By Greg Coleman
If you are considering site certification for your support center you are probably deluged by the sheer amount of information, facts, and myths about the benefits of earning certification. You may also wonder what being “certified” means, how to go about it, and why. In this article, we’ll sort all this out and take a broad look at some of the benefits of certification along with some of the things to look for when selecting a certification program. Certification methodology and quality of results can fluctuate widely between the various programs and the more information you have now, the better off you’ll be when selecting the program that will best help you achieve your desired results.
Who Should Consider Certification and Why? Here are some of the reasons organizations choose to become certified, along with what to look for when selecting a certification program.
A Roadmap to World Class Support: The program should provide a framework for the development of your support organization. The certification criteria should provide guidance for ensuring that best practices are followed and should focus the organization on delivering the highest quality support possible.
- Address Specific Support Related Issues: The certification program should cover virtually every aspect of support center operations. It should provide a focus on key operational areas that need attention. By gaining this focus, support organizations will have the momentum necessary to address long-standing issues, and improve overall operations in the process.
- Validate Their Current Practices: Those companies that feel they are already delivering top quality support can use a certification program as a means of validation. Inevitably, areas for improvement will be identified through the certification process that will drive even higher levels of performance. The certification process should validate the practices in place within the organization and allow for attainment of industry recognition for the quality of support being delivered.
- Market Support as a Competitive Differentiator: The certification program should provide the type of external validation required to help communicate the quality of support being delivered to your customers. Certified support organizations should have the rights to use the certification logo in marketing materials, enabling your company to better promote its services.
- Drive Consistency in Support Delivery: Many support organizations deliver support through multiple support centers both regionally and across the globe. Consistent service delivery is a key component in maintaining and driving higher customer satisfaction levels. The certification program must provide a common framework through the program criteria and define the practices necessary to deliver consistent service levels across multiple support centers. The program should then measure the degree of consistency through the certification audit process.
Benefits of Certification: The benefits associated with earning site certification for your support organization are numerous. Among them:
- Increase Customer Satisfaction: Increased customer satisfaction and loyalty through improvements in operational effectiveness and staff productivity
- Benchmark Against the Best: You can benchmark your support operations against industry best practices and compare your operations against those of other world-class organizations.
- Gain an Advantage Over the Competition: Your clients, shareholders, investors, and prospects will recognize the commitment your company has made to become certified. Use the certification process to set your organization apart from your competitors.
- Improve Service Delivery: The improvements that you make in an effort to achieve certification will benefit your customers by providing them with improved service delivery and better trained staff, as well was better implementation and documentation of key processes and procedures. Virtually all support organizations could improve in one area or another.
- Retain Customers by “Blocking-Out” the Competition: Your customers will recognize the commitment your company has made to becoming certified. Use the certification process as a customer retention tool to set your organization apart from the competition. It’s one thing to claim quality support; it’s another to prove it.
- Leverage a Continuous Improvement Program: New products and services, changing customer demands, competition, and new markets are just a few areas that offer ongoing support challenges. Certification helps assure that your customers will receive a high quality of support. In addition, ongoing re-certification can drive continuous improvements year after year. You’ll have a continuous improvement program in place that enables you to provide world-class service to your customers.
- Gain Consistency Across your Support Organizations: By certifying each support center in your organization, you drive process and performance consistency across your organization. For example, the Support Center Practices (SCP) Certification program defines a common vocabulary and best practice roadmap. Providing a common goal and vocabulary eliminates traditional organizational barriers that can derail other continuous improvement efforts across support centers.
Return on Investment: Certification creates value in many ways. It focuses your support center on results that directly affect your bottom line. Depending on the certification program you select, your initial investment can be less than one-half of a full time equivalent per support center with minimal implementation costs.
- Efficiency: With a leading certification program you can expect greatly improved effectiveness and/or efficiencies of the processes in place within your support centers, including improved response times and lower operational costs.
- Differentiation: Achieving certification with a leading program means you have joined the best of the best. It isn’t easy, but recognition of value seldom is. The best programs require you to pass a rigorous onsite audit covering all program elements to attain certification.
- Consistency: Certification should improve the focus on strategic planning for your support organization. You should be able to implement common support practices leading to high quality support delivered consistently worldwide, develop consistent use of tools, implement standard set of support metrics, and enhance your support strategy and vision.
- Recognition: Certification can help raise the internal and external awareness of value of the customer support organization. Internal recognition elevates morale within your organization and your customers will appreciate the value of post sales support. This helps you leverage service as a competitive advantage.
Selecting a Certification Program: Once you’ve decided to seek certification, do your homework, and select the program that is best for you. A few things to consider:
- What is the program’s record of accomplishment? Who developed the certification criteria? Who sponsors it? How long has it been available?
- Who are the certified participants? Check the names of organizations that have been through the certification process. How are they perceived in the market? Call a few of them and ask for their direct feedback and ask about the benefits they have received.
- What is the market acceptance? Is the program the internationally accepted standard to which others are compared? How many organizations have adopted the certification program?
- What are costs? Are all fees stated upfront? Are there associated consulting fees? Some certification programs require costly consulting engagements or additional fees. Research all the costs up front to avoid unwelcome surprises.
- How often is the program revised and updated? Being world-class today doesn’t mean world-class next year. New trends and technology are continually raising the bar on superior customer support levels. Make certain that the certification program you selected is updated and revised on a regular, published schedule.
- Program content: Look for a program that can quantify the effectiveness of your support based on stringent performance standards that represent best practices in the industry. The program should establish a foundation to build on existing quality processes and provide a clear focus on measurable results. Make sure the program is designed specifically to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty through improvements in operational effectiveness and staff productivity. Ensure that the certification program provides a continuous improvement process that enables you to provide world-class service to your customers. After all, that’s the bottom line.
Greg Coleman is the Vice President of Certification Programs for Service Strategies Corporation; call 858-674-4864 for more info.
[From the Summer 2003 issue of AnswerStat magazine]