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February 2009 | Volume 27 / Number 9
Compliance Desk

ATA Self-Regulatory Organization Moves Forward

By Brendan B. Read (News - Alert)
Senior Contributing Editor, Customer Interaction Solutions

The more individuals and firms look over their own shoulders and make sure that they comply with both the spirit and letter of laws and regulations the less need there will be for governments to do this for them.

That is the thinking behind self-regulation, and the American Teleservices Association (ATA) has been taking steps to achieve that goal. The ATA Self-Regulatory Organization (ATA-SRO), set to encourage and enable compliance self-management in the teleservices industry, has gone fully live with its SRO auditor certification program. It has also certified its first contact center.

The first group of these certification training courses took place in late 2008 at the University of Akron’s Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing. ATA Corporate Counsel Mitch Roth, an attorney and partner with Williams Mullen led the instruction.

Ten people received Certified Auditor status from the ATA-SRO and can now conduct compliance reviews for companies seeking formal industry accreditation. These individuals are Ted Bernard (Influent, Inc.), Matt Cagle (Compliance Point), Bernard Goulet (Call Compliance (News - Alert) Inc.), Rob Marshall (360CRM), Angela Morris (Quality Contact Solutions Inc.), Paul Santry (360CRM), Michelle Shuster (MacMurray, Cook, Peterson & Shuster, LLP), Mary Kay Simpson (The Allant Group), Ken Sponsler (Compliance Point), Dave Sutcliffe (360CRM).

The ATA-SRO auditors certified their first teleservices firm, The Charlton Group, which is based in Madison, Wis. The company was presented to the ATA-SRO Board of Trustees for final validation and subsequent accreditation.

“It was a real honor to be selected as the first teleservices firm in the United States to go through the rigorous process and to pass the test, “ says Charlton's Director of Compliance Mick Bennett “We made a conscious decision five years ago to embrace compliance and to turn it into a core competency. We believe the accreditation demonstrates our focus on high quality and consumer friendly services. We also want to commend the ATA for its leadership and foresight in establishing the SRO. We have no doubt that it marks a significant and positive inflection point in the way our industry operates.”

The ATA plans to conduct more auditor certification classes throughout 2009. Preliminary scheduling indicates that there will be a minimum of two more auditor certification classes conducted at the Taylor Institute. This facility and staff has proven to be an ideal location for the auditor training classes, says the ATA. It provides a locale that is both centrally located in the country and offers conservative travel expenses (Cleveland’s Hopkins Airport is 45 minutes away).

Also the ATA SRO will unveil the newest enhancements to their program in Washington D.C. “ATA Summit” in April 2009. The next auditor certification class will likely follow in May.

The growing interest and popularity of the ATA SRO program is well-justified. The SRO has set standards displayed on the ATA SRO website, www.atasroconnect.org that ATA members and non-members can certify to. These standards and protocols not only meet but in some cases exceed the regulatory requirements mandated by state and federal governance. Compliance is assured through record auditing by a Certified Auditor, utilizing compliance auditing software specifically designed for the ATA-SRO. The ATA hopes that its program becomes the definitive litmus test of compliance in the contact center industry. Its goal is to design a system based upon legislative requirements whereby companies can both empirically self assess and seek external evaluation on best practices and risk minimization.

The ATA SRO, its audit methodology and supporting software turns what has been a somewhat subjective compliance protocol into an easily adoptable blend of compliance observation and mechanized evaluation of adherence to best practices as dictated by governmental guidance and industry leadership. What has been absent from the contact center industry for far too long, says the ATA, is an centralized measuring tool whereby managers can ensure that their operations are effectively risk managed by both self assessment and independent auditors; these two stages that are inherent in the ATA SRO audit process.

In creating the ATA SRO the ATA expects that many companies will attempt to adhere to state and federal guidelines, however until such time as some form of universal compliance model exists they may or may not know if they are reaching best practices benchmarks. The ATA in conjunction with ATA SRO Trustee companies (including Fortune 500 and smaller enterprises) has recognized the absence of this universal benchmark. They have delivered the first authoritative auditing process for compliance in many respects similar to those assurance audits in other professional fields.

