ISO 9004-2 1991 in Plain English

Guidelines for Managing the Quality of Service Activities

ISO 9004-2 is OBSOLETE. See ISO 20000 2011 and ISO 9001 2015.

This web page is based on the ISO 9004-2:1991 Quality Standard 
published by the International Organization for Standardization
It presents a detailed interpretation of this standard using 
language that is clear and easy to understand.

ISO prepared the ISO 9004-2 Standard in order to show organizations 
how to set up and manage a quality system that has a service orientation. 
Because almost all organizations are service oriented to some extent, even 
product oriented organizations can benefit from the ideas discussed here.



  • Remember the following definitions as you study ISO 9004-2:

    • A quality is a special characteristic.

    • Service is a result. This result is produced when people carry out activities that are oriented towards meeting customer needs.                                           

    • Service delivery is an activity or process. Service delivery  activities are carried out by people who are oriented  towards meeting customer needs.


Introduction to quality service 

  • A quality service system is one that:

    • Ensures that customer needs are met. 

    • Receives regular feedback from customers.

    • Respects customer perceptions and opinions.

    • Manages social interactions and relationships.

    • Considers the human aspects of service delivery. 

    • Pays attention to cultural values and perceptions.

    • Improves service performance and productivity.

    • Supports personnel training and development.

    • Encourages personnel to improve quality.

    • Controls costs and improves efficiency.

  • A quality service system should be set up if you provide  intangible services or sell products to customers. Either  way the quality principles are the same.

  • A quality service system should serve the needs of both  internal and external customers.                                  

  • A quality service system can improve the quality  of almost any function including the following:

    • Health and hospitality

    • Financial and insurance

    • Technical and scientific

    • Sales and merchandising

    • Professional and educational

    • Utilities and communications

    • Administrative and governmental


Define service and service delivery characteristics 

  • Identify and define your service and service delivery characteristics. When you do so, consider the following  general types:                                                                  

    • Service accessibility and availability. 

    • Service safety and security.

    • Service reliability and dependability.

    • Attractiveness and appeal of facilities. 

    • Service delay, duration, and delivery times. 

    • Service capacity and size of service facilities.

    • Number of service providers and service tools. 

    • Service hygiene and service provider cleanliness. 

    • Competence and knowledge of service providers. 

    • Courtesy, attentiveness, and communication skills. 

    • Quantity and types of service supplies and materials.


Control service and service delivery characteristics

  • Control service and service delivery characteristics (qualities).

    • Manage the characteristics that define  your service and service delivery process. 

    • Measure the characteristics that define your service and service delivery process.

      • Develop methods that you and your customers  can use to evaluate your service and service  delivery characteristics.                                    

      • Use either quantitative or qualitative measures  to evaluate your service and service delivery characteristics.                                             


Define your quality policy 

  • Define a quality service policy. This policy should:

    • Discuss your image and reputation. 

    • Describe your attitude towards service quality. 

    • Define the level of service you want to achieve. 

    • Make the customer the focal point of your policy. 

    • Emphasize the importance of customer satisfaction. 

    • Explain that all personnel must apply this policy.

    • Indicate that senior managers support this policy.


Define your quality goals and objectives 

  • Define your quality goals and objectives and translate these  into actual service and service delivery activities. Consider  the following types of goals and objectives:

    • To satisfy customers.

    • To encourage continuous improvement.

    • To respect social and environmental needs. 

    • To foster a collective commitment to quality.

    • To improve the efficiency of service delivery.

    • To clearly define customer needs and expectations. 

    • To look for opportunities to improve service quality.


Define quality responsibilities and authorities 

  • Define responsibility and authority. Define service quality responsibilities and give your personnel the authority  to carry out these responsibilities.                           

    • Clarify customer service responsibilities, determine  how these responsibilities are distributed, and make  sure people have the authority to carry them out. 

    • Make sure that senior management retains the responsibility for developing, measuring, auditing,  and improving your service quality system. 

    • Make sure that all personnel understand that they are individually and collectively responsible for the quality  of your services and your service delivery.


