By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Call center certification is a concept gaining both interest and momentum. After a slow start three years ago, call center owners and managers are beginning to catch the vision and many are working towards becoming certified. The steps to become certified help improve call center operations, while certification is a source of pride for staff and an important distinction for the sales and marketing team. As the first to earn site certification, Medcom’s Chris Bell shared his thoughts on the subject.
Connections Magazine: The Site Certification Program has been in existence for three years now. Will you remind readers about the program?
Chris Bell: In 2001, the SNUG (Startel Network Users Group) Board developed a three-tiered educational program for members to certify and accredit their operations. SNUG identified three principal areas of the telemessaging call center that would benefit from a professional, peer-reviewed program. They were Customer Service Representative (CSR), Supervisor, and 24/7 Site Certification. In 2002, the program was adopted by ATSI (Association of TeleServices International). SNUG administers the program. Currently certifications are available on the Amtelco, PInnacle, Startel, and Telescan platforms.
CM: What was the impetus for starting the program?
Chris: The need for an industry certification program was initially expressed by Terri Paffile of Answer-1 Communications. At the time, Answer-1 was being qualified by a major client. The client expressed an interest in knowing what level of certifications and standards the telemessaging industry had available. So in a sense, it was client driven from the outset.
CM: As the first site certified, has this program met your expectations?
Chris: Yes, it has.
CM: Are there any areas in which you are disappointed?
Chris: Initially, I was disappointed in how slowly the program was catching on within the industry. Lately, certification is clearly gaining momentum. We are seeing more interest from within ATSI.
CM: In addition to site certification, there is also agent certification and supervisor certification. There is also increasing interest in these programs. How do they work?
Chris: Agent certification is a straightforward and an economical first step for a call center to take in order to “get their feet wet.” Supervisor certification is intended to be much more challenging. Interestingly, the Supervisor certification can provide the call center or manager with great insight regarding the candidate’s problem solving capabilities. Questions in the Supervisor Certification exam can be amended or retracted so long as comparable ones pertinent to your site are added. Supervisor Certification becomes an endurance test, with no wrong answers per se. I like to say that it is a test of the candidate’s character.
CM: What benefits have you realized from being site certified?
Chris: The benefits of undertaking and participating in our industry’s certification programs have been far reaching in my company. We use our certifications extensively in our marketing. Our investment in this program has paid dividends to us many times over.
Applicants, new employees, existing staff, vendors, and clients are impressed with the level of professionalism that the credential creates within our organization. The program, its philosophy, and the results are apparent at every level. For us this begins day one at the CSR level. At the next level, to enter our management ranks, supervisors must complete Supervisor Certification. The third leg of this program, Site Certification, has directly impacted our business practices, the readiness of our facility, and most importantly the running time –and when necessary – the recovery time of our mission critical hardware and software.
Because of certification, our system’s Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) rate has improved. The Site Certification program’s objective is to implement the right set of procedures and recovery techniques in order to achieve “four nines,” 99.99% annual run time. That equates to less than fifty-two (52) minutes of unplanned downtime per year.
The introspective nature of the program enabled us to re-visit how we were doing things. With higher run times, the quality of life has improved for our entire staff. Turnover, burnout, and stress have all been reduced. Thus, certification is positively impacting clients, prospects, employees, vendors, and candidates for employment.
CM: Have you gained any new accounts because of being site certified?
Chris: Yes. Our certifications were cited as the primary reason for our selection to serve a major multi-account Pediatric Hospital based in the Philadelphia region. Further evidence that certification is a winner for us can be seen in our current ATSI benchmarking survey results. Currently, our clients are rating us 95.24% for professionalism.
In a competitive situation, our certifications function as a trump card. Certification enables us to differentiate our service to the client. Certification introduces the elements of preparedness and professionalism. The ability to successfully differentiate our service in a professional manner supports our pricing structure. Think about what that can mean to your bottom line. Our certifications demonstrate a commitment of our core values to our clients. And we do not hesitate to drive that point home to our clients and prospects. When clients buy into your set of values it makes it very difficult for competition to overcome.
CM: So, after three years it is now time for your site to be re-certified. Are you going to go through the process again?
Chris: We are excited at the challenge posed by re-certification. Outsourcing call center owners and managers need to understand that the certification program is an asset.
CM: Any new program starts out slow and certification has been no exception. Interest in certification has increased greatly in the past year. To date, 10 call centers are certified; how many do think will be added to the list in the next three years?
Chris: I would be pleased to see another 10 or 15 sites become certified over the next three years. A slower rate of growth may indicate that the program will retain a higher value over time. Being the only certified site in my market is a huge advantage. Also, when you look at the names of the current list of members who are site certified, you realize that you are in the company of some of the most highly regarded organizations in the industry. These are well-managed businesses; certification is not for everyone.
CM: Do you envision certification as becoming a requirement for companies looking to outsource to a call center?
Chris: That depends on whether certification gains traction over time at the end user, client level. Certification could help retain business in your home market by demonstrating a higher level of proficiency locally than an offshore site.
CM: Who should people contact to find out more about the certification program?
Chris: Anyone interested in certification should contact Dan L’Heureux at 800-317-8529 for more information. Finally, I am willing to answer any questions regarding the program or refer you to someone who can help you. My telephone number at MedCom is 800-777-8047.
CM: Thank you for your time Chris, is there anything else you would like to add?
Chris: Beth and Gary Cooper of Answer Quick have been the true pioneers in bringing the program to our industry. They, along with Dan L’Heureux and the 2001 SNUG Board, deserve credit for developing this program. Lastly, I want to say that certification is one of the most beneficial programs an outsource call center can undertake.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time. Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.
Outsource Call Centers that are Site Certified by ATSI
- MedCom Professional Services, Levittown, PA
- Answer Quick, Louisville, TN
- AAMCOM, Redondo Beach, CA
- Business Connections, Salem, OR
- An-ser Services, Green Bay, W
- Answer 1 Communications, Phoenix, AZ
- ACT Teleservices, Newington, CT
- Information Communications Group, Leawood, KS
- Answer One, Inc, Lexington, KY
- Dexcomm, Lafayette LA
- Teletech Corporation, Charleston, SC
- Business and Professional Exchange, Inc, Beverly, MA
[From Connection Magazine – May 2004]