Certification Is Differentiation

By Beth Cooper

The ATSI 24/7 certification programs consist of four areas of credentialing for the teleservices industry: agent, dispatcher, supervisor, and site. Over the past seven years, many telemessaging call center owners, clients, and employees have come to see the merits of site certification. Its stated goal is to help call centers achieve “four nines” or 99.99 percent annual run time by demonstrating proficiency in “the best set of business practices” available in the industry.

The expectations of our clients have certainly changed from what they were even five years ago. No longer is it good enough to answer your clients’ phones most of the time. They expect you to be there when they lose power and can’t answer their own phones. What?  You don’t have any power either? That’s not their problem; but their problems are yours.

Even before disaster preparedness was a business buzzword, the true pioneering professionals in call center industry did think about such things as power outages and closures due to bad weather. Moreover, because most of our clients don’t take on disaster preparedness themselves, they don’t realize the expense, the process, and the checking and rechecking that goes into achieving 99.99 percent annual run time.

We become certified because we recognize that it is truly a client expectation. We know that our competitors are not always as proactive about being prepared, which is why they can charge less.

How do we convey this important piece of differentiating information to a prospect and relate this reality to our existing clients? By participating in an accreditation program. Mainstream businesses recognize accreditation as meaningful and valuable, because historically accreditation and certification has been the method of keeping the unqualified from entering into certain trades and professions.

The 24/7 site certification program sets forth nearly sixty criteria that must be met to achieve certification.  The criteria cover three main areas: business practices, operations, and personnel. Business practices include such items as appropriate licenses, insurance, and life safety. The operations section is the largest portion of the program, covering equipment minimums: platform-specific system maintenance procedures, backups of data, and emergency procedures. The final third of the program covers items relating to personnel in terms of hiring practices, training and continuing education, and processes for ongoing employee evaluations and development.

While this may sound like a daunting project, most people find that they already meet eighty percent of the guidelines; it is often just a matter of getting things organized. Most organizations find that their staffs embrace the challenge of participating in this program, and it becomes as important to them as it is to you. Challenge your staff to complete this project, and you can expect to see an increased level of energy and excitement amongst the team. With the “economic uncertainty” news that we are all bombarded with every day, this positive step can show them that you are planning to be in business for a while. Moreover, don’t your clients want that reassurance too?

The other three components of the ATSI 24/7 certification programs include agent/CSR certification, dispatcher certification, and supervisor certification. These programs allow your staff to demonstrate their level of proficiency in performing their jobs in your call center. You can find more information on all of the certification programs, along with detailed platform specific site requirements at the ATSI website, www.atsi.org.

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 March 2009]