Perform management reviews of your quality service system 

  • Review your quality service system on a regular basis.  Your managers, or their representatives, must perform  independent reviews of your quality service system.  These reviews should evaluate its effectiveness and  should look for ways of improving it. Reviews should:

    • Evaluate the results of any quality performance  studies carried out by your staff members. 

    • Review the results of any internal or external  audits of your quality service system. 

    • Study changes in technological, economic, social,  or environmental conditions that could affect the  performance of your quality service system. 

    • Examine any changes in quality concepts or  practices or any new service delivery ideas. 

  • Make sure that a written management review report  is prepared and submitted to senior management.  This report should list observations, conclusions,  and recommendations for improving quality.


Motivate your people to deliver quality service 

  • Create a corporate environment that motivates  people to provide quality service.                                

    • Select only people who are capable of doing the job. 

    • Create an environment that encourages excellence. 

    • Help people to fulfill their professional potential. 

    • Make sure that people know how to do their jobs. 

    • Explain how people influence customer service.

    • Ensure that people know how they affect quality.

    • Recognize and reward people who improve quality. 

    • Provide career planning and development services. 

    • Deliver training programs to improve service skills.

    • Study the factors that motivate your personnel.


Train people to deliver quality service

  • Teach executives how to:

    • Encourage quality service.

    • Measure quality-related costs.

    • Review their quality service system.

    • Manage their quality service system.

  • Teach personnel how to:

    • Aspire towards excellence.

    • Apply your quality policy.

    • Achieve quality objectives.

    • Monitor and control processes.

    • Collect and analyze quality data.

    • Solve quality problems and identify causes.

    • Take corrective actions and improve quality.

    • Communicate, interact, and work as a team.

  • Develop procedures to verify that all your personnel  have received all the training they need.

  • Evaluate personnel performance in order to identify  training and development needs.

  • Ensure that personnel are qualified to do their jobs.

    • When they're not qualified, make sure they get the training and experience they need.


Develop a system of communication 

  • Develop a system of communication in order to allow both management and staff:                         

    • To work together as a team.

    • To deliver quality services to customers.

  • Make sure that your service personnel know how to:

    • Communicate with customers.

    • Communicate with one another.

  • Your communication system may include regular  briefings, meetings, memos, email, reports, forums,  and telephone conversations.                                     


Provide material resources 

  • Provide the material resources that people will  need to implement and manage your quality  service system. Provide:                                             

    • Service delivery facilities and equipment.

    • Information and record keeping systems.

    • Transport and travel allowances and capabilities. 

    • Quality evaluation tools, instruments, and facilities.


Define the structure of your quality service system

  • Define the structure of your quality service system.  Your system should consist of the following four  interconnected processes:                                     

    1. Service marketing process

    • The purpose of this marketing and market research  process is to identify new needs and to estimate  market demand for new services.

    • When your market research people identify the need  for a new service, they must prepare a service brief.  This document describes the service that should be designed and the customer needs that it should meet.

    2. Service design process

    • The purpose of the service design process is to use the  service brief to develop specifications, and to use these specifications to design a new service.

    • Your service design people will develop the following  kinds of documents:                                          

      • Service specification

      • Service delivery specification

      • Quality control specification

    3. Service delivery process

    • The purpose of your service delivery process is to  deliver your new service to customers and to monitor  and control the service and its delivery.

    • Your service delivery people will generate the  following kinds of documents:                                

      • Assessments done by customers.

      • Evaluations performed by your organization.

    4. Service improvement process

    • The purpose of your service improvement process is to   evaluate and analyze your service and service delivery  process, and to recommend ways of improving it.

    • This process will generate the following  kinds of documents:                                      

      • Analyses.

      • Recommendations.


Document your quality service system 

  • Document your quality service system.  Your documents should include:                                  

    • Quality manuals that describe your service system.

    • Quality plans which specify how the requirements for quality will be met for each particular service.

    • Quality procedures which define how service activities are  to be performed, monitored, controlled, and documented. 

    • Quality records which document the operation and functioning of your quality service system. Your  quality records should:                           

      • Show how satisfied your customers are.

