Getting a professional certification can be a great way to learn new skills and gain an edge over your competition. Whether you’re a seasoned customer service professional or are new to the industry, completing a certification program in customer service or support can help advance your career and open up new job opportunities. But how do you choose the right one?
To find out, we spoke to industry experts from customer service certification programs at leading professional organizations. They described the certifications these programs offer, what skills these certifications teach and how earning them can benefit your career. Here’s what we found.
The Customer Service Institute of America
|Certified Customer Service Manager, Level 1||60 hours||$1,350||Customer service supervisors or managers who want to develop their skills.|
|Certified Customer Service Manager, Advanced||70 hours||$1,025||Customer service managers, department leads or executives who want to develop their skills or advance their position.|
|Certified Customer Service Manager, Level 1 With Advanced (Combined)||115 hours||$2,125||Customer service supervisors, managers, department leads or executives who want to develop their skills or advance their position.|
Recognized internationally and accredited by the International Council of Customer Service Organizations, the Certified Customer Service Manager (CCSM) program is an excellent choice for current supervisors and managers looking to expand their skillsets and/or advance their careers.
Offered by leading professional organization the Customer Service Institute of America (CSIA), this certification is a requirement for full CSIA membership.
There are two levels within the CCSM designation: “Level 1” and “Advanced.” Students must complete Level 1 to be eligible for Advanced, and can opt to complete both levels of training at once.
The courses are self-directed, meaning there is no classroom requirement: courses must simply be completed within 24 months. After receiving a certification, students can keep it current by writing one article or book review on a business or customer service topic each year.
The CCSM program provides students with valuable managerial training that they might not receive on the job, says the CSIA’s Executive Director, Christine Churchill Burke.
This training, which draws upon metrics and real-world case studies, gives students “an understanding of the importance of service throughout an organization, and how to drive that throughout the various departments,” she says. “The ‘science’ of service is not something many organizations execute or study.”
Churchill Burke adds that CCSM certification has helped many graduates move up in their careers.
“Most that report back to me advance to higher positions within the organization: if they are a supervisor, they move to manager. Many Advanced-level graduates often have positions created for them at an executive level as part of an organization’s strategic plan,” she says. “All have attributed their certification as the differentiator that led to the offer.”
CSIA’s curriculum covers:
- Best practices for increasing market share, customer retention and customer loyalty;
- How to nurture and develop leadership skills for influencing, correcting and leading a customer-driven organization;
- How to create and manage rewards and recognition programs;
- How to manage attendance and retain staff;
- How to identify and implement relevant technological solutions; and
- How to develop a scorecard to measure and predict customer service performance.
|Customer Service Representative||8 hours||$1,395 classroom, $645 online||Frontline technical support staff who want to learn how to handle difficult customers, manage and prioritize incidents and provide better customer service.|
|Desktop Support Technician||16 hours||$1,395 classroom, $645 online||Technical support professionals who want to provide better in-person support and enhance their customer service skills.|
|Support Center Team Lead||16 hours||$1,595 classroom, $745 online||Technical support professionals who want to advance to supervisor or team lead positions, who are new to support management roles or who want to enhance their existing leadership skills.|
|Support Center Manager||24 hours||$1,895 (classroom only)||Experienced support professionals who want to advance to management positions, who are new to management or who want to develop their existing leadership skills.|
|Desktop Support Manager||24 hours||$1,895 (classroom only)||Experienced in-person support professionals who want to advance to management positions, who are new to management or who want to develop their existing leadership skills.|
|Support Center Director||24 hours||$2,795 (classroom only)||Experienced support professionals who want to advance to a directorial position, who are new to senior leadership positions or who want to develop the necessary skills for leading a support organization.|
HDI is the world’s largest membership association for technical service and support professionals and is the leading certification body for the tech support industry. In partnership with IT educational provider ITpreneurs, HDI offers seven certifications for technical service and support personnel in a help desk, service desk, technical support center or customer care center setting.
