By Beth Cooper
In these tough economic times, one might wonder why in the world one might consider expending the effort and money to certify one’s staff. To that question I would answer that it’s more important now than ever before.
The 24/7 Call Center Certification programs, adopted by ATSI in 2002, now encompass four levels: agent, dispatcher, supervisor, and site. TAS associations are conducting certification clinics; record numbers of personnel are participating and becoming certified. These programs have expanded across the borders and have been embraced by most of the major platform vendors. As the industry recognizes that we never stop learning, continuing education components are being developed for the program.
“Okay,” you say, “I see the merit of site certification with a goal of 99.9 percent planned run time. Most certified sites could rattle off the names of customers they got because of their certification, but who cares about certified staff?”
Your staff does, and you should. While certification may be about credentialing to you, it’s about recognition to your agents. Call center work has typically been seen as a dead-end job, with no chance for advancement. Your clients may think that too.
Certification begins the process of changing that perception both inside and outside of the call center. When you certify your agents, dispatchers, and supervisors, you are letting them know that they are worthy of the effort and able to meet the challenge. Announcements to your clients that recognize your agents’ achievements elevate your agents to the status of accredited professionals. Why not send the announcements to your local chamber and business journal? Most have a section for those types of announcements. Take advantage of another opportunity to promote your business and be associated with professional standards and an accreditation program.
Visit the offices of any call center who participates in this program, and you will see a wall of fame. You can see the progression as your staff develops: agent certification, dispatcher certification, and finally, supervisor certification. What a sense of accomplishment this visual record reinforces! At Answer Quick, our wall of fame adorns the hall leading to the conference room, where we process applicants. What message do you think we are telegraphing to potential staff? Chris Bell of MedCom Professional Services in Levittown, Pennsylvania, sums it up this way. “We use the ATSI Certification program to identify the career path within our organization. First, the agent is hired. They learn that their first goal after training is to qualify to become a certified agent. Beyond that, their next goal is to learn how to dispatch and eventually become a certified dispatcher. Then, if they want to enter into management ranks and the opportunity presents itself, they know that to do so they will have to become supervisor certified.“
What is the process? Agents are eligible for CSR Certification after six months on the job experience. The agent certification is a simple two-step process. The first is a comprehensive written exam that includes platform specific questions. The second is an oral interview that assesses an agent’s grasp of industry standards. A study guide is provided with the exam materials.
If your call center uses dispatchers, the next step is Dispatcher Certification. This validates agent proficiency in what many consider a critical component of call center work – the proper delivery of the caller’s message. Again, a study guide is provided with the exam materials.
After your supervisors have six months’ supervisory experience in your call center, they are eligible to begin the Supervisor Certification process. Comprised of case studies, analysis of real time system performance reports, and questions about their management style, this process is more of a journey than an exam. Once supervisors have achieved this certification, they will possess a significant sense of accomplishment. A study guide is not provided with the supervisor exam, as there are no “right” answers; instead, supervisors analyze traffic reports and other performance criteria based upon the policies and procedures you have in place in your call center.
ATSI has declared 2009 the Year of the Agent and is currently developing a program by which call centers can nominate certified agents for the ATSI Certified CSR of the Year Award.
Beth Cooper is Director of Operations at Answer Quick, a call center located in East Tennessee. Beth serves on the ATSI board as the SNUG appointed board representative, chairing the Industry Accreditation/Certification Committee. She is a frequent speaker at industry events on agent training, disaster preparedness, and certification.
[From Connection Magazine – January 2009]