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New call center certification targets social media

CIAC certification now includes testing on the use of social media in call centers.

A certification program for call center managers recently got a touch-up to reflect changes in the industry, particularly the use of social media to connect with customers.

Now in its ninth year, CIAC certification has call center leaders at firms such as Coca-Cola Refreshments and State Farm Insurance saying it helped them respond to the challenges facing call centers. Managers at both companies say the update to the program will continue strengthening their skills and help them adjust to changes in the industry.

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The consulting and training firm International Customer Management Institute, which offers the certification, announced the revamped process earlier this spring and promoted the program at its recent ACCE conference and expo in Seattle.

Call center certification with CIAC (the Call Center Industry Advisory Council) doesn’t come cheap -- it costs $4,695 per person -- but Glenn Gemmill at Coca-Cola Refreshments and Tom Haas at State Farm Insurance vouch for it. They say the program supports the decisions they make and the suggestions they offer to agents on the call center floor.

“The update was really a refinement,” said Gemmill, vice president of customer care for Coca-Cola Refreshments, a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Company. “The environment is changing. Social media is changing. A couple of years ago, it was a blip on the radar. Now, it’s front and center on many managers’ screens.”

Gemmill is one of 34 members of ICMI’s Advisory Council, a group of call center executives and consultants that shape the certification process.

It made sense, he said, to include social media in CIAC competency training and testing because of the growing use of sites like Twitter and Facebook in call centers. It wasn’t long ago that call centers wondered how to integrate email messages into their channels. Now, it’s phone calls, messages, chat and social media, he said.

Coca-Cola Refreshments has already started to use social media, but getting CIAC training on how to use these new channels will help, said Gemmill, who was recertified this month.

Goal: Improving call center management skills
The CIAC certification process had stayed relatively unchanged since its inception in 2003.

The updated program offers training and testing on skills such as maintaining a consistent voice across multiple channels; legal considerations for social channels; the impact of social channels on existing workloads; and the processes needed for social media such as forecasting, staffing, scheduling and quality improvement.

The new training and testing competencies will give call center managers a better sense of how to collect and analyze social media without forgetting the customer, said Haas, an enterprise services manager for State Farm, who is also an Advisory Council member.

If anything, the retooled certification emphasizes that a call center should be the backbone of a company’s integration of social media, he said.

Linda Riggs, the training director for ICMI, agreed. No matter how new a channel is and how it functions, “it’s still a channel,” she said. Riggs added: “No matter what channel someone’s going to come through … they’re still paying a visit to you.”

Aside from incorporating social media, the phrasing in some training and testing sections was streamlined to be less wordy, Riggs said. “It’s a very intensive process. We want to make sure it’s succinct in what we say, and everything we say can be translated in many countries,” she said.

J.D. Power is another provider that expects to include new testing criteria for technologies such as social media in its 2013 call center certification.

The certification program through CIAC will continue to be based on domains that cover leadership, operations, technologies and staff management, Riggs said.

After Web training, CIAC administers a test on each of the four domains. Recertification is required every three years, but instead of taking a test, the applicant writes an essay on work experience and earns credits that are approved by CIAC.

About 600 people have been certified, and about 900 are going through the process, which can last up to 18 months.

Coca-Cola Refreshments has 1,300 contact center agents handling tasks as diverse as dealing with in-house equipment, conducting business-to-business transactions and handling basic customer service issues. Seven people, all managers underneath Gemmill, are CIAC certified.

Sometimes, managers fail to completely connect company goals to their work, but with certification, they start to recognize how steps such as budgeting and involving employees in decisions fit with the company vision, Gemmill said. Without certification, they could connect the dots but “never be able to buy in to the dots,” he said.

The training and testing of CIAC makes them say, “Now I know why the leaders stress vision, and why my daily metrics tie back into the organization,” Gemmill said.

Haas leads a small group of in-house consultants who assist in the managing of more than 15,000 call center representatives at State Farm. Like Haas, six of those consultants are CIAC certified.

“My team has some core principles they can go to,” he said. “It’s a validation of thought. It gives us the confidence to say, ‘This is how it is.’ ”

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