Coaching

Call Center Coaching Effectiveness: 5 steps to (Finally!) Realizing a Return on Coaching

Melissa Pollock

By Melissa Pollock & Jim Rembach

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Introduction

 

What’s the #1 challenge in Call Center Coaching?   Well, assuming frontline supervisors are coaching with a consistent frequency, then the #1 challenge is Coaching Effectiveness!   If you’re concerned about coaching impact and ROI, then you must master these 5 Steps to Coaching Effectiveness!

 

How many times have you seen your frontline leaders’ coach over and over on the same things, but their people don’t seem to improve?  Or they improve for a short time, then revert?  Many of us coach repeatedly, and yet our people continue to be plagued by the same performance problems.  Do you know why?  We’re going to show you. 

 

But before we share the secrets to circumventing the persistent cycle of ineffective performance coaching, it’s important to understand how and why contact centers continue to struggle!

 

The most pervasive challenges to effective performance coaching fall within the well-known framework for successful transformation of anything – people, process and technology.  We’re going to focus on the procedural, and people-related, challenges to coaching effectiveness, sharing what we’ve experienced in contact centers everywhere, then we’ll discuss how one piece of technology is augmenting both processes and people to unleash incredible new levels of coaching consistency and effectiveness!

 

Procedural Challenges

 

Skill gaps are growing – because of the continued digital evolution and increasing necessity for contact center Agents to apply deeper relationship-building, multi-tasking, and problem-solving skills.  

 

In a McKinsey survey of more than 50 senior customer-care executives, 94 percent said that they expected the skill demands placed on their contact center agents to increase over the next five years.

 

Despite the need for a higher-level of customer-handling proficiency, frontline leaders remain challenged with effectively developing Agents’ skills, in real-time. The best mechanism for achieving real-time improvement is coaching, but there are several procedural challenges that prevent coaches from being more effective, thereby stagnating and even damaging employee and customer experiences.

 

Top 5 Procedural Challenges with Performance Coaching:

 

  1. Methods: Many contact centers neglect to define and communicate standardized methods for how to coach in the contact center (Which means frontline Supervisors each do their own thing, ultimately perpetuating inconsistency and Agent frustration).  What must be decided:
    • Standardized coaching approach (One-call / one-case coaching or trended coaching)
    • Standardized coaching model (Balanced, Grow, Oskar, Clear, Fuel, etc.)
    • Training on the coaching approach, model and methods
    • Instruction on where to document coaching, follow-ups, and outcomes
    • How and when Agents see or are made aware of outcomes/results
    • How and when to evaluate your coaches coaching effectiveness
  2. Expectations:  Operations leaders often do not clearly communicate coaching expectations: (Which means every Supervisor does their own thing, which breeds inconsistency and increases in frustration) What must be communicated:
    • Importance of coaching as an engagement & development tool
    • Desired quantity or frequency of coaching
    • Which KPI’s to focus on (based on the business’s priority vs. each Supervisor)
    • Which team-members to focus on (new, tenured, bottom performers, top performers)
  3. Logistics:  Many operations are not directing frontline leaders where and when to coach: (Which means every Supervisor does their own thing… resulting in inconsistency and Agent frustration). What must be communicated:
    • Physical locations of where to coach
    • Coaching using a pc/laptop, or just having conversation
    • Days or times of day to coach (or to avoid coaching)
    • How to initiate coaching sessions (Scheduling vs. not; rescheduling cancelled sessions)
  4. Visibility:  Most enterprises haven’t begun to source solutions so Agents can have direct access to performance data:  What must be changed:
    • Agents are dependent on Supervisors to tell them how they’re doing (which is often weekly and therefore too late for Agents to affect current performance, AND requires a mountain of manual aggregation and dozens of emails for Supervisors)  

    • Agents are also dependent on Supervisors to track coachings, follow-ups and recognize progress after coaching (which requires Supervisors to be master organizers, and makes it highly improbably that Agents will be held accountable for improvement)

    • Agents have no visibility into history of learning, coaching and performance (which means we will likely coach issues repeatedly given the absence of trended intelligence)

  5. Tracking:  Rarely do contact center leaders have a way to quantify who was coached, on what, or whether it was effective: (Which makes it impossible to hold Supervisors accountable, or to grow their coaching competency) What must be made accessible:
    • Who did the coaching?

