Survey struggles

Q: As part of the ongoing improvement of our quality management system, we have identified a weakness in how we gather customer satisfaction data—specifically surveys. Currently, we use hard-copy forms that are emailed to contacts within our customer database. This process has proven to be less than effective as far as return rate.

We have put together a cross-functional team with members from many of our facilities and opened a corrective and preventive action form to address the deficiency. Can you share any good experiences or resources you’ve found that are web-based or in an electronic format?

Loran Chapman
Glens Falls, NY

A: There are many ways to perform surveys and many resources available. You asked about electronic aids to facilitate conducting the survey and analysis of the results. Just typing the word "surveys" into your preferred internet search engine will generate many electronic survey tools with free samples. I encourage you to experiment with these.

The second issue you posed was how to improve the response rate to surveys. This is an issue regardless of the type of survey you’re employing—electronic or otherwise.

People are inundated with surveys. Many of them are lengthy, hoping to squeeze every bit of information from every participant. Some surveys are bogus, phrasing questions to elicit favorable responses to use in marketing. These are called "push surveys," which tend to make us suspicious of surveys in general.

With the advent of online surveys, participants are now giving their responses to a computer rather than a human being. That may avoid inconsistent interpretation, but it also results in the recipient giving the survey a low priority. So how do you fight people’s natural tendency to put aside a survey and never return to it?

One consideration is the size of the customer population you’re surveying. If you have hundreds of customers, your approach will be different than if you have only a handful. But here are five general rules that apply to all situations:

  1. Agree on what you want to find out. Don’t try to cover too many topics; it will annoy or discourage your respondents, and many will not complete it.
  2. Have clear, concise questions. Avoid leading or biased questions. Pre-test them on a third party who is not part of the team to make sure each question is understandable and neutral. If the respondent does not understand or is not sure what is meant by a question, he or she will probably set the questionnaire aside and not come back to it.
  3. Make contact after the fact. Researchers have found that follow-up letters or calls tend to significantly improve responses to mail or phone surveys.
  4. Consider sampling the customer base. This could prove to be more effective than trying to reach 100% of the customers. A small percentage response may cause unbalanced results because the customers who are especially upset or extremely happy are the ones most likely to respond and will paint a biased picture.
    By choosing your respondents via sampling, you can devote more energy to reaching as many respondents as possible and aggressively following up through personal contact with those who fail to reply to the initial survey. Basic statistical tools are useful in determining sample size and interpreting results.
  5. Let them know what’s coming. A pre-survey letter, email or phone call telling customers they will be receiving a survey and why their participation is important in improving your overall customer service is an effective way to increase your response rate.

Joe Tunner
Quality improvement consultant
Fort Collins, CO

For More Information

Tunner, Joe, "Expert Answers," Quality Progress, January 2011, pp. 8–9.

Standard comparison

Q: If my organization is in compliance with ISO 9001:2008, does that fulfill ISO 22000 by default?

Marco Alvarado
San Jose, Costa Rica

A: The short answer is: No, it does not. There are significant differences between a quality management system (QMS) standard such as ISO 9001:2000 and a food safety management system (FSMS) standard such as ISO 22000.

Though you could argue that an effective QMS for a food manufacturer also would be an effective FSMS, the food safety system involves specific, formalized programs and controls that may be informal at a food manufacturer that is not pursuing a third-party certification for such a system.

These formal requirements are primarily composed of prerequisite programs and steps associated with hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP). These requirements are a practice-based focus on the control of the chemical, biological and physical risks to food safety.

Table A-1 of ISO 22000:5000(E) gives a clause-by-clause comparison between itself and ISO 9001. Unfortunately, this comparison might give you the impression that what passes for compliance with the ISO 9001 clause in most audits also will pass in an ISO 22000 audit. This is not the case.

For example, the table equates clause 7.5.1 of ISO 9001 (control of production and service provision) with clause 7.6.1 of ISO 22000 (HACCP plan). But an organization can’t meet the requirement for a formally documented HACCP plan by the collection of controls for products and processes that would pass muster in accordance with clause 7.5.1 in a facility certified to ISO 9001.

I don’t mean to imply that the intent of the table in the ISO 22000 standard provided by the authoring committee was to show that actions meeting the requirements of one standard for a specific clause are sufficient to meet the requirements of the other. I just want to illustrate how some people might jump to this conclusion.

The table provides no comparative clauses in ISO 9001 to ISO 22000 clauses, such as 7.6.2 (identification of critical control points) and 7.6.3 (determination of critical limits for critical control points). Clearly, the implication is that these concepts are exclusive to ISO 22000 and cannot be met by adapting a preexisting condition that meets the requirements of ISO 9001.

The good news is if you are an existing food manufacturer and are not in trouble with the Food and Drug Administration, your organization already has a version of these prerequisite programs and HACCP requirements. The more difficult items to develop within your management system are those associated with traditional QMS standards.

What the two standards have in common are an effective corrective and preventive action program, monitoring, measurement, analysis and continuous improvement.

If you can successfully transition your organization to ISO 22000 after having been certified to ISO 9001, you will be better off than most food companies that are certified to an FSMS standard alone. This is because most FSMS standards—and there are several—are weak when it comes to the classic quality requirements.

G. Keith Diepstra
Continuous improvement manager
Cadiz, KY

For More Information

Diepstra, G. Keith, "Wake Up and Smell the Cookies," Quality Progress, July 2011, pp. 12–13.

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