Firms Seek International Standards Certification as Competitive Edge

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Teleservices firms are among the latest businesses that are sharpening their competitive edge by registering under comprehensive quality management programs such as ISO 9000.

The ISO 9000 is a group of guidelines created in 1987 and revised in 1994 by the International Organization for Standards for Quality Management in Geneva. The program comprises a series of procedures designed to ensure a quality product that meets the needs of its users.

"There will be 100,000 US companies registered for ISO 9000 within 10 years easily," said Roger Leach, a certificate manager at ISOQAR, a Wellesley, MA-based company that assesses companies to determine if they meet ISO 9000 standards. "The reason that it's expanding so rapidly is that customers are making it a requirement to bid."

Leach noted that 127,000 companies in 150 countries currently hold ISO 9000 certification. Included in that number are 16,000 US companies; only a very small portion are teleservices firms, according to Leach.

TCIM, a Wilmington, DE-based teleservices company that caters primarily to financial services, insurance and telecommunications customers, is one such firm. ISOQAR granted TCIM certification last May and will audit the company every six months for the first two years and once a year thereafter to ensure it continues meeting the ISO 9000 standards.

"It's almost like a financial audit. They sit down and look at the whole process of how you manage your systems," said Owen O'Neill, TCIM's director of quality. "They walk through the whole process, they look at your paperwork and they interview everybody in the company down to the TSAs."

TCIM is also required to develop an internal audit team, comprising members from its various departments.

"One of the things about the internal auditing team is that you cannot have an auditing team leader from your own unit," said Linda C. Drake, TCIM's CEO. "It helped us a great deal in helping people cross train and understand other people's jobs. It's also helped us to uphold internal standards of performance, because it is more independent than a self-policing mechanism."

Drake believes that she has added some new clients since obtaining the certification. She is also hearing of other teleservices teams attempting to get their ISO 9000 registration.

"One of the things that we feel strongly about is that the world is becoming an increasingly competitive global marketplace," she said, "and we feel very strongly that that creates a compelling demand for consistency and documentation."

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