    • Who received the coaching?

    • What were they coached on?

    • What did they agree to do as a result of the coaching?

    • When is the coach going to follow-up?

    • Did the Agent improve after the coaching? 

 

 

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The best mechanism for achieving real-time improvement is EFFECTIVE coaching.  But effective coaching is achieved only through a formula consisting of procedural infrastructure – so everyone can consistently operate within known parameters – and people leadership skills, which helps build a culture of development, as opposed to one of compliance. 

 

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And that leads us into discussion of the second major challenge preventing us from delivering effective contact center coaching – interpersonal leadership, or ‘people’ skills!

 

People Skills Challenges

 

After procedural challenges, the second major component preventing more effective coaching is the level of frontline Supervisors’ interpersonal leadership skills.

 

According to DDI, the #1 reason Frontline Leaders fail is because of interpersonal skills.  And, 80% of Agents who leave, do so because of their direct Supervisor.

 

Interpersonal Skills

 

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Managing vs. Leading: What you must stop doing

In contact centers, the environment is often one of continuously changing priorities.  On top of that, the responsibility for coaching Agent performance may fall into different operational areas – across training, production, and quality.  That means every one of us involved in Agent performance have to become more effective at the more high-value activities – like engaging and developing our people. 

 

Regardless of how small or large your ownership is for Agent development, there are 3 core truths of which you must be aware:

 

  1. Managing call center coaching is not leading performance
  2. Focusing on negative performance increases negative performance
  3. Coaches must be leaders

 

Let’s consider how each of these concepts can be prohibitive to delivering more effective coaching.

 

New Thinking: Leading Agent Performance

Managing the coaching process is about administering and supervising coaching procedures and tools.  Although as Peter Drucker once said, “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their jobs done.”

 

To empower our people to perform better, we have stop focusing on the wrong things!  Marcia Daszko, a protégé of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, and author of PIVOT DISRUPT TRANSFORM, says we must stop setting numerical goals and targets and expecting individuals to meet them.  The unfortunate reality however, is that most call center coaching programs are deeply rooted in holding agents accountable for meeting goals and targets (and less so for the behaviors that drive attainment.)  

 

The resulting effect is that employees operate with checklist-style, compliance-focused adherence, rather than as empowered, engaged and innovative contributors who share ownership for customer experiences and business outcomes. 

 

Ultimately, we must create a system, and leaders, that enable our people to collaborate, develop skills, and effectively serve customers.  If you find you’re not getting the results you want, look to what you’re focusing on first, versus assuming your people are the problem!

 

The higher goal of our coaching programs should be to facilitate a coaching process, and encourage a coaching mindset, where frontline agents and supervisors own their performance and their contribution towards serving customers.

Jim Rembach, The Call Center Coach

 

New Thinking: Negative performance drives negative performance

In his book, It’s the Manager, Chief Scientist of Workplace and Well-Being, Jim Harter, shares that our brains are hardwired to critique others.  And traditional contact center coaching programs reflect these instincts; they’re designed to rate employees and to “correct” their weaknesses.

 

While we may be wired to give criticism, we aren’t wired to receive it.  The approach to correct weaknesses often fails to actually improve performance – just 21% of employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work

 

In order for a contact center coaching program to create a development culture instead of a compliance culture, coaches must be careful not to turn ongoing conversation into ongoing criticism.

 

Constant criticism makes it almost impossible to build trust, which makes it difficult for employees to accept critique with an open mind, and makes engagement highly unlikely.  This is why a standardized model and methods, and training on those methods, are essential for coaches to deliver on the relational needs of their people – and keep them receptive to hearing corrective input when needed.

 

What best differentiates actively engaged from actively disengaged employees?  It’s the time Supervisors spend focusing on Agents’ strengths, compared to the time they spend focusing on their opportunities.  Harter points out that there are times when giving constructive feedback is needed to help agents improve their performance – but coaches need to ensure the feedback they deliver is heavily tilted towards what employees do best.

 

Managers who excel at coaching have learned how to lead strengths-based and engagement-focused conversations

Gallup

 

More Important Than Ever: Coaches Must Be Leaders

Although distinctly different, “manager” and “leader” are often used interchangeably.  But those responsible for managing the contact center coaching program also have to lead the engagement, performance and development of people! 