HDI offers both instructor-led classroom courses and self-paced online courses, all of which cumulate in a certification exam. HDI’s certifications are role-specific, ranging from entry-level customer service representative to support center director.
There are certifications focusing on support roles that are primarily virtual (over the phone, chat and email) as well as on those providing on-site or “deskside” support.
Rick Joslin, executive director of certification and training at HDI, says that while many of those who complete HDI’s certification programs are sent by their employers as part of training for current roles, they also see professionals completing certifications in order to open up better job prospects.
“A professional who started their career as a support center analyst may be promoted to a team lead or a support center manager, or even become a support director. HDI provides the certifications to assist them with this career progression,” Joslin says.
“As individuals expand their certification transcript[s], they are increasing their value to their current employer and future employers.”
In fact, according to the Robert Half Technology Salary Guide, professionals holding HDI certifications earn a starting salary that is 5 percent higher than those without them.
All of HDI’s programs cover the following basic material:
- The individual’s role in the support center and the overall business
- Vocal and written communication skills
- Problem-solving and troubleshooting skills
- How to handle conflict and difficult customers
- How to manage stress and maintain a positive attitude
- Service level agreements and standard operating procedures
- Service delivery methods and technology
- Contact ownership and call handling procedures
- Time management techniques
In addition, each certification covers more specialized material applicable to the role:
Introductory-Level Certifications: Customer Service Representative, Support Center Analyst, Desktop Support Technician
The Customer Service Representative course teaches quality assurance and call handling procedures for non-technical, entry-level service center personnel. The Support Center Analyst course, aimed at entry-level technical support staff, covers support center processes and operations.
The Desktop Support Technician certification, designed for members of in-house technical support staff, focuses on in-person communication skills such as body language, as well as desktop support processes and procedures.
Mid-Level Certification: Support Center Team Lead
The Support Center Team Lead certification provides more in-depth information and skills training that mid-level support supervisors need. The coursework teaches help desk processes and operations, including business planning, strategy, metrics and quality assurance.
It also focuses on broader managerial techniques, such as: training and managing a workforce, communication and coaching skills, fostering teamwork, motivating and retaining employees, leadership skills, emotional intelligence and managing workplace relationships.
Upper-Level Certification: Support Center Manager, Desktop Support Manager, Support Center Director
These certifications prepare senior-level support staff for careers in management or executive leadership. They cover the same coursework as the mid-level certifications, plus a few additional leadership and help desk modules.
The Support Center Manager curriculum covers support center evolution and strategy, as well as support center marketing techniques. The Desktop Support Manager course also teaches desktop support operations, service delivery methods and technology, IT financial management and desktop support marketing.
The Support Center Director curriculum takes this training to a higher level. In addition to what is covered in the managerial courses, this certification teaches students executive leadership and people management, best practices and frameworks for managing a business, organizational development and service ethics, how to market the support center and how to create and present a business case.
Service Strategies Corporation
|Customer Service Representative||8 hours||$500 classroom; $199 online||New or experienced customer service representatives, call coordinators, service dispatchers and other non-technical support professionals who want to deliver better customer service.|
|Support Professional||16 hours||$1,195 classroom; $399 online||Recently-hired technical support professionals of all levels who want to deliver better service.|
|Support Specialist||16 hours||$1,995 (classroom only)||Senior-level support professionals who want to advance to senior support analyst and engineer positions.|
|Support Supervisor||24 hours||$1,995 (classroom only)||Service professionals who want to advance to supervisor or team lead positions, or who are new to service and support management roles.|
|Support Manager||36 hours||$3,600 (classroom only)||Support managers with at least one year of management experience, or support directors who want to develop their existing leadership skills.|
|Service Executive Leadership||40 hours||$4,000 (classroom only)||Senior-level service professionals who want to advance to such positions as: general manager, senior vice president, vice president, senior director or director.|
Service Strategies Corporation is a global service improvement company that focuses specifically on service and support in the technology space. It offers training and certification programs for individual and leadership development, with classes both online and in-person. To date, they’ve certified over 5,000 people around the world.
