A new ISO/IEC Guide to developing service standards for consumers will not only benefit standards developers, but will also be of value to service providers in reducing customer complaints and cutting the business costs of poor service.

ISO/IEC Guide 76:2008, Development of service standards – Recommendations for addressing consumer issues, provides an introduction to how the key consumer principles relate to standards development. These principles are safety, information, choice, the right to be heard, access, fairness, quality, redress, environmental issues and compliance with laws and regulations.

Whether a consumer is buying insurance or finding a new hairdresser, there are several questions which may come to mind, such as “Do I trust the service provider?”, “Have I got enough information to choose between the services on offer?”, “Do I understand the contract (particularly where there isn’t one written down)” and “What can I do if I don’t get the service I expect?”.

The guide provides a series of questions related to all stages of service delivery, from first thinking about the service, through engagement or purchase, service delivery to after sales or post engagement.

It then identifies the service elements, such as “communication”, “personnel”, “billing” or “safeguards”, to which the questions relate.

Within each service element, there are a number of related topic areas. For example, the service element “contract” includes related topics of: “clarity and transparency”, “objectivity and fairness” and “format”. A full description is given for each of the topic areas.

For ease of use, checklists are then provided for all topic areas within service elements. These checklists provide a quick way for service standard developers to establish whether their work covers all relevant topics. The checklists are also of benefit to organizations developing a new service or reviewing an existing one.

Three examples of applying the guide are given in an Annex: an hotel, hairdresser and insurance provider. They were chosen to represent different kinds of organization and show how different service elements can assume greater or lesser significance in different service sectors.  

Guide 76:2008 was developed by the ISO Committee on consumer policy (ISO/COPOLCO), with input on services from around the world, and particularly from Europe, Japan and North America.

Anne Ferguson, who coordinated the Guide 76 working group in its later stages, comments: "Guide 76 enables a strategic approach to improving services in any domain, public or private sector. It can be applied whether or not a formal contract is entered into, whether the services are delivered in person, or via the Internet, and whether they are provided by large or small organizations."

ISO/IEC Guide 76:2008, Development of service standards – Recommendations for addressing consumer issues, costs 124 Swiss francs and is available from ISO national member institutes (see the complete list with contact details) and from ISO Central Secretariat through the ISO Store or by contacting the Marketing & Communication department (see right-hand column).