Take Your Call Center to the Next Level

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazinePerhaps you have noticed that Connections Magazine has been publishing more and more press releases, announcements, and articles that highlight call center achievement and excellence – and I couldn’t be more pleased. This increase in coverage isn’t a result of a policy change or a new direction for the magazine, but simply and happily because there has been more news of this nature to share.

I have long been an advocate of pursuing and earning various call center credentials, such as quality awards, innovation acknowledgements, certifications, and other independently assessed, quantifiable accomplishments. Each such recognition is one more distinguishing characteristic that sets your call center apart from competitors. In short, it is a marketing distinctive. At a time when outsourcing call centers are increasingly concerned about finding new clients – and retaining existing ones – bona fide credentials become selling points that ascertain excellence, vaulting a duly recognized call center above all others.

These are not hollow recognitions, either; there is true meaning behind them. It takes a concerted effort – at all levels of the organization – to earn or achieve these honors. But don’t for a moment assume that the only reason to put forth the effort is merely to enhance your marketing prowess. The bottom line reality is that putting forth the effort makes your call center better. That was my experience when I was in the call center business; I heard the same sentiment expressed at this year’s ATSI convention.

A longtime friend called me the other day, bringing this into clear focus. After three years of trying, his call center had been recognized this year with ATSI’s Award of Excellence. He was proud for finally having his staff’s efforts and his business’s results publicly acknowledged. However, he was ecstatic for the profound and significant effect that striving for the honor had generated in his call center. His managers had initially questioned if being recognized for quality was even possible, given the geographic area from where they drew their agents. However, after three years of concentrated effort, their caller complaints were down, their client retention was up, their agents were happier than ever before, and they were even getting referral business.

In addition to the Award of Excellence, there are many other options to choose from. Here is a rundown of several stellar industry programs to consider:

CAM-X Award of Excellence: Now in its eighteenth year, the CAM-X Award of Excellence is a mystery caller program tailored to telemessaging call centers. One call center has been recognized all seventeen years: Canpage Communications Ltd. in Cornwall, ON. That is an amazing record – talk about consistently providing quality service!

ATSI Award of Excellence: This program is a branded version of the CAM-X program and administered by the same team. It just completed its eleventh year of awards. Two call centers, Michigan Message Center, headquartered in Kalamazoo, MI and Rochester Telemessaging Center in Rochester Hills, MI have earned this honor every year.

CAM-X Call Centre Award of Distinction: Designed to take their popular Award of Excellence program to the next level, the Call Centre Award of Distinction is also a mystery caller program that addresses customer relationship management, courtesy, etiquette, and professional call handling. It is appropriate for both in-house and outsourced call centers that provide order entry, fulfillment, registration, surveys, Web applications, escalated emergency response, reservations, and help desk services. Of this year’s nineteen honorees in North America, FineLine Solutions of Winnipeg, MB took the top recognition.

ATSI Call Center Award of Distinction: This also is a branded version of the CAM-X offering. Of this year’s thirteen honorees, Focus Telecommunications, Inc., Burtonsville, MD took the top recognition.

There is a reciprocal membership agreement between ATSI and CAM-X, thereby allowing call centers enrolled in the ATSI programs to also take part in the CAM-X offerings, and vice versa. Doing so significantly extends the testing period for the call centers.

ATA Technovation Award: This award is geared to recognize innovation and cultivate a continuing focus on new product or service development within the teleservices sector.   Both products and services are evaluated. In 2006 Bridge Decision Technologies, Noble Systems, SER Solutions, and TeleDirect International were winners in the New Product category. In the New Service category, the honorees were NobelBiz and Orion Marketing Group.

For 2007 the recognition is also open to call centers; applications are currently being accepted.

24/7 Site Certification: This program, developed by SNUG (who administers it for ATSI), established nearly sixty criteria that call centers need to meet or exceed, representing a collection of the call center best practices and guidelines. Certified call centers will have demonstrated a high level of proficiency in recovery techniques, good business practices, documentation of procedures, and levels of redundancy necessary for 24/7 preparedness. Today, a total of twenty-six sites have been certified.

Agent Certification: This program (also developed by SNUG, who administers it for ATSI) enables the call center industry to certify and accredit their agents. The goal of the program is for call centers to offer their agents a professionally prepared program whereby they can be tested and accredited. Certification requires passing a comprehensive written examination and an oral interview which tests customer service issues and problem calls with a certified examiner. The program has also recently been licensed to CAM-X, where it has been launched with great participation and success.

Supervisor Certification: Candidates are selected to participate in the Supervisor Certification program because their manager believes they have the potential to lead, coach, and support their agents. As part of the examination, they are given problems and case studies to work through. Candidates also answer questions in essay form about system operations and procedures. The certification is as much a test of character as a test of knowledge. This program was developed by SNUG, who administers it for ATSI; this program has also been licensed to CAM-X.

Although there are many programs to consider and call centers need not pursue them all, nonetheless you’d better go after some. If you don’t, your company will ultimately be at a disadvantage — from both a business perspective and a quality standpoint. Make a decision today to strive for excellence, attain distinction, achieve innovation, or become certified. Then use the above programs to guide your way to the realization of these goals and the success that will follow.

Peter DeHaan PhD is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine September 2007]

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