For years, the widespread belief has been that technical knowledge and technical certification contributes most to career development success for support professionals. According to recent surveys however, soft skills are far more important than technical skills to reach the top of the support career ladder. In fact, IT Training magazine reports that 96% of survey respondents judged communication skills and interpersonal skills (i.e., soft skills) as the most important contributor to achieving career success.
This white paper will discuss in detail the benefits of soft skills certification and training for support professionals at all levels. We’ve defined the support professional as one who serves internal and/or external customers in a technical support, help desk, support center, or customer support role. This paper serves as a guide to the support practitioner and the support manager. In addition to discussing the benefits of soft skill certification and training to the practitioner, team, and management, we’ll discuss its impact on business and the organization, benefits to end customers, and available certification and certification training programs.
What Are Soft Skills?
For support professionals, soft skills refer to anything that falls outside of the traditional product and development skill set. Soft skills are the ability to communicate effectively, promote teamwork within your organization, present ideas, manage projects and people, solve problems, and provide excellent customer care. Soft skills also include strategic thinking, managing processes and technologies, promoting the support center within your organization, and building upon customer relationships. Soft skills are anything but soft. They’re critical to the success of the business. Regardless of career level, they’re also absolutely essential skills to have for fostering career development. For an individual, certification can make the difference in advancement and hiring decisions. From an organizational standpoint, certification elevates employees to a higher level of service and dedication, leading to an increased return on investment (ROI) of an organization’s employees.
Benefits of Soft Skills Certification
Certification of skills isn’t new to technical support professionals. However, technical skills and technical certifications don’t necessarily translate into the ability to effectively and efficiently communicate with customers who are experiencing difficulties with their technology. Development of soft skills adds balance and interpersonal skills savvy to technical talents. Certification of soft skills proves experience, dedication to customers, and quality communication skills. When marketing the support center to your customers – and the rest of the organization – certification is a powerful weapon. Customers are assured that the company sincerely cares about the level of service provided and development of its employees. The organization (and C-level management) is confident that the support team members can quickly and efficiently solve issues, provide outstanding service, and contribute to the improvement of processes, products, and services. With budget cuts and smaller work teams, certification programs help to keep employees motivated and working towards exceeding performance goals.
Benefits to Individuals
- Recognition from the industry, employer, and peers
- New employment opportunities
- Promotion and advancement opportunities
- Increased ability to perform on the job
- Increased responsibilities
- Lifelong credentials
- Professional accomplishment
Benefits to Organizations
- Increased credibility with customers
- Increased customer satisfaction
- More productive employees
- Out-service the competition
- Increased employee ROI
- Strong teams and leadership
- Demonstrated dedication to customer service and support
- Measurable results and improvements
- Demonstrated knowledge and expertise of service and support strategies, processes, and technologies
- Incentives, rewards, and challenges for employees
Benefits to Hiring Managers and Human Resources Managers
- Certification is accepted and recognized by the service and support industry
- Demonstrates service and support expertise and dedication
- Screening tool for prospective employees
- Employees have customer-centric skills to be successful from day one
The Concepts Behind Certification
When exploring certification programs, HDI recommends that content (or standards) behind the certification designation include these concepts:
Roles, Service Skills, and Competencies
Understanding the role of the support professional and the role of the support organization within the business is the foundation for developing higher-level, “big picture” service skills. Providing consistent, high-quality support enables the organization to perform at peak levels. The support representative or analyst is often the first – and possibly only – point of contact for customers. Therefore, it is imperative that positive customer experiences are the norm. HDI studies show that 68% of business is lost because customers felt that they received poor service. Certification and training ensures that customers receive the highest quality service possible (and that they perceive this to be true). Simply stated, solving the customer’s problem isn’t enough.
Support Processes, Tools, and Methodologies
Your customers should move through a seamless experience when requesting support. Developing goals, mission statements, and a support “culture”, as well as mapping processes and selecting the best tools and technologies for internal requirements and customer needs, are necessary for maximum efficiency on the back end, and to provide optimal experiences to your customers. Certification and training means that analysts know how to develop internal processes, develop and manage service levels, measure performance, and are aware of the tools that must be in place for seamless customer experiences. Certification and training also ensure the analyst’s ability to evaluate and select tools, implement change management, and understand network and systems management.
Customer Relationships and Problem Solving
Being customer-centric is more than a strategy for the support organization – it’s the mission. Certification and training leads to analysts who can communicate and listen more effectively than before, and who are extremely skilled at building rapport, showing empathy, resolving conflicts, and negotiating to come to a conclusion and/or resolution that’s mutually beneficial for the company and the customer. Incorporating creativity into problem solving provides additional, new perspectives to solve the unique needs of each customer. Identifying problems, analyzing root causes, generating options, and developing action plans requires critical thinking skills and the follow-through to evaluate process improvements and implement change.
Strong, functional teams are pivotal to the success of the support organization; successful teams receive support from management, communicate openly, receive effective incentives, are flexible, and together create procedures and processes to ensure consistent levels of support. Soft skill certification and training programs promote effective leadership, rapport, ownership, and responsibility. Certified managers know how to choose team members, analyze skill sets, evaluate performance, retain staff, and measure performance. Last, but certainly not least, managers must constantly promote teambuilding within their organizations.
Building The Infrastructure and Technology Management
Customer contact systems, knowledge management systems, computer telephony integration (CTI), integrated servers, self-help tools, and more, build the technology infrastructure of the support center. Certification attests to knowledge of infrastructure technologies and tools, TCO of support technologies, understanding of process improvement, and options for business contingency planning (disaster recovery). If tasked with setting up a help-desk, or are responsible for re-engineering an existing support center, or manage a center, certification is a testament to abilities. If more education is needed, certification training can help make projects successful.
Strategic plans are developed from department vision and mission statements that are aligned with the mission and vision statements for your organization. They also position service and support offerings as strategic leverage points to increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction, and enhance business success. Certification proves the ability and mastery of strategic planning, marketing of the help desk or support center, problem solving and reasoning skills, root cause analysis, support planning synergies with the remainder of the organization, and escalations.
Career development means more than a promotion; it’s the ability to adapt and flex with changing situations, delegate responsibility, to remain focused on the task at hand (as well as the larger issue), communicate goals and objectives, make decisions, and manage projects from beginning to end. Managers must professionally develop themselves as well as their teams. Certification assures the ability to manage time, personal development, and to professionally develop staff.
Choosing Soft Skill Certification and Certification Training Programs
There are several soft skill certification programs available for support professionals. Choose a program that is widely accepted and recognized for its standards. A committee of practitioners and industry leaders should develop the standards, and should be responsible for maintaining and improving the standards over time. As the support field gains in its importance, responsibilities, and recognition, the certification should evolve as well. Following are more helpful hints for evaluating soft skill certification and certification training programs:
- Standards developed and certification preparation courses taught by certified instructors who are practitioners, not just teachers or “talkers”
- Objectives should focus upon the industry, teamwork, people, customer situations and customer service, resolution tactics, processes, problem solving, and support technologies
- Inclusion of career path development in the standards and/or curriculum
- Soft skills should correlate directly to the needs of the help desk or support center: decision-making, risk analysis, consistency of service, measurement and metrics, knowledge-sharing, and process development
- Proctored exams assist to ensure preparation and knowledge