All certification programs are role-based, says Greg Coleman, vice president of strategic programs. While these certifications can be obtained by professionals at any stage of their career, the courses are most useful for those who already work in a support role (in fact, most people who enroll are sent by their employer).
These courses, Coleman says, can help accelerate the learning and development process professionals experience on the job.
Coleman notes that these certification programs are very intense. “It’s really like an MBA for customer support,” he says. “There’s homework, there [are] quizzes and there is a certification exam… at the end of the course.”
The “individual development” certifications—Customer Service Representative and Support Professional—are geared towards professionals who are newer to the field, and some companies use these programs as new-hire training, Coleman says.
The leadership-level courses are often taken by professionals who have just been promoted into a supervisory or managerial position, but don’t yet have the skills they need. However, these certifications may also be taken by seasoned professionals who want to improve upon their existing skills and knowledge.
Nils Krumins, product support manager at FICO, says that the Support Manager and Service Executive Leadership courses taught him valuable things he couldn’t learn in the field, even though he has been in management for most of his career.
While much of managers’ daily activities can become second nature, Krumins says, “this course fills in the gaps with science, methodology… best practices, pitfalls, explanations, strategies, behaviors, motivations, indicators, statistics, financials etc., so that we now can better understand and frame every situation, and thus make more informed decisions.”
He adds that instructors’ use of examples from their own experience in the service industry helped drive this knowledge home.
While Krumins isn’t in the market for a new position, he says that these types of certifications can certainly help recruiters take notice of those who are looking for better opportunities. Since earning his certifications, he says, “traffic on my LinkedIn account has certainly picked up!”
Here’s what Service Strategies’ certifications cover:
Introductory-Level Certifications: Customer Service Representative, Support Professional
The Customer Service Representative course is designed for entry-level, non-technical service personnel. In this course, students learn how to provide professional service and communicate effectively, how to manage the call and the customer, how to provide service that goes above and beyond and how to manage stress and burnout.
Aimed at entry-level technical support staff, Support Professional course material covers how to manage customer perceptions, the “four levels of learning,” the “four energy profiles,” how to listen and communicate effectively and best practices for different methods of communication.
Mid-Level Certifications: Support Specialist, Support Supervisor
These certifications help mid-level staff prepare for supervisory or team-leader support center roles. The Support Specialist course focuses more on technical issue resolution.
It covers such material as: how to use listening techniques to shorten resolution time and increase efficiency, how to use creative and critical thinking to solve problems and make decisions, negotiation and conflict-resolution skills, support center metrics, managing knowledge resources and mentoring and teamwork skills.
The Support Supervisor certification is oriented more towards leadership and management. Course material includes: how to foster open, effective communication, the dimensions of leadership in a support center, team development and strategies, how to motivate, recognize and coach employees, change and distance management and staff planning and career support.
Upper-Level Certification: Support Manager, Service Executive Leadership
Service Strategies’ Support Manager certification helps students prepare for senior-level leadership and management roles within the support organization. Course material covers managerial leadership, behavior and values, how to lead a knowledge-based organization, how to manage virtual support teams and how to effectively develop the “service product” and deliver it to customers.
The Service Executive Leadership certification gives students the training they need for the service organization’s most prestigious executive roles. Curriculum includes leadership principles, strategic intent and direction, customer centricity, how to standardize and personalize service operations and how to increase customer-focused behavior in every employee.
Krumins recommends customer service certification programs to anyone who wants to advance their career.
“The certification delivers the message that you’ve got the right stuff,” he says. “You’ve invested extra time and effort to drive personal growth and development, and you’ve studied your craft and demonstrated your understanding and knowledge to the foremost experts in the field.”
Whether you choose to pursue certification for your own career development or at your employer’s request, these programs can teach you valuable new skills and information that you might not get on the job. Customer service and support certification programs can help you grow professionally, deliver better service—and, ultimately, move up in your career.