Code of conduct Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2008

The call center industry often gets lumped with used car sales as a business with no scruples. These days, that’s both untrue and unfair. The better companies in the field do subscribe to a solid code of ethics and toe the line on industry-approved standards.

A call center with high standards will do a better job selling itself and, more importantly, selling its clients. It goes beyond simply being polite when dialing — today’s call centers must deal with credit card numbers and other personal data.

“As with any business, a teleservices company must find the best way to be profitable while also being a good corporate citizen and respecting the effects of its decisions on consumers, clients, employees and the community in general,” says Steve Brubaker, the senior vice president of corporate affairs at InfoCision Management Corp.

Smart Business spoke with Brubaker about the new standards of business ethics, where to look for ethical guidance and how to conduct ethical teleservices.

How are business ethics important to the teleservices industry?

There is a link between firms that practice ethical behavior and firms that are successful. According to a piece in the May 15, 2007 Harvard Business Review by Lynn Sharp Paine, research shows that avoiding misconduct and practicing good corporate citizenship contributes to a positive reputation, and that firms convicted of wrongdoing often experience lower returns in succeeding years. In addition, Paine states that a company’s ethics have important implications for its functioning as an organization, its ability to manage risk, its reputation in the marketplace and its standing in the community.

Ethics are also important to the teleservices industry because companies deal with sensitive consumer information, as they can generate tens of thousands of transactions on a daily basis. At a time when we hear horror stories about identity theft and security breaches, how you collect, store and transmit consumer information is of the highest importance. A single breach can severely hurt a teleservices company’s reputation and the reputation of the client on whose behalf it is taking or making calls and incur strict action from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

What organizations help define ethical standards for teleservices companies?

The American Teleservices Association (ATA) Self-Regulatory Organization (SRO) was formed in 2006 with the goal of vetting practical standards to create positive interactions between teleservices providers and consumers. The SRO interprets all of the complex laws and regulations at both the state and federal levels. However, the SRO goes beyond current legislation, in that it attempts to find the practices we can use to eliminate negative factors for consumers while also protecting our legitimate business interests and those of our clients.

The SRO has published standards that cover areas of interest, such as privacy, call monitoring, calls from charities, compliance, state registration requirements, and a host of other topics that affect teleservices companies, their clients and consumers. The standards address these issues as they stand currently and leave open the door for further dialogue in the future.

What is considered when forming an ethical standard?

The SRO examines duties, rights, best practices and commitments to determine the proper course of action in given circumstances. What are the moral obligations of teleservices companies? What kinds of conduct are desirable, even if not required? What behaviors are other entities, including clients, consumers and suppliers, entitled to expect? What behaviors fulfill our own vision of our industry and our individual companies as one that is highly ethical? What will be the effect of a given decision on each stakeholder involved, and are we maximizing benefits and minimizing negatives for all? These are the questions we ask when formulating ethical standards for the teleservices industry.

How do you ensure that your company and employees follow these ethical standards?

This is critical. Clients expect you to operate in an ethical manner at all times. Build ethical and legal behavior into your IT infrastructure to take ethical decisions out of employee hands and make sure those decisions are being made at the senior management level. This way, the employee does not have to be responsible for checking do-not-call lists or following specific calling regulations, which can vary from state to state. Audit these IT processes regularly to make sure that the systems work as they should.

A dedication to corporate ethics, in any company, must come from the top down, and management should provide employees with a solid example of how to utilize the ethical standards the company has adopted. Ethical behavior must be stressed to new employees as part of their training programs, built into employees’ daily routines, and be rewarded at bonus and review times.

STEVE BRUBAKER is senior vice president of corporate affairs at InfoCision Management Corp., Akron, Ohio. In business for more than 25 years, InfoCision Management Corporation is the second-largest privately held teleservices company and a leading provider of customer care services, commercial sales and marketing for a variety of Fortune 100 companies and smaller businesses. InfoCision is also a leader of inbound and outbound marketing for nonprofit, religious and political organizations. InfoCision operates 32 call centers at 13 locations throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. For more information, visit www.infocision.com.