ISO 9001 Clause 5.1.2 – Customer Focus

a blackboard with six hanging lightbulbs drawn in white chalk, above the words customer focus

ISO 9001 Clause 5.1.2 – Customer Focus is the latest clause to come under the spotlight in this series of thought provoking and plain-speaking articles.

We take a look at what it is, and where it fits in the greater scheme of the ISO standard. But first, let’s briefly set the scene with regards to the ISO 9001 standard.

In December 2021, the International Organisation for Standardisation (the main ISO body) reported “over one million companies and organizations in over 170 countries certified to ISO 9001:2015.  What’s more, this number continues to increase year on year, for many and varied good reasons.

Yet there’s one not so small catch… ISO 9001 might just be the most confusing document in business history!

The good news is this series of articles and accompanying free factsheets are purpose designed to:

  • Cut through the jargon
  • Debunk the myths
  • Make smoother sailing of your journey to certification

Without further delay, let’s examine ISO 9001 Clause 5.1.2 – Customer Focus – in closer detail.

Introduction to ISO 9001 Clause 5.1.2 – Customer Focus?

What is customer focus?

In terms of ISO 9001 Clause 5.1.2, customer focus means awareness of the following things:

After all, customers are the reason any business exists. And it’s the responsibility of your leadership team to drive this point home to every single person in the business. 

The intent of this sub-clause is to ensure that you visibly demonstrate leadership and commitment in maintaining focus on meeting customer requirements and enhancing customer satisfaction.

For these purposes, all the requirements of this clause ask you to “ensure” that certain things happen. While you might not perform the tasks yourselves, there’s an onus on you to promote customer focus through oversight and engaging communication. 

The good news is the requirements of this clause can be met successfully by addressing other clauses of the standard. In short, the requisites of ISO 9001 Clause 5.1.2 are interwoven with other clauses, rather than being stand-alone within this clause.

So, let’s take a look at each of the three requirements for customer focus.

a yellow lightbulb symbol ahead of the words do you know your customers in a white box in the middle of a turquoise background

“Top management shall demonstrate leadership and commitment with respect to customer focus by ensuring that:”

Customer Focus: Requirement 1 – “Customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements are determined, understood and consistently met”

In smaller businesses, the leadership team is typically directly involved in determining and meeting customer requirements. But it’s not always the case in larger businesses.  This is because other team members are usually tasked with determining and delivering to customer needs and expectations in larger organisations.  If you ensure this is the case, you’re meeting the spirit of this clause.

You can demonstrate this in various ways, such as:

  • Defining responsibilities and authorities for customer service
  • Providing training for staff in customer care
  • Developing operational procedures for how tasks are performed to ensure customer needs are met
  • Reviewing customer feedback and looking for improvements

In many cases, KPIs can inform and dictate any actions that might be necessary to achieve or improve customer satisfaction. For example:

  • On-time delivery performance
  • Number of customer complaints

The second part of this requirement stipulates statutory and regulatory requirements.  The thing is, compliance in these areas is often highly specialised. So, the leadership team might not have the necessary training and know-how.

But fear not! Such requirements are often determined by a technical or legal function.  Examples could include laws, regulations and statutes that govern area such as:

  • Product safety
  • Product labelling
  • Warranty requirements
  • Product flammability

In short, you need to ensure the following, even if you’re not directly involved firsthand:

  • That effective processes are in place to determine statutory and regulatory requirements related to your business’ products and/or services
  • That these requirements are understood by your team

a man in a navy suit at a desk with two rows of standing dominos at each hand

Customer Focus: Requirement 2 – “The risks and opportunities that can affect conformity of products and services and the ability to enhance customer satisfaction are determined and addressed”

This requirement calls for appropriate actions and implementations to address risks and opportunities.   

As top management, you need to make this happen if you’re going to ensure that expected results are consistently achieved.  And if they’re not, then a Plan-Do-Check-Act approach is an effective way to guarantee actions are assigned, improvements are achieved, and customer needs and expectations are met.

The management review process requires action taking to address risks and opportunities. If you’re participating (and possibly leading), this will automatically be met.

Customer Focus: Requirement 3 – “The focus on enhancing customer satisfaction is maintained”

There are various methods you can use to achieve and maintain focus on enhancing customer satisfaction. But the process can call for asking some tough questions – and responding to them openly and honestly. This might include questions such as:

  • What have we done well lately?
  • Where do we need to improve?
  • What would make a customer seek a different supplier?

When all is said and done, these types of questions should be regular discussion points.  Moreover, staying focused on customer satisfaction helps to continuously benchmark customer needs. In turn, you’re better equipped to identify and contain threats and seize market opportunities in support of overall business objectives.

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