CUSTOMER Magazine recently spoke with Herb Williams-Dalgart, senior director of certification and performance improvement at J.D. Power, a leading market research company. We asked Herb to explain why organizations seek certification and to help us understand the benefits and challenges such organizations might face.
What are the benefits of a certification program?
There are seemingly countless types of certification, from compulsory certification to performance certification. No matter what type of certification an organization chooses to pursue, the most meaningful certification programs will help organizations build and support a culture of excellence, highlight peformance efforts to internal and external parties, and ensure key standards are consistently met. Call centers often look for these benefits, but they don’t always materialize when the wrong certification programs are chosen.
What are the main elements of a great certification program?
The right certification program for any organization should offer these three key elements:
1) Put customers first
The best certification programs begin with identifying the activities that matter most to the customers of the organizations being certified. For example, when a call center focuses on its own operational goals or business-related metrics without a connection to what customers want (or need), they convey the wrong message to employees and customers while emphasizing the wrong priorities. They’ll be admiring themselves, while their customers are admiring the competition. The best certification programs base their criteria on those activities most connected to delivering the experience customers want and need.
2) Go deeper than metrics
Certifying the elements of an excellent customer experience doesn’t mean simply measuring the outcomes. For certification to be truly meaningful, it has to measure the underlying processes. This is how organizations can be sure the experience they provide can be sustained. For example, we know that customers who call a contact center want their issue resolved within the first contact. Some practices that are implicit in successful first-contact resolution processes include the establishment of an effective call model, special emphasis in training, rep coaching, and an integrated quality assurance program. Metrics alone, such as first-contact resolution numbers, don’t always demonstrate that the practices underlying the results are either sustainable or appropriate. Sound certification programs dive much deeper so that when standards are met, they mean something important. Even when standards aren’t met, a deeper dive can help identify the most effective ways to correct the problems.
3) Offer credibility and impact
Finally, a truly effective certification program allows organizations to leverage the certifying entity’s brand reputation for independence, credibility, and high awareness by customers and employees. It’s important your customers understand that your certification isn’t a baseless marketing gimmick, but that it is the outcome of an independent and rigorous assessment conducted by a reputable company. Not only are J.D. Power certification programs built on factors known to drive customer satisfaction and other critical business results, but they are also backed by the expertise gained over 45 years of market research across numerous industries. For these reasons, J.D. Power certifications carry substantial weight among an organization’s internal stakeholders and customers.
Can certification ever be bad?
Pursuing the wrong certification standards can be costly. It’s important for organizations to ensure their certification efforts align with their business goals, have the appropriate impact on customer satisfaction, and have a positive cultural impact among employees and executives who work together to achieve certification. People support what they believe in. J.D. Power bases its programs on the customer experience delivered by top performers and the expectations their customers have, even as those expectations evolve. We update our criteria and benchmarks annually—and we base those benchmarks on cross-industry best practices—all in service to organizations that want to use our certification programs to differentiate themselves from competitors.
Are there pitfalls to avoid when pursuing even good certification programs?
Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” The greatest pitfall in pursuing certification is the lack of adequate preparation. The most credible programs also provide the tools and assistance organizations need before pursuing certification. J.D. Power has many legacy clients who pursue certification year after year because they know we’ll be there to support their efforts all along the way.
To learn about J.D. Power’s suite of solutions for the contact center industry, visit jdpower.com/contactcenter
Edited by Stefania Viscusi