      • Allow you to make service comparisons.

      • Allow you to identify and analyze service trends.

      • Provide you with a basis for corrective action.

      • Allow you to monitor and evaluate the  effectiveness of your corrective actions.

      • Show how well your service quality goals and objectives are being achieved.                     

      • Permit you to monitor and measure  subcontractor performance.                  


Control your quality service documents 

  • Control all quality service documents.  Make sure that your documents are:                       

    • Dated

    • Named

    • Authorized

    • Recognizable

    • Readable

  • Develop methods to control how your documents  are issued, distributed, and revised. Your methods  should ensure that documents are:                                

    • Acceptable and intelligible to users.

    • Authorized before they are distributed.

    • Available whenever and wherever they are needed.

    • Revised when changes become necessary.

    • Removed when they become obsolete.


Perform internal quality audits 

  • Perform periodic internal quality audits in order to:

    • Verify the implementation of your quality system.

    • Evaluate the effectiveness of your quality system.

    • Prove that your quality system conforms to your:

      • Service specification

      • Service delivery specification

      • Quality control specification

  • Develop internal quality audit procedures to control  how audits are planned, performed, and recorded.

  • Make sure that your auditors are:

  • Make sure that audit findings are:

    • Documented by the auditors.

    • Reported to senior managers.

  • Make sure that corrective actions are:

    • Designed to address audit findings.

    • Implemented by the appropriate managers.

    • Monitored in order to evaluate their effectiveness.


Interact with your customers 

  • Develop a quality service image and encourage service  delivery personnel to convey this image to both their  external and internal customers.                                   

  • Develop effective patterns of communication with both  external and internal customers. Encourage all service  delivery personnel to:                                        

    • Listen carefully to what customers say.

    • Handle communication problems without delay.

    • Keep customers informed about your services.  Keep them informed by explaining:                       

      • Your services and your service delivery process.

      • How your services will meet customer needs.

      • How potential problems will be handled.

      • How customers can help improve your services.

  • Develop appropriate facilities and provide adequate  resources to support communications and interactions  with both external and internal customers.

  • Develop methods to ensure that customer interaction  and communication problems are transformed into  opportunities to improve your quality service system.


Introduction to structure of your quality service system

We conclude this section with a detailed discussion of the structure of your quality service system. As previously indicated, your system should consist of the following four interconnected processes:

1. Service marketing process
2. Service design process
3. Service delivery process
4. Service improvement process


Develop your service marketing process 

  • Develop and control your service marketing process.

    • Control your market research process.

    • Control your obligations to customers.

    • Control the development of service briefs.

    • Control the launch of new services.

    • Control the advertising of services.


Control your market research process 

  • Develop and document procedures to plan and control  your market research process. Your market research  procedures should ensure that marketing people:

    • Determine if there is a need and demand for  the service that you plan to offer to customers. 

    • Clarify what customers want and expect  to get from the service you intend to offer.

    • Evaluate the service and performance of other  companies who provide a similar service. 

    • Review all governmental and industrial rules,  regulations, standards, and codes that govern  and control the service that you intend to develop.

    • Confirm that your organization can, in fact, deliver  and support the services that you intend to develop.

    • Monitor market trends and technological changes.


Control your obligations to customers 

  • Control the obligations and promises you make to customers.  Your procedures should ensure that you:

    • Control implicit obligations.

    • Control explicit obligations.

      • Document explicit obligations (e.g., warranties).

        • Make sure that your organization is capable  of meeting all documented obligations.

        • Make sure that your documented obligations  meet all legal and regulatory requirements.

        • Make sure that your documented obligations  are consistent with your other documents.


Control the development of service briefs 

  • Control the development of your service brief. Make sure that:

    • Market research results are used to develop a service brief.

      • Ensure that customer needs are reflected  in your service brief.                                    

    • Obligations to customers are absorbed into service brief.

  • Make sure that your organization will, in fact, be able  to provide the service that your service brief describes.


Control the launch of new services 

  • Develop procedures to control the launch  of new services. Develop procedures to:

    • Plan the launch.

    • Organize the launch.

    • Implement the launch.

