Coaching the Coach
By Jay Minnucci
Our coaches occupy the most critical blocks on our organizational charts. Wedged
between those who set the policies for handling customers and those who carry out
those policies, it is our coaches—supervisors mostly, but also trainers, QA
staff and others—who translate objectives to behaviors. This interpretation
happens hundreds or possibly thousands of times a day in your contact center, and
it is the strongest message our agents receive about how they should satisfy customers
and meet performance objectives.
So given the importance of great coaching, that must mean that we spend at least
as much time monitoring and coaching the supervisors as we do the agents, right?
Wrong. Very wrong, in fact. In many of our centers, coaching is an "assumed" task.
We assume that those we select for the supervisor role can do it, we assume that
it gets done on a very frequent basis, and we assume that it works.
The good news for those who do not yet have a robust "coach the coach" program is
that the payback is substantial. For a relatively minor investment in time, and
perhaps a few coaching skills classes here and there, you get a more confident frontline
supervisory team and better, more consistent performance from agents. The critical
step is to make sure it is a comprehensive program. You cannot jump right to the
"how do I coach" before addressing "what behaviors need coaching."
When you look at coaching as a process rather than an activity, it starts to open
up the possibilities for improvement. The initial step in the process—discovery
of a coaching opportunity—is typically the area most in need of reform. Even
our most experienced supervisors have different opinions about what constitutes
a coaching opportunity. Before you can start training supervisors on how to coach,
you have to get them to consistently define what to coach. The best way to do this
is with an assessment.
The point of the assessment is to gauge how they select coaching opportunities,
and to determine the degree that perceptions differ among your coaches. To do this,
start by selecting three recorded calls with varying levels of improvement opportunities.
Next, create a sheet with some fake performance data for an agent. The data should
be related to performance objectives you may have in place—attendance, adherence,
etc. Have them individually document the coaching opportunities that they would
address based on the calls and data. Compare their individual responses, and you
will have a good indicator as to how far apart the team is in the all-important
discovery phase of coaching.
There is no special program for making discovery more consistent. It is the old-fashioned
"sit down as a group and calibrate our coaching" approach. While similar to a monitoring
calibration, this goes to the next step of identifying the opportunities (positive
and negative) to be addressed, including both call monitoring results and other
performance data. It will take a number of sessions, and will require documentation
to make the gray areas more clear. The time investment, though, is critical—without
consistent discovery, there is little point to improving coaching delivery.
Where the discovery of coaching opportunities is more objective, delivering the
message is a more personal, subjective task. There is no one style that fits every
personality. Every coaching program has its own set of guidelines to follow, and
over the course of time, I have found that the best contact center supervisors exhibit
the following traits in their coaching sessions:
- Honest: Even when the message is difficult, they state it clearly
- Positive: The tone of the conversation is positive, but not to the point of diluting
- Behavioral: The session focuses on the actual behavior (e.g., "You asked the customer
to repeat messages twice during the call"), not personal assessments (e.g., "You
are poor at listening")
- Interactive: The session is much more a conversation than a monologue
- Action-oriented: The point of coaching is clear—a certain behavior needs to
change (or, in the case of recognition, it needs to continue)
Assuming that coaching sessions will take place, and will in fact be effective,
is dangerous. We are comfortable reporting on just about everything else in contact
centers—why not coaching? You need to track a few basics, so keep it simple.
You want to know about the quantity and quality of coaching. Quantity is pretty
easy—ask your supervisors to track the number of formal and informal sessions
they complete. Quality may be a bit more difficult, seeing that the personalities
and improvement opportunities are all different. The best approach is to ask the
supervisors to document the expectation and then track results. They can report
on their top five issues each month and indicate how well the agent is progressing
against expectations. That gives you everything you need to gauge progress and determine
what you can do to help the coaches.
Inside View: Broadview Networks
At Broadview Networks, "we treat software as a strategic differentiator," says Senior
VP of Information Systems Stephen Farkouh. And it seems that the organization has
an excellent recipe for success when it comes to self-service. Broadview Networks'
eCare Enterprise customer self-service portal and mobile application recently was
honored by the American Business Awards with a Stevie Award for Innovation in Customer
Service. Farkouh shared with Pipeline the basic ingredients for developing an award-winning,
customer-oriented, self-serve portal, which include: building a solid foundation;
data transparency; direct access to systems and the most current data; providing
anytime, anywhere accessibility; and getting the customer engaged.
Read the full story here. (PDF)