ISO Positions Customers at the Epicenter of Contact Center Delivery

Ask any customer making use of any contact center anywhere in the world and you will receive comments of frustration, according to the "Contact Center Consumer Perception" research conducted by Clif Johnson for ISO/COPOLCO - ISO's committee on consumer policy, conducted in 2010.

It was on the back of the COPOLCO survey that it was decided that an international standard to support customers engaging with contact centers was required. And so began the robust four-year journey of creating a two-part customer-focused service standard for both customer contact centers as well as the clients procuring services from contact centers, regardless of wherther they are run in house or outsourced).

A technical committee, composed of a global team of business process outsourcing (BPO) and contact center experts, including clients and operators as well as consumer-focused representatives, was formed to develop the standards.

"ISO 18295 Customer contact centers -- Part 1: Requirements for Customer Contact Centers" specifies service requirements for the contact center in the form of a framework that provides clients and customers with services that aim to continuously and proactively meet or exceed their needs. Key areas include customer relationship requirements, from how information is being communicated through to customers, how the overlay of customer experience is both measured and monitored, and how complaints are handled. It ensures that customer protection is embedded across the contact center.

In addition, Part 1 considers a customer-focused leadership approach that should be engrained across the centers' customer experience design and delivered, which, of course, would not be possible without employee engagement and satisfaction as key pillars. All human resources aspects are covered, from various functions through to required competency expectations when contact center representatives interact with customers. It also features the necessary continuous skills development required for engaging customers.

All operational processes thatimpact the customer experience are considered, including workforce management and quality assurance related to customer interactions. For a top service delivery infrastructure to be achieved, handling of customer interactions, management of customer data, the actual environment, and continuity of service are brought to the fore.

Often overlooked is advice on how best to work with the contact centers' clients, whether they are internal or third-party operators contracted as an outsourced partner. The contract overview considers both customers' needs and how customers' expectations are met between the two contracting parties. Importantly, the service standards offer how the contact center should monitor performance against metrics (KPIs) to identify opportunities for improvement and recommend what best practice would apply and how to achieve this. The metrics play a fundamental role in ensuring consistency in global measurement and, thus, reporting, so that all contact centers (regardless of geography) are able to speak a common reporting language.

"ISO 18295 Customer Contact Centers -- Part 2: Requirements for Clients Using the Services of Customer Contact Centers" ensures complete customer centricity by focusing on the clients' role via the contact center so the customer is not left in the lurch between the two functioning entities. This ensures that the company promise is delivered seamlessly to the customer.

A universal customer frustration is around the consistency of information received and the assurance that data is being protected. These two aspects are built into the standards, and the client is advised via ISO 18295 Part 2 to contract a contact center that is certified to part 1. This, in turn, will establish that the contact center has the requisite knowledge to support customers ethically and consistently while safeguarding customer data and privacy.

Where applicable, customer-facing operational processes are agreed between the two entities, such as the monitoring of the contact center's performance. A built-in customer feedback process is agreed so the customer is supported across the brand journey and areas falling outside of the mandate of the contact center are captured for the clients' attention.

We already know that standardization improves the customer value proposition. ISO 18295 Parts 1 and 2 focus on the customer as the central point and ensure that the outcomes for the customer experience are achieved from a customer's perspective. In addition, joint responsibility for the clients' customer service requirements via the contact center and the employees is firmly established and supported.

Traci Freeman, a managing member of Believe Consulting, convened the working group that developed ISO 18295-1 and ISO 18295-2. She has a long track record of working with diverse sector and trade associations and philanthropic and nonprofit organizations across numerous service sectors running projects locally in South Africa and other countries. She was instrumental in launching international BPO benchmark certification COPC into South Africa and continued working with creation teams for the South African Business Process Services standards (SANS 990: 1-3). She currently chairs the local Standards Technical Committee. She is also involved as an expert on the revision panel of the current Contact Centre National Qualification Framework – NQF's skills qualification certification OFO143905 for Contact Center Manager/Workforce Manager Qualification, and Part Qualification Team Leader/Supervisor. She holds a board position on ICCCA (Independent Contact Centre Consultants Association), the South African-borne international voluntary association of customer experience and contact center industry specialists (