  • Your launch procedures should ensure that you:

    • Provide the resources and support that will  be needed to ensure a successful launch.

    • Evaluate and minimize risk.

      • Minimize health and safety risks.

      • Minimize environmental risks.

      • Minimize legal risks.

  • Develop procedures to eventually withdraw your service.


Control the advertising of services 

  • Control the quality of your service advertisements.  Make sure that your advertisements respect your:

    • Service limitations.

    • Service specifications.

    • Customers' perceptions.


Develop your service design process 

  • Develop and control your service design process.

    • Control your design responsibilities.

    • Control your service specification.

    • Control your service delivery specification.

    • Control your quality control specification.

    • Control your design review process.

    • Control your validation process.

    • Control your design changes.

  • Your service design process should convert your service  brief into specifications and then use these specifications  to design your new service. Your design process should  generate three kinds of documents:

    • A service specification. This document defines  the service you intend to provide.

    • A service delivery specification. This document  defines how you intend to deliver your service.

    • A quality control specification. This document  defines how you're going to monitor and control  the service and the service delivery process.


Control your design responsibilities 

  • Allocate the responsibility for designing your service  and control how these responsibilities are carried out. Allocate and control the following responsibilities:

    • Managing your service, service delivery,  and quality control specifications.                          

      • Planning your specifications

      • Preparing your specifications

      • Validating your specifications

      • Maintaining your specifications

      • Controlling your specifications

      • Revising your specifications

    • Identifying which products and services will  need to be purchased from subcontractors.

    • Reviewing service designs throughout the  service design and development process.

    • Validating the assumption that your new service  follows all of the instructions and meets all of the  requirements described in your service brief.

    • Anticipating and analyzing potential service failures.

    • Planning for service demand variations.

    • Developing service contingency plans.


Control your service specification 

  • Control the development of your service specification.  Control how your service brief is transformed into a  service specification.                                  

  • Your service specification should completely and  precisely describe your new service. It should:

    • Describe the service characteristics (qualities)  that customers will value and evaluate.

    • Define a concrete standard of acceptability  for each service characteristic (quality).


Control your service delivery specification

  • Control the development of your service delivery  specification. Control how your service brief is  transformed into a service delivery specification.  Your service delivery specification should:

    • Document procedures to control every  phase of your service delivery process.

    • Specify the service delivery characteristics  that will affect service performance.              

    • Define a concrete standard of acceptability  for each service delivery characteristic (quality).

    • Identify the equipment and facilities that you  will need in order to deliver your service.

    • Specify the number and types of people that  you will need in order to deliver your service,  including the required skills and qualifications.

    • Identify the products and services that you  will need to purchase from subcontractors.

    • Verify that your organization will be able to  deliver the service that your specification defines.

    • Confirm that your service delivery specification  will meet all health, safety, environmental,  and legal requirements and standards.


  • Design your service delivery process by:

    • Dividing it into separate and distinct  sets of work activities or phases.                                

    • Defining how these separate activities or phases are interconnected.                  

    • Using flow charts to map the flow  of these work activities or phases.                 

    • Developing procedures to control each work activity or phase.                     


  • Control your purchasing process by:

    • Controlling the subcontractors that will  support your service delivery process.

      • Maintain a close working relationship  with your subcontractors.                         

      • Create subcontractor feedback systems.

      • Develop ways of settling disputes between you and your subcontractors.                    

      • Select competent subcontractors.

        • Inspect subcontractors' facilities.

        • Assess subcontractors' quality systems.

        • Evaluate subcontractors' product samples.

        • Observe subcontractors' service delivery.

        • Discuss subcontractors with their customers.

      • Make quality agreements with subcontractors.

        • Clarify quality requirements and  quality assurance requirements.          

        • Clarify verification methods and  quality assurance methods.              

    • Controlling the purchase of the products and  services that you will use to deliver your services.

      • Use purchase orders or similar documents.

      • Regulate incoming products and services.

      • Maintain a record keeping system to monitor  incoming products and services.


  • Control equipment that customers are  expected to use during service delivery.                 

