Using ISO Standards to Raise the Bar in Quality Management

Every day at Merkle RMG, we’re entrusted with the two most sensitive things in response management — money and data. And we don’t take this responsibility lightly.

It’s our mission to maintain the trust and satisfaction of our clients’ donors and customers with services that are consistently accurate, timely, efficient and secure. To help us achieve that, we’ve been certified to ISO 9001, a rigorous standard for quality management and continuous improvement, since 2002. And today, I’m proud to share that Merkle RMG was recently recertified to the ISO 9001:2008 standard.

What’s ISO?

ISO (International Organization for Standardization) 9001 is a universally accepted framework that service providers use to build their quality management and continuous improvement systems. It lays out the criteria companies must meet to certify that their offerings consistently satisfy customer and regulatory needs, that they’re effectively documenting and applying the quality systems in place, and that they’re continuously improving their processes. To our knowledge, we’re the only firm of our kind to hold this certification.

What it Takes

To be recertified, a company must undergo an intensive, five-day review by ISO-accredited experts from an outside auditing firm. Every process is carefully assessed for consistency and conformance to the company’s documented procedures.

We undergo a full recertification audit every three years as required by ISO. Every year in between, an external auditor conducts a surveillance audit. This involves “spot checking” certain departments or functions at random, observing employees at work and asking them to demonstrate their assigned task.

ISO audits can sometimes be nerve-racking for our employees, but we remind them that the aim isn’t to get anyone in trouble. It’s to provide a continual process of review and assessment to verify procedures are being followed the way they should, correct any inconsistencies, and find out how we can improve. We see it as an opportunity for growth!

Quality Management as a Way of Life

Meeting ISO standards isn’t something you can fake, and it’s not something you can cram for. It’s something that is fundamentally “baked in” to our daily operations, and it takes sustained, enterprise-wide discipline. That’s why Merkle RMG doesn’t treat quality management as once-a-year event. We live it every day — through continuous self-review, and in how we design our solutions.

Merkle RMG has an internal quality team of six employees who, in addition to their regular jobs, are responsible for regularly auditing our operations. They look at everything an outside auditor would examine, but on a smaller scale, throughout the year. They check that there’s proper documentation for every process and procedure, and that each activity conforms to its documentation. If there are issues, the root cause is identified, and a corrective action plan is created.

And, we build ISO standards into our solution development from the start. Any time we implement something new, we make sure it reflects the key pillars of quality management. We make sure we have the proper work instructions, the right level of documentation, and version control across the organization. We document who received training on the new solution, when, and what that training involved. When processes or procedures change, we ensure there’s a documented flow for communicating those changes to the people who will ultimately perform the tasks.

In this way, ISO standards are in the DNA of every Merkle RMG solution.

Raising Our Own Bar

In June, Merkle RMG completed our recertification review with flying colors. When an auditor examines a firm for five straight days, eight hours a day, they’ll typically find at least one opportunity for improvement (OFI). That’s why we were thrilled to learn that our auditor found nothing to improve! In fact, he remarked that we’ve consistently gone above and beyond 9001:2008 expectations.

Even better — the auditor said we’re already satisfying the requirements of ISO 9001:2015, ISO’s updated standards that will release in 2018. Those will be more outcome-focused — placing stronger emphasis on measuring results and tracking improvements. According to our auditor, the analysis and reporting Merkle RMG is already doing puts us ahead of the game.

Even though our auditor found no OFIs, Merkle RMG still has initiatives in place to help us continuously improve. Our management team members each have a portion of their annual performance review tied to identifying and executing continuous improvement projects. We also use a system called Jira to track client complaints and issues, which helps us identify the top recurring issues so we can target them for continuous improvement projects. The fact that we embrace continuous improvement as a daily responsibility is the main reason ISO auditors rarely find an OFI.

What it Means for Clients

Merkle RMG has 180 nonprofit clients — each with unique business rules, work instructions, and other custom requirements. The ISO framework is what makes it possible for more than 600 Merkle RMG employees to follow every specification, for every client, every time. It’s our gold standard for making our complex processes efficient and precise.

Merkle RMG’s latest net promoter score reflects high levels of client satisfaction. We recently asked clients to rate on a scale of one to 10 how likely they were to refer a colleague to Merkle RMG — with 10 being the most likely. For 2016, 88.7 percent of our clients responded with a 9 or 10. That means the vast majority are actively promoting Merkle RMG. We attribute that to the consistently high service levels we’re able to deliver by following the ISO framework.

Exceeding Industry Expectations

The discipline ISO brings to our organization has absolutely made Merkle RMG a better company. It impels us to document everything, conduct the proper training, and regularly audit our performance to continuously improve…and that’s what allows Merkle RMG to consistently surpass industry standards for quality.

We look forward to raising the bar even higher in 2018!