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Navigating the world of professional certification and training options, alongside other dispatches from the new global workplace.

National Retail Federation's National Professional Certification in Customer Service

Thursday 5 December 2013

So I'm back from my Thanksgiving "vacation" and what better way to celebrate the "Black Friday" weekend than with a post about retail sales certification!  The US National Retail Federation is one of the "heavy hitters" among US trade associations, excelling in both legislative advocacy and credentialing.  It strikes me as something of a top-down organization whose agenda is set by some of its larger members, yet its credentialing programs are a new way of offering value to the smaller members whose dues payments subsidize the researchers and lobbyists needed to create press releases for Black Friday or argue against minimum wage increases.  Is this program a welcome step toward improving the NRF's value proposition for individuals and small businesses, or a case of "professionalization from above" that imposes unnecessary expectations on the little guys?  I'd be curious to see my readers' comments on this one.

Now, for some details on the certification itself.  This one is accessible to just about anyone committed to the retail field, with no solid work experience requirements. The knowledge and skills tested on the exam itself are a little unclear from the program's website, which mentions broad topics like "assessing customer needs."  Umm, how about "the customer is always right"?  It can be prepared for with workbooks purchasable directly from the NRF Foundation's website.  Recertification is required every third year for a modest fee of $25 (interestingly, this is paid directly to the testing company and not the NRF, though no re-test is actually required) for individuals who remain employed or enrolled in educational programs related to retailing.  As far as I can tell, there are no in-person or online courses designed explicitly to help candidates prepare for this one - it looks like something you have to sit down and study for with the help of the materials purchasable online.  Though the NRF is a US-based organization, there are international test sites available via their test administration partner, Castle Worldwide, which itself seems to be a new player in the "certification ecosystem."

I will try to find some more details about this one.  Just how many people out there hold the National Professional Certification in Customer Service (or any other NRF Foundation certification), and do employers value it?  Please feel free to add your perspectives in the comments section below!

Update: I have found a few websites with some more details about what the NRF Professional Certifications entail.  One, from textbook publishing company Glencoe (whose relationship to NRF is unclear), offers some sample questions that imply that the exam is more about reading comprehension than mastery of subject knowledge.  There's also a case study on Castle Worldwide's website that offers some insight on the origins of the NRF's credentialing program.

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