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So I’ve been on a city break holiday in Europe. I had the pleasure of flying on a budget airline. Not the cheapest airline but certainly in the cheap category. You get the idea – cheap flights means basic service, basic food, a take-it-or-leave it approach to flying. Now don’t get me wrong, it was okay. Sufficient. Adequate. Good enough.

Now the core elements of a good flying experience were there. A clean plane, operated safely, with smart staff and some food available on board. Yet it fell short. It fell short of the more expensive airlines. Little things mattered in the experience: the food was basic with poor choice and not enough to service the whole plane; the luggage was a free-for-all as people had chosen not to put luggage in the hold; seat space was smaller with no extendible headrest; and the staff were just not able to really empathise with the experience of customers.

I wondered whether this was because the staff had never really experienced ‘good’? My holiday was in Paris. This is a classy city by any global standards. The place has good fashion, the good looking people, good food, wonderful architecture, and really knows how to retail! So if you are a company with staff who have never received competitors’ better service and good service in their personal or professional lives, are they able to really deliver it themselves? So CEOs can introduce rules like ‘smile at the customer’ or make sure all customers are offered a drink etc. People are not rules-based, so good customer service requires cultural change.

I think airlines are a bit like audit functions. Internal auditor’s customers only really receive one provider, like flying one airline all the time. So it is for auditors working in these functions. They do not really experience others’ versions of internal audit. That’s why, when a new head of audit is appointed, they change the function as a first port of call, because they refresh the perspective on the service and change it with that insight.

I am reminded of another example of this issue with an email from the Scottish regional IIA of the UK IIA, inviting me to attend a training programme on internal audit reporting. I think my service’s internal audit reports are great, modern, helpful, well-written and focused. Yet what if best practice is much better or much different? It is difficult to tell, being locked into the day-to-day business of delivery of an assurance service. What if my service is just ‘good enough’?

Well benchmarking helps, reading blogs and the work of others helps. I think the key thing is to have a good non executive chair of audit committee and management sponsor. I have been, and continue to be, lucky in my career to have the highest quality of people supporting me in these roles; really high quality individuals. These are able to really challenge and support the CAE in their role.

I would like to think that internal auditors, and CAE’s, as hopefully good practitioners of the profession, are able to be objective and independent enough to put themselves into their customers’ shoes, to get a sense of their perspective and make their audits better than ‘good enough’. I hope and trust that I manage this too.

So are you able to really empathise with those whom you work with? Are you able to know when good enough is not good enough?