CIAC certification: A benchmark for performance excellence in call center management

CIAC certification: A benchmark for performance excellence in call center management

Barry, Fredia

At some point, every industry must “come of age” in order to continue growth and sustain long– term prosperity. After too many years of being a black sheep, the call center industry has finally reached this point. We have, you could say, come into our own. By “industry,” I mean collective call center businesses of every kind across all vertical markets. Basically, every call center organization makes up what we’ve come to consider the call center industry. It’s been a hard row-to-tow, but finally call centers are being recognized for the strategic role they play in helping organizations achieve their business objectives. We’ve still got some laggards out there that see and operate their call centers as a commodity, and there will likely always be some of these, but we’re seeing less and less of this mindset as call centers take their rightful place in the business world.

Along with this coming of age is a challenge that will determine the true, ultimate success of our industry. This is the ability to attract and retain competent, qualified professionals for the growing number of call center jobs. People are the lifeblood of most industries, but even more so in the call center industry.

Unfortunately, the shortage of people, and in particular the lack of professionals equipped with the core knowledge and skills necessary to hit the ground running, has long been a monkey on the backs of call centers. Never has this been truer than in the past five years as we’ve watched the explosive growth of call centers meet up with a widespread workforce shortage. The result of this has been most painfully apparent with regard to management personnel. There’s no doubt that front-line staff is required for a call center to operate, and ideally staff with the right skills so training can be focused on performance improvement and career advancement versus teaching the basics. Still, a call center can have the most highly skilled CSRs, team leaders and supervisors, but without competent leadership and management, it will be difficult for the center to be successful. It starts at the top, These are not jobs that just any executive or manager can step into. Successfully leading and managing a call center requires specialized knowledge, skills and abilities – topped off with a good dose of hands-on experience.

All of this adds up to the reason the Call Center Industry Advisory Council (CIAC) was formed back in early 1998. Over the course of the following two years, this industry-elected group of call center practitioners, educators, consultants, vendors and media representatives worked with the industry to identify the knowledge, skills and behaviors (competencies) required for professionals in strategic and operational call center management roles to perform their jobs at a superior level of performance. Thereafter, this was the driving force for CIAC to further work with call center executives and managers from all types, sizes and kinds of call centers to design and develop industry-standard certification based on these competencies, for individuals that lead and manage call center, help desk and CRM organizations. The end result is CIAC Certification.

The ultimate goal of CIAC Certification is to legitimize the call center profession in order to inspire more people to consider the call center a bona-fide and lucrative career opportunity. This will bring more people into the profession, at every job level. While CIAC Certification has begun at the management level, industry certification will be developed for every job role in a call center. With industry-recognized competency standards that define the elements necessary to be successful at each job level and to move up to the next level (career pathing), the profession will cultivate a highly skilled workforce from entrylevel to upper management. This is the key to sustaining the long-term prosperity of call centers.

Another important objective of CIAC Certification is to raise the stature of and establish high value around call center professionals who perform their jobs at superior levels day in and day out. There are call center executives and managers who today represent the ideal of CIAC Certification. Most of these individuals have worked in call centers for some time and have earned their stripes through many years of trial and error in learning what works and what doesn’t in running a call center. Unfortunately, the rapid growth of call centers today doesn’t allow for this learning curve — we need management professionals who can come in equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills and who, with a minimum time of hands-on experience, can successfully lead and manage a call center organization. The competent call center leaders and managers of today have a responsibility to help pave the way for future leaders and managers following in their footsteps. Supporting industry certification is an important means of doing this.

CIAC Certification for the Management Track is now being rolled-out on a general release basis after completion of phase one beta testing of the certification assessments. Over two hundred call center vice presidents, directors and managers are participating in this beta testing. Phase two beta testing concluded in mid-May with full CIAC Certification scheduled for general release June 30, 2002, Certification testing for the CIAC-Certified Strategic Leader (CCSL) and CIAC– Certified Operations Manager (CCOM) designations consists of four knowledge assessments, a work product assignment, and a 360 Review, all based on role-specific competencies across four domains:

People Management, Operations Management, Customer Relationship Management, and Leadership and Business Management.

The knowledge assessments are administered online at public testing centers or at an individual’s employer site, The work product assignment and 360 Review are completed at the individual’s workplace. There are also CIAC-Certified Management Consultant (CCMC) and CIAC-Certified Management Apprentice (CCMA) designations which require similar certification testing.

CIAC Certification has been designed to establish a new standard around professional certification. Beginning with the competencies, the process is intended to be rigorous and demands a substantial amount of preparation and dedication. When an individual achieves CIAC Certification, there will be no doubt that he or she has mastered the specialized expertise required to excel on the job. The process ensures that CIAC Certification cannot be achieved otherwise. This is what builds high value around the CIAC Certification credential and establishes those that have achieved it as leaders in the profession. The value of CIAC Certification extends beyond the individual to his or her organization and ultimately to the entire call center industry.

As the organization established to provide industry certification, CIAC’s focus is 100 percent on cultivating a high performance workforce and certifying individuals who have demonstrated mastery of the competency requirements. As part of establishing a new breed of professional certification, CIAC does not provide training. Its belief is that certification must be vendor-neutral, based on industry-recognized competencies specific to the job role and a standardized assessment process, and holistic with regard to a separation from training. One of the reasons certification has gotten a bad rap is because it’s been misused to sell training courses rather than being “real” certification. As opposed to offering training, CIAC gives guidance to call center trainers to help them develop courses that provide a successful learning experience in preparation for the CIAC Certification process.

We are pleased to note that CIAC Certification is quickly becoming recognized as the benchmark for performance in call center management – the “credential of success” and the “industry standard.” This rapid acceptance is a strong indication of how much the call center industry has come of age and its readiness to take the big step of becoming a recognized, legitimate profession.

For information and subscriptions, visit www,TMCnet.com or call 203-852-6800.

Fredia Barry is president of the Call Center Advisory Council. Learn more about CIAC Certification, including pricing and testing locations, and view the industry-established call center management competencies for each management track designation by visiting www.ciac-cert.org. Additional information is also available by calling the CIAC Operations Center at 888-859-2422.

Copyright Technology Marketing Corporation Jun 2002

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