, the certificate is more than just a piece of paper on the wall.

Some companies feel as though they haven’t gotten their money’s worth from their registrar. Let’s look at some prevalent concerns that I’ve encountered.

An appeal process
Your registrar should have a mechanism for challenging a finding of nonconformance. This same process can be used to complain about the competence or conduct of an auditor. If your registrar doesn’t have an appeal process, you may want to find a new registrar.

As a consultant, I’ve seen auditees accept findings of nonconformance that they felt were unjustified. While it’s important to avoid confrontation and remain civil, you may reasonably disagree and ask for clarification. At the very least, you should be able to ask the auditor, “Could you please show me where that requirement is found in the standard?” A good auditor will point you to the clause, subclause or section of the standard. A not-so-good auditor may become defensive or officious. This is your cue to back off and contact the registrar directly.

Unfortunately, most clients are intimidated by the auditor. They’re afraid of getting “dinged” with a major nonconformance. They’re petrified of losing their certification and of having to deal with the fallout if or when that information reaches their customers.

Let’s bring some sanity to this scenario. The great majority of nonconformances aren’t major. If the auditor is writing up a major finding of nonconformance, there’s something seriously wrong and your organization probably merited it. The nonconformance would be glaringly obvious and the evidence irrefutable. So, if you believe that the nonconformance should not have been classified as "major," the matter should be easily resolved. There is no grey area. Either there is substantial evidence of a systemic nonconformity or there isn’t.

Even if the major nonconformance status is justified, the auditor is bound by a nondisclosure agreement that limits the parties with whom that information will be shared. The registrar isn’t going to get on the phone and start calling your customers. You’ll have an opportunity to initiate corrective action, resolve the issue and get your certification reinstated. Many registrars have a probationary status that allows a grace period for setting things right. Frankly, if the corrective action can’t be easily handled, you have bigger problems than losing your ISO standard credentials, because a good auditor isn’t going to issue a major nonconformance over something trivial.

If you appeal to the registrar, it’s required to respond. Its staff will investigate the matter and either determine that you’re correct or explain to you why the finding is justified. If the registrar doesn’t respond, you can appeal to the accreditation body.

Accreditation bodies
All reputable registrars are accredited through an independent body. In the United States, many of them are accredited though the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB). Registrars periodically undergo audits carried out by accrediting bodies. That’s good news for clients because it ensures the integrity of the entire certification system and the value of the certificates.

Do you feel that the registrar’s auditors are unqualified or don’t have expertise in your industry? Do they refuse to respond to inquiries about questionable findings or poor service? Do you have concerns about misrepresentation, their accreditation or any other issues? If you have a grievance that hasn’t been addressed, you may complain to ANAB or the accrediting agency for your registrar, and they’ll investigate.

You are the customer
Registrars are service providers. You pay them. If they don’t fulfill your requirements, if they don’t provide good service or if you don’t get value from the audits, you have the right to transfer to another registrar. This may not always be easy and it can sometimes be expensive, depending on the terms of your contract. But it can be done. It should be done. Otherwise, you’ll continue to pay for an inferior product. You wouldn’t accept lousy raw material from your steel supplier. Why should you accept substandard service from your registrar?

Finally, if you choose to go to a new registrar, it doesn’t preclude your also filing a complaint with ANAB. You may save another company from a similar experience and help us all to preserve the integrity of our profession.


About The Author

Denise Robitaille’s picture

Denise Robitaille

Denise Robitaille is the author of thirteen books, including: ISO 9001:2015 Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.

She is chair of PC302, the project committee responsible for the revision to ISO 19011, an active member of USTAG to ISO/TC 176 and technical expert on the working group that developed the current version of ISO 9004:2018. She has participated internationally in standards development for over 15 years. She is a globally recognized speaker and trainer. Denise is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality and an Exemplar Global certified lead assessor and an ASQ certified quality auditor.

As principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped many companies achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. She has conducted training courses for thousands of individuals on such topics as auditing, corrective action, document control, root cause analysis, and implementing ISO 9001. Among Denise’s books are: 9 Keys to Successful Audits, The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2015 Transition and The Corrective Action Handbook. She is a frequent contributor to several quality periodicals.