 

MIT defined coaching as a sophisticated management style that requires developing a relationship that empowers employees by building confidence and competence

 

Leadership is that intentional relationship between the leader and the led.  Respect, confidence, caring, and meeting needs are all required in order to build trust with team members so we can help them see their opportunities while ensuring they remain open and receptive to hearing feedback and discussing alternate approaches.

 

“Our contact center glosses over development for frontline leaders,” is something we commonly hear from senior executives.   But you can't build a great contact center by allowing or tolerating mediocre leaders.  Everyone responsible for Agent development must also be developed themselves!

 

In one study, DDI reported that business outcomes of mediocre leaders in leadership roles can be devastating:

 

  1. 69% admitted the promotion of the wrong leaders resulted in loss of employee engagement
  2. Nearly 2/3rds experienced loss of productivity
  3. 1 in 4 respondents indicated their business suffered a loss in profitability

 

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Let’s be clear, everyone responsible for the performance improvement of people is in a leader role.  But being a leader, and developing leadership competency, are two different things.  If we want to empower our people, develop them to their potential, and engage them to put forth effort and innovation, we cannot continue to enable and tolerate mediocre leadership skills.

 

Remember, the best mechanism for performance improvement is effective coaching.  And effective coaching requires a formula consisting of defined and communicated Procedural Infrastructure + interpersonal leadership skills

 

And when you put together a proper system, and develop interpersonal leadership, then you can transform your contact center into one that delivers effective coaching within a culture of development, not just compliance!

 

 

How to Supercharge Contact Center Agent Performance

 

 

A Better Way…

 

A better way

There's good news for contact-center leaders. Once they understand the issues that hamper coaching effectiveness, new digital tools can help address them by improving the availability, targeting, and delivering of coaching inputs.

McKinsey & Company

 

How do you develop coaching competency and consistency, at scale, across your programs, teams, sites and at home environments?  You leverage technology to augment both your processes and your people!

 

 

The 5 Steps to Improving Coaching Effectiveness 

There are 5 key People & Process Steps that will increase your Coaching Effectiveness:

 

  1. Create and communicate your coaching system – expectations, procedures, and methods
  2. Train coaches how to communicate and develop others – follow-through and leadership skills
  3. Provide visibility into performance and coaching – frequencies, behaviors, and action plans
  4. Measure coaching effectiveness – whether people improve or not after being coached
  5. Coach your Coaches – improve coaching competency and effectiveness

 

And while enterprise leaders certainly have to define and communicate the system of procedures, approaches, and expectations in order to create a consistent operating framework, there are now innovative technology tools that can carry out that system, and support the remaining steps.

 

That means you don’t have to try and solve each of the steps individually, rather you can apply a collective solution that systemically supports all the steps within the overall operation and its people.

 

As an example, we’re going to explore AmplifAI's coaching effectiveness capabilities, and show you how we’ve been creating increased coaching effectiveness, resulting in rapid, turn-around engagement and performance for direct and BPO contact centers alike!

 

Automate supervisors’ administrative tasks!   Many of the activities that keep supervisors and team leaders off the contact-center floor are prime candidates for automation

McKinsey & Company

 

 

 

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How does AmplifAI improve Coaching Effectiveness?

 

AmplifAI is a cloud-hosted, AI-powered, all-in-one Performance Acceleration Platform for Sales and Service. 

 

And while AmplifAI’s solutions include data integration, performance analytics, gamification, learning, coaching, and quality, we’re going to focus here on the platform’s ability to drive more effective coaching!

 

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1. Creating a Standardized Coaching System – We start by building your coaching methods, tactics, and behaviors, into a standardized coaching form.

From there, AmplifAI manages an automated, full-circle workflow that drives Coaching Effectiveness:

 

  • For Agents
    • Coachings post to an open commitment table, and a coaching history table – so Agents don’t lose sight of what they agreed to work on, and can reflect on prior coachings and results
  • For Supervisors
    • Coaching history stays with the Agent, regardless of switching teams or programs – so changes don’t mean ‘starting over’ every time, and prepping for the next session is as easy as revisiting the last session
    • