Audits are key to improving the operational performance in any multi store operation. Both Internal and external Audits help to ensure compliance and consistency in successful business management. However, audits are only useful when designed correctly, easily implemented and provide insights to help managers make decisions. Audit programs are designed to improve operational standards, improve customer service and audit compliance. Ensuring consistent quality and service delivery is critical to businesses on the brink of expansion and international growth. Being able to ensure consistency and quality is the key to sustainable growth. This article aims to provide you with an easy 7 step guide to developing better audit plans that are easy to manage and implement.
Step 1: Start with the Why
As with any goal, starting with the Why is the necessary first step. Defining the objectives of the audit and the Key Performing Indicator (KPI) criteria will help operations managers design a better audit plan.
- Do you want to track compliance to the brand?
- Do you want to track the customer service over different stores ?
- How often do you track the hygiene standards of your outlets?
- Do you want to check the completion of operational processes?
- Are your outlets following merchandising guidelines?
Whatever your audit needs may be, the objectives of the audit need to be clearly defined so as to reap the benefits of an operations audit.
Step 2: Identify the Areas of Audit
Once the goals are set you need to identify all the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) areas that need to be audited. If you want to audit brand compliance across all stores, you need to identify all areas that may affect how the brand is perceived. For example:
- In-Store Corporate Identity
- Staff Appearance
- Customer Experience
- Handling Customer Complaints
Step 3: Identify who conducts the audit
Generally, we have people in 3 roles that involved in conducting audits
- Field Team: Either the Store Manager or Area Manager
- Internal Dedicated Quality Assurance: Person whose only job is to conduct audits
- 3rd Party External Auditor
Using an internal Field Team is cost most effective way to conduct audits. The disadvantage of using an internal field team is that there are certain conflicts of interest in the scoring of the audits. Having a dedicated quality assurance team to conduct audits may be provide for more unbiased scoring of the audits, however as this option menas a whole team dedicated to implementing and maintaining audits, this is a solution that works better for very large companies.
Using a 3rd Party Auditor may be good solution to help reduce both conflicts of interests that may arise by using internal field teams and avoid the high costs incurred in maintaining a dedicated quality assurance team. Since they are not tied to the operating metrics of the stores being audited, the audit scores are likely to be more unbiased. These 3rd Part Auditors are paid by the audits they conduct. Astreem Consulting is a 3rd Party Auditor to help you conduct audits. The experienced team at Astreem designs practical audit programs that are targeted at key performance areas and conducts operational & brand audits for F&B, Education & Retail businesses.
Step 4: Designing the Audit Questions
The designing of audit questions depend on several factors:
- Who is conducting the audit: If the field team member is conducting the audit, you want to keep the audit simple and short.
- Type of Questions asked – The audit questions should also be from the view of recording a fact (objective) rather than asking for opinion (subjective). Statements with a Yes/no answer or those with a graded range are the most commonly used audit question formats.
- Frequency of the audit – Designing the audit is closely related to the frequency of the audit. If you are going to visit the store every day, then the audit can be short and you can vary the sections covered. But if the frequency is once a quarter, you would rather design a more comprehensive audit to cover the various aspects of an operational audit.
Step 5: Conducting the Audit
Before conducting the audit, you need to decide which tools will be used to conduct the audit. It is totally fine to use excel sheets or physical hard copies for Audits. The problem occurs while collating the data from hardcopies and making sense of the data. Copious amounts of Man hours are often invested to harvest the data. Another issue happens when you need to look back at records from last quarter or the year before to make performance comparisons between periods. This can be resolved by using smart online audit tools like Tree AMS (Automated Management System). This system helps you to seamlessly collate data, run different reports between time periods and key performance areas. You reduce a lot of time in data collation and data storage.
Step 6: Analyzing the Results
The whole point of the audit system is to give you insights about the performance of various key performance areas of your business. Analyzing the results and taking decisions is key to performance improvement of your brand. For example, if the Customer Service Audit is consistently showing poor audit scores in specific outlets, then specific action at the store level to address the way the staff is trained to handle customers. A re-training may be scheduled for the staff. A post training audit will show better results and also improve your customer service.
Step 7: Improving the Audit Program
The last and important step is to make sure that the audit program stays relevant with the management goals. A regular relook is essential to improve the quality of the audit program.
To conclude, a well-designed audit program is about providing insights, feedback and enforcing accountabilty through out the organisation. It is one of the best ways of improving and sustaining performance of your brand.