    • Make sure that the equipment you provide  to your customers is suitable for the task.

    • Make sure that you provide written instructions  that explain how the equipment is used.


  • Record and track the identify of products and  services used during the service delivery process.

    • Record the source of products and services.

    • Record the verification of products and services.

    • Record the delivery of products and services.


  • Control your customers' property. Make sure that your staff  members protect and respect your customers' possessions  during all phases of the service delivery process.


Control your quality control specification 

  • Control the development of your quality control specification.  Control how your service brief is transformed into a quality  control specification.                           

  • Your quality control specification should explain  how you're going to control your:                                  

    • Service marketing process

    • Service design process

    • Service delivery process

  • Develop your quality control specification by:

    • Identifying the activities (within each process)  that will influence the quality of your service.

    • Selecting the characteristics (within each activity)  that will influence the quality of your service.

    • Developing methods to monitor and measure  each of these characteristics.                           

    • Designing methods to influence and control  each of these characteristics.                            


Control your design review process 

  • Develop a design review process and control how it  functions. This process should be carried out after  each design phase, and should:                        

    • Involve the people who will influence quality.

    • Document design problems and solutions.

  • Your design reviews should make sure that the requirements  and instructions defined in your service brief have been successfully turned into a complete set of design  specifications. Make sure that you compare your  design brief with your:                                     

    • Service specification

    • Service delivery specification

    • Quality control specification

  • Make sure that your service and service delivery  specifications describe a service that will meet customer  needs, expectations, and requirements.

  • Make sure that your quality control specification describes  a set of methods and procedures that you will be able to  use to monitor, measure, and control the quality of your  service and service delivery.                           


Control your validation process 

  • Develop and control your validation process.

    • Validate:

      • Service

      • Service delivery

      • Quality control methods

    • Your validations should prove that:

      • Your service will meet customer needs under  both normal and abnormal conditions.

      • Your design satisfies all specifications and  complies with all official codes and standards.

      • Your service delivery process has been  completely developed and documented.

      • You have allocated enough human and material  resources to meet your service obligations.

      • You have developed information that will help  customers to understand and use your service.

    • Your validation process should be:

      • Planned and documented.

      • Performed before you deliver service.


Control your revalidation process 

  • Develop and control your revalidation process. 

    • Perform:

      • Periodic revalidations

      • Special revalidations

    • Perform periodic revalidations in order to:

      • Prove that your service continues to meet  customer needs and conform to specifications.

      • Improve your service, service delivery,  and your quality control methods.                       

    • Perform special revalidations in order to prove that your service continues to meet customer needs even though changes have been made. Perform special revalidations whenever you make significant changes in:

      • Quality control.

      • Service or service delivery.

      • Human or material resources.

      • Programs, policies, or procedures.

    • Revalidations should be planned and documented.

    • Make sure that you get feedback from both service  delivery personnel and customers.


Control your design changes 

  • Develop a design change process and control how it functions.  You must control changes to the following design documents:

    • Service specifications

    • Service delivery specifications

    • Quality control specifications

  • Before you make design changes, you must:

    • Demonstrate that there is a real need for change.

    • Prove that changes will not reduce service quality.

    • Show that participants have approved changes.

    • Tell customers when changes will affect quality.

    • Plan how you're going to make the changes.

    • Document and record your design changes.


Develop your service delivery process 

  • Develop and control your service delivery process.

    • Control your service delivery responsibilities.

    • Control how you assess the quality of your service.

    • Control how customers assess your service quality.

    • Control how service delivery records are kept.

    • Control how you handle nonconformities.

    • Control your service measurement system.


Control your service delivery responsibilities 

  • Distribute the responsibility for service delivery and  control how these responsibilities are carried out.

    • Control how you assess your service.

    • Control how customers assess your service.

    • Control how services will be monitored to see if they  meet service and service delivery specifications.

    • Control how changes will be made when service and  service delivery nonconformities are discovered.


Control how you assess the quality of your service 

  • Develop methods that your organization can use to assess  and control the quality of your service. Your quality assessment methods should ensure that you:

    • Measure key process activities to identify negative  trends and prevent customer dissatisfaction.

    • Encourage service delivery personnel to monitor  and inspect their own service delivery activities.

    • Evaluate the quality of the interaction between  your personnel and your customers.


Control how customers assess the quality of your service  

  • Develop methods that your customers can use to assess the  quality of your service. These quality assessment methods  should allow customers to provide instant feedback and  to evaluate previous service performance. Make sure  that you:                                                               

    • Actively solicit your customers' opinions.

    • Respect customers' subjective evaluations.

    • Measure customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

      • Evaluate whether your service brief expresses  the needs and expectations of your customers.

      • Evaluate whether your specifications embody  the needs and expectations of your customers.

      • Evaluate whether your service and service  delivery process meets the needs and  expectations of your customers.


Control how service delivery records are kept 

  • Develop a service delivery record keeping system and control how it is used. Make sure that you keep a record of the work that has been performed during each phase of service delivery  Keep records in order to:                                        

    • Prove that you've performed the work.

    • Prove that the work meets your specifications.

    • Prove that your customers are satisfied.


Control how you handle nonconformities 

  • Control how you handle service nonconformities.

    • Distribute the responsibility and authority for:

      • Identifying service nonconformities.

      • Reporting service nonconformities.

      • Recording service nonconformities.

      • Analyzing service nonconformities.

      • Correcting service nonconformities.

      • Preventing service nonconformities.

    • Ensure that everyone in your organization accepts the responsibility for detecting and reporting both actual  and potential service nonconformities.

    • Address the customers' needs and expectations  immediately before you develop and implement  a more complete long-term solution.

    • Identify root causes and make sure that your  corrective actions deal with these causes.

    • Monitor the effectiveness of your corrective  actions in order to ensure that the service  nonconformity doesn't happen again.


Control your service measurement system 

  • Develop a service measurement system and  control how it is maintained and monitored.

    • Control measurement and testing skills.

    • Control measurement and testing procedures.

    • Control measurement and testing software.

    • Control measurement and testing questionnaires.

      • Verify the validity and reliability of  questionnaires and surveys.

    • Control measurement and testing equipment.

      • Control the use of this equipment.

      • Control the calibration of this equipment.

      • Control the maintenance of this equipment.


Develop your service improvement process 

  • Develop and control a service improvement process.

    • Create a service improvement information system.

    • Allocate the responsibility for service improvement.

    • Control how you collect and analyze quality data.

    • Develop a program to improve service quality.


Create a service improvement information system 

  • Develop an information system to support your service  improvement process. This information system should  allow you to:                                                      

    • Collect data that measures service quality.

    • Evaluate the service and service delivery process.

    • Disseminate information about service quality.

    • Generate improvements in service quality.


Allocate the responsibility for service improvement 

  • Distribute the responsibility for service improvement  and control how these responsibilities are performed.

    • Control how your service improvement information system will be used and maintained.

    • Control how the quality of your services and your  service delivery process will be improved.


Control how you collect and analyze data 

  • Collect service and service delivery data in order to:

    • Measure whether requirements have been met.

    • Identify opportunities for improving service quality.

    • Evaluate service efficiency and effectiveness.

  • Control your service data collection process.

    • Control the data that you collect when you assess  the quality of your services and service delivery.

    • Control the data that you collect when customers  assess your service and service delivery.

    • Control the data that you collect during audits.

  • Control how your service data is analyzed.

  • Apply statistical methods to collect and analyze service data, and control their application.


Develop a program to improve quality

  • Develop a program to continuously improve the quality of your services and your service delivery process, and control the operation of this program. Your continuous quality  improvement program should ensure that you:

    • Identify the data that must be collected.

    • Monitor and control the most important:

      • Service characteristics

      • Service inefficiencies

      • Quality variations

      • Market trends

    • Pinpoint important improvement opportunities.

    • Formulate quality improvement recommendations.

    • Prepare reports that allow senior management  to your quality improvement activities.

    • Encourage all personnel to contribute suggestions  to improve the quality of service and service delivery.


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 Updated on November 29, 2014. First published on June 6, 1997.

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