For 25 years, Matrix Liften from Gentbrugge has been a reference for the installation and maintenance of a wide range of elevators for both high-rise and low-rise buildings. A key element of the success story is ISO 9001. CEO Tom Essel works with this international quality management standard almost every day: ‘ISO 9001 is the ideal tool for a future-oriented company policy, from evaluating risks about employee and customer satisfaction to setting up more sustainable processes.’
Just before the turn of the century, in 1999, Tom Essel decided to go full steam ahead with implementing the management standard. Matrix Liften’s certification followed soon after. In the industry, ISO 9001 certification offers an undeniable advantage. ‘Clients of elevator maintenance and installation companies that have a quality management system certified as ISO 9001+, as we call it, only have to have their elevators inspected twice a year,’ Tom Essel explains. ‘For the other companies, it’s every three months. In other words, our clients save money by working with us.’
Tom Essel: ‘The work involved in getting certified is intense, and above all, you need plenty of advice. Follow a training course for ISO 9001, for example, or talk to fellow entrepreneurs about how they approached it. In 1999, the management standard wasn’t as popular as it is today, though. And there were fewer helplines for companies wanting to integrate a quality management system into their daily operations. That’s why we enlisted the help of an outside service provider. How long it then takes to meet all the requirements and qualify for certification depends on the structure of your organisation. For Matrix Liften, it took a year, but from experience, I know that two years is not unheard of."
‘Applying ISO 9001 should be done primarily for your own organisation, and not for someone else.’
Tom Essel: ‘The ISO 9001 certificate is valid for three years, but an external auditor comes every year to evaluate your quality management system. You then get a report with points to keep an eye on, and possibly minor and major nonconformities. Any minor nonconformities need to be corrected by the next audit. Whereas a major nonconformity, such as a safety violation, needs to be addressed immediately. You have a few weeks to do that; otherwise you risk losing your certificate. It’s worth knowing that every three years, the audit consists of a total analysis of your quality management system. On that basis, a decision is made whether or not to renew your certificate. But you also get very useful advice during such an audit.’
Tom Essel: ‘The auditor is always someone who knows ISO 9001 and your sector inside out. They often visit several organisations to perform audits, which means they’re ideally placed to give practical tips on how things can be done better and to compare with best practices and industry peers. For example, our elevators need an average of one depaneling per year. I thought that was a lot, but the auditor could tell me that the industry average is 2.7 per year. What’s also helpful is that you basically always get the same auditor. They see your organisation evolve over time and think together with you. If you do get a new auditor, they’re first trained by their predecessor.’
Tom Essel: ‘In the past, the content of the management standard focused solely on your product or service. If those were in line with the standard, then customers would automatically come to you. But that's a bit short-sighted. And it’s why the latest version of ISO 9001:2015 goes much broader: from your image to external risks for your organisation to employee satisfaction. All your stakeholders, not just your customers, are covered. For example, your employees and financial partners also need to feel good about themselves. If they don't, you need to find out why and, if possible, take action. Basically, the new version of the standard fits better with your overall policy."
Tom Essel: ‘As an SME with 12 employees, ISO 9001 gives us a base from which to come up with structural solutions to everyday problems. For example, our technicians always have a repair kit with them. It used to happen that a colleague took something out of the kit, or that a tool broke. But by applying the standard, we now have a system so that everyone always has exactly what they need with them. Thanks to ISO 9001, everyone at Matrix Liften knows their role and responsibilities, and we have clear goals in mind.’
Tom Essel: ‘Long-term thinking is a must if you want to follow the standard’s requirements properly. For example, risk evaluation is an essential element of ISO 9001. For us, this includes the evolution of the number of environmental permits and maintenance contracts, but also internal risks. Do you need to hire staff soon, and do you have a plan for that? What aspects of your organisation are your customers most and least satisfied with? And in which direction is your organisation going? That's how you create a process of continuous improvement: observe, analyse, evaluate and correct.’
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