Taking components from other professional licensing models, the ATA SRO certifies its independent auditors for limited periods of time after which they must renew their certification. Equally important is the nature of the ATA SRO accreditation process to companies. Not unlike a financial accounting audit, companies that achieve the ATA SRO seal of accreditation receive that award subject to the audit performed at that point in time. It is imperative to the SRO that both the auditors certified and the companies accredited remain educated and continuously compliant. Therefore, and as should be expected, the ATA SRO has crafted a plan to deliver authoritative, unbiased processes and tools with ongoing compliance as a universal industry goal.

The scope of a firm’s audit is up to the company itself, based on selecting either inbound or outbound channels for audit or both. Companies can even send their internal compliance officers or staff to be trained in the auditing process and support tools.

How can the SRO process be of benefit? The ATA says that corporate executives or managers saddled with risk management responsibilities tied to contact center operations should have external tools whereby they can obtain unbiased and report driven status of their compliance protocols. This is the exact purpose of the audit software. Have staff trained in policy, trained in the SRO analytic software and self assess to determine where your company is vulnerable. Firms may then enlist the independent auditor to evaluate it, deliver conclusive findings to the ATA SRO and be potentially accredited by the organization.

There are no hard and fast costs and timeframes for the ATA SRO audits and certifications owing to the great diversity between companies and the scale of contact centers. So much is determined by the size of audited operations as well as the geography involved. Nevertheless, the ATA says the process is designed to be comprehensive, relatively non-operationally constrictive yet performed as quickly as those involved can devote to the exercise.

The SRO program continues to mature. 2008 could be viewed as the ‘beta’ year for the initiative. Deployment with successes in both certifying auditors and accrediting a company has proven that the ATA SRO is a viable tool. Originally focused on expressly for independent auditing, the past year has revealed a desire for internal staff of companies to have the benefits of the SRO procedure, thereby providing further evidence of ATA SRO program’s merit.

Might the program expand beyond and conduct training elsewhere? That will be determined as the ATA SRO grows in adoption. Consider any of the now familiar professional licensing programs. They, too, started with noble initiatives to administer the benchmarks of professional business conduct. The ATA SRO aspires, in years ahead, to be the recognized facilitator of this conduct for the contact center industry.

Have home-based agents? Ask them to recycle/e-cycle their old computers, printers

Computers and other electronic items do wear out. Instead of tossing them into the trash, where their toxic materials can poison the water supply as well as create huge landfills, ask your home agents when they are faced with buying/obtaining from you new units to recycle old ones instead.

There are now more opportunities to become part of the solution through e-waste recycling or e-cycling. Two more states, Oregon and Washington began e-cycling on Jan.1 for computers, monitors, and TVs though for not other devices such as cellphones, mice, and printers. Oregon also has a prod; beginning in 2010 it will be illegal to dump computers and TVs.

There are now 17 states with similar programs; the National Center for Electronics Recycling www.electronicsrecycling.org tracks such laws. It estimates that just under-50 percent of the U.S. population is now covered by such measures. They should be making a dent in the mountains of electronic garbage created in the U.S. in 2007 Americans generated about 232 million units of computer and TV-related e-waste, of which only 18 percent was recycled.

Washington State estimates that it will collect and process over 20 million pounds of electronic waste in the first year of operations; the state has about 6.4 million residents. It has set up network will include over 200 individual collection sites, in every county in the state and in every city or town with a population greater than 10,000.

Yet unlike in other states that have set up similar programs, such as California, where consumers must pay to dispose, Oregon's and Washington State's are paid for by manufacturers and free to consumers. Officials say that provision will give incentives to participate. The states also say they will closely monitor the programs to make sure the toxic boxes and pieces do not get dumped in other countries where e-waste disposal controls and methods are comparatively lax.

The Oregon and Washington State plans make sense because they adopt the polluter-pay principle, which if followed logically by manufacturers, will prod them to make more adaptable, longer lasting, and versatile products made of less nasty materials to limit waste and pollution. It should to kick them into making and reusing 'nonintelligent' items such as keyboards, keypads, and mice.

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