Where accredit lies
Accreditation is a good idea that has been hard to implement.
By Patrick Flannery
Our cover story this week is about accreditation of glazing companies, a topic I imagine will get very different reactions depending on the reader. It’s a new thing for the Canadian glass industry, but certainly not a new idea in business. How people react to the idea of accreditation says a lot to me about where they are as a business and how they approach the market.
As a basic concept, it is hard to argue with accreditation. Objective, knowledgeable certification of a company allows customers to shop with less risk, contractors to advertise their bona fides and the industry to defend margins for quality.
As in all things, the devil is in the details and accreditation is so beset with devilish details that effective, popular programs are pretty rare. The main pitfall lies in the basic conflict between the accrediting company’s duty to honestly and objectively evaluate its subjects and its duty to serve its paying customers – they are the same people! If the customer is always right, and the customer says his company complies with the standard, well, where do you go from there? Accrediting organizations are always under pressure to leave loopholes in either the standard, the auditing process or their documentation to suit the preferences of their customers.
Solutions to this problem exist, but many introduce new problems of their own. Removing the agency relationship between the accrediting company and its subjects is one fix. For instance, if the certifier is a taxpayer-funded government agency, the company to be certified has no pull as a paying customer. Or if the organization is funded by a group farther up the market vertical – the accredited company’s prospective customers – the pressure to cheat on behalf of the subjects is obviously removed. The problem in both these cases is when industries are regulated by outside entities, the rules tend to quickly become unfair and render the industry unprofitable. Companies will simply opt out of such a regime if allowed to do so. If forced to comply, a recessionary business-stifling effect occurs.
The other big problem that can sink voluntary accreditation programs is a perceived lack of value in the program. Accreditation is only ever as good as the respect it commands in the target market. A lack of awareness of the program among the accredited company’s customers is quickly fatal. Also fatal is a proliferation of accrediting agencies, creating an alphabet soup of logos and standards that customers despair of deciphering and soon ignore. Any accreditation agency that wants to last better pony up a substantial marketing budget that creates the impression that companies bearing its seal of approval, and only those companies, are the very best in the business.
Opposing all these factors is the common lament that our industry has become commoditized and something must be done to arrest the race to the bottom on price and quality. It’s a complaint heard, perhaps not coincidentally, most often from the larger and better-established companies in the sector. Accreditation programs involve a difficult balancing act between competing market forces. It remains to be seen whether anyone can stay on the wire in the Canadian glass industry.