For many people, the word “audit” inspires a sense of impending doom and a panicked search through files and hard drives to scramble together enough information to deal with whatever unexpected requests the terrible sadist of an auditor might come up with.

I’ve been on both sides of numerous audits and I don’t see anything to fear, so I’d like to give you some insight from an INNSA auditor’s point of view.

Firstly, I can tell you that members’ fears about an INNSA audit are probably misplaced. INNSA members already meet many of the highest standards in the industry by complying with INNSA’s membership criteria, and much of the audit is simply about checking compliance with these standards. There’s little reason to go over the same ground these standards cover.

People often have a perception that an auditor is looking to trip you up or find gaps or problems in your system in order to give you a “fail” (or even to make you feel bad!). This really isn’t the case.

INNSA is most interested in checking procedures specific to invasive species work and in making sure that companies can easily demonstrate compliance (and best practice) in the event of an audit by HSE, CRD, the EA or DEFRA where compliance can prevent enforcement action.

While INNSA certainly can’t provide a rubber stamp to members (and will deal with bad practice or serious non-compliance using all measures available, up to and including termination of membership) this is not what the audit is about.

One of INNSA’s primary goals is to drive improvements in the industry, and the most effective way to improve standards is having organisations under our umbrella and providing guidance, critical analysis and recommendations for improvement – and by following up on these recommendations.

A long time ago, I was given an interesting insight: “a complaint is an opportunity to improve and a complaint successfully resolved is a positive result”.

I apply this mentality to an audit. Finding an issue is not a negative per se; it is an opportunity to improve something. Making an improvement is a win – and hopefully one that generates more business or saves you money.

The issue of complaints is a great specific example to show how an audit can bring about real-world improvement.

In the hospitality industry, it’s said that “nine out of ten dissatisfied customers don’t complain – they just don’t come back” – yet many companies still feel that the best approach to complaints is to ignore complaints or to tell the client that their complaint has no merit. But this way, the company not only loses nine customers but also ignores the opportunity to keep the tenth. All too often the attitude is that an empty complaints log is a good thing – as if the document is the reality, rather than the client.

All businesses get some genuine complaints or expressions of dissatisfaction. Not all of these come in the form of a letter or email with “Dear Sir, I wish to make a complaint”. Training staff to effectively identify and record when a client is dissatisfied will give you opportunities to resolve these issues. Most genuine complaints can be resolved in an equitable manner – people just want their problem resolved – and sometimes even just a genuine apology will suffice.

It’s also normal that companies make mistakes (or “non-conformances”) from time to time – which, one way or another, are likely to cause a client to be dissatisfied, regardless of whether they complain or not. Failing to acknowledge and deal with non-conformances is likely to cause them to escalate to complaints or loss of repeat business. Being aware of these issues before a client is, dealing with them promptly and informing the client is more likely to inspire respect and trust for your organisation.

Good training and effective procedures give businesses a chance to keep a client on board, increase the likelihood of repeat business and improve your standing.

So, let’s look at the situation when a company proudly tells their auditor that they have no complaints… “Look, it says so in the complaints log”.

Does a good auditor take this on faith, or do they understand the realities above, then ask the awkward questions and nudge the company towards better training, better record keeping and better practices that will help improve their reputation and help them secure repeat business?

Chris Oliver