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Sorry to correct you Sophia, but ISO 9000 is actually the name of the family of ISO's Quality Management Standards. It contains guidance standards, together with the key standard, ISO 9001:2008, which you can become certified to. Although ISO 9000 is sometimes misused in that people sometimes refer to it as 'ISO 9000 certification', ISO 9000 is very much still alive and well :c)
ISO 9001's ethos is on meeting client requirements and is based around creating a Quality Management System (QMS). Broadly speaking, it consists of your organisation’s structure together with the planning, processes, resources and documentation that you use to achieve your quality objectives, meet your customers’ requirements and to continually improve. You can learn more about the requirements of the standard in the following link:
ISO 9001 certification is far more than 'just a certificate' because it involves an audit where the requirements of the standard must be met. As Sophia has explained, you are revisited at regular intervals to ensure you continue to meet the requirements and are continually improving.
The grey area in the world of certification is choosing an appropriate Certification Body. There is no mandatory regulation, so it is important to check:
- the Certification Body used is UKAS accredited;
- the Scope of the certificate; it should be relevant to the services you are seeking and;
- the certificate hasn't expired!
Investigate further if a Certification Body:
- Is not UKAS accredited (UKAS is the sole recognised National Accreditation Body by government)
- Provides consultancy or writes materials (there is no impartiality if they are auditing their own work!)
- Has rushed the company through certification (it takes time to implement a QMS and to gain buy-in)
- It sounds too good to be true (what aren't you getting for the money? Are they cutting corners?
In summary, you are right to not immediately accept ISO 9001 on face value. Although it is proven to improve quality of service, not all certificates are the same, so you should never assume an ISO 9001 certified consultancy is necessarily the best without carrying out your own checks.
While ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification is certainly not the only thing that should be examined when you are evaluating potential corporate partnerships, it is an indicator that a company has invested significant time and effort to implement an objective quality assurance program. To ensure that an ISO system is being effectively implemented, companies that seek certification must commit themselves to monitor, control and attempt to improve quality. Audits must be implemented to evaluate the effectiveness of the effort, and identify any shortcomings that need corrective action. You should be aware that certification is not necessarily companywide; different practice areas may need to have individual certification. So simply because a company states that they are ISO 9001:2008 certified doesn’t necessarily mean that they are ISO 9001:2008 certified in the area that provides the services you seek.
ISO Certification can provide benefits to both a company and its customers. A 1995 study on "The Benefits of ISO 9000 Certification" (ISO 9000 was the predecessor of ISO 9001) by J.E. Alcorn was published in Ceramic Engineering and Science Proceedings. Alcorn wrote that benefits were found in diverse areas including customer satisfaction, interdepartmental communications, and customer/supplier partnerships. As Alcorn noted, these benefits were the result of substantial efforts to comply with quality standards and gain certification. The hard work pays off, not only by imparting a competitive advantage to the ISO certified company, but also to the benefit of its customers. After certification, Alcorn found a significant improvement in quality and, as one would expect, a reduction in customer complaints. In the end, increased customer satisfaction is the most meaningful measure of the value of ISO certification, and while ISO certification of a company does not guarantee that you will be a satisfied customer, the evidence strongly suggests that the chances are improved.