Managing quality is crucial for advice providers of all kinds. Quality services help to maintain customer satisfaction and loyalty and reduce the risk and complaints, reputational damage and harm to clients. Advice providers can build a reputation for quality by gaining accreditation with a recognized quality standard, such as ISO 9001, published by the International Organization for Standardization.
Your customers expect you to deliver quality services. If you do not, they (and your funders) will quickly look for alternatives. Quality is critical to satisfying your customers and retaining their loyalty so they continue to use your services. Without satisfied clients the case for funding is considerably weaker.
Quality influences your organisation’s reputation. The growing importance of social media means that clients can easily share both favourable opinions and criticism of your service quality on forums, review sites and social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. A strong reputation for quality can be an important differentiator in markets that are very competitive. Poor quality or a service failure that results in a failure of some kind can create negative publicity and damage your reputation.
Accreditation to a recognized quality standard may be essential for working with certain customers or complying with legislation. Public sector companies may insist that their suppliers achieve accreditation with quality standards, such as the Contractors Health and Safety Assessment (CHAS). Any requirement will be driven by a desire to reduce risk and ensure value for money, so any investment a provider makes in quality assurance is likely to be a good one.
Many organisations think that adopting a quality standard is both time and resource intensive, or that the cost of applying a standard is prohibitive, especially for smaller providers. The fact is that this leaves organisations at the risk of providing poor quality services, poor quality increases costs. If you do not have an effective quality control system in place, you may incur the cost of analysing nonconforming services to determine the root causes. If clients have received poor services you may suffer from negative feedback, fail external audits or, in serious cases, you could incur legal costs for failure to comply with client or industry standards.
There are numerous quality standards for advice providers and individuals, some are specific to the provision of advice services, whilst others might serve as a wider indication of an organisation’s commitment to quality. They include:
The Advice Quality Standard (AQS): The mark of quality for independent advice organisations, owned and managed by the advice sector for the advice sector
Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB): CAB’s are often the first port of call for people seeking advice, with a long standing tradition of advice delivery and the among the highest standards in the sector. All Citizens Advice services are rigorously monitored for quality, with the Citizens Advice ‘Quality Advice Assessment’ being a mandatory part of membership. Each bureaux is audited on an ongoing basis to ensure they are meeting the standards, with client feedback a central feature of the assessment process
Consumer Credit: Consumer credit firms include credit card issuers, credit brokers, payday lenders, log book lenders, peer-to-peer lenders, pawnbrokers, and debt management and debt collection firms. If you intend to provide any of those services, specifically debt management, then you will need to apply to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for authorisation. Not-for-profit bodies providing debt, counselling and debt adjusting and/or credit information services should be able to apply for limited permission, but you should always check with the FCA.
Investors in People: Not an advice sector specific quality standard, but a good barometer for how an organisation values it’s people and has committed itself to achieving the highest standards.
ISO9000: The ISO 9000 family addresses various aspects of quality management and contains some of ISO’s best known standards. The standards provide guidance and tools for companies and organizations who want to ensure that their products and services consistently meet customer’s requirements, and that quality is consistently improved.
Lexcel: Lexcel is the Law Society’s legal practice quality mark for excellence in legal practice management and excellence in client . care. It provides a flexible, supportive management framework to help practices develop consistent operational efficiencies and client services, manage risk effectively, reduce costs and promote profitability.
Matrix Standard: The matrix Standard is a quality framework for organisations to assess and measure their information, advice and/or guidance services, which ultimately supports individuals in their choice of career, learning, work and life goals.
Money Advice Service Quality Framework: New from the IMA for 2014-15: an accredited learning route for a range of debt advice roles, from ‘initial contact’ through to ‘court representation. The Money Advice Service Individual Quality Standards Framework breaks down money and debt advice agency work into 6 groups of skills and experience. These 6 groups are called Debt Activity Sets, and they define the minimum skills the Money Advice Service expects you to have to be competent in a role.
Specialist Quality Mark: The Specialist Quality Mark (SQM) was introduced in 2002 as a quality management system for legal aid providers. It is part of a family of standards that underpin the Legal Aid Agency’s (LAA’s) Community Legal Service (CLS)
Membership: Organisations can demonstrate their commitment to quality by becoming a member or affiliate of a membership body, such as AdviceUK, that has a set of standards or eligibility criteria for membership. For advice organisations based in Nottinghamshire you may want to join NAN as a member, we operate a flexible structure with both individuals and organisations welcome to join.
Feeling overwhelmed, stuck or confused? Don’t worry, we can help. NAN have the expertise and experience to provide you with all the advice and support you need. It might be that you need help putting your own internal quality processes in place, or you might be working to a recognised standard like the ones above. Whatever you want to do we’re here to make things easier. Just get in touch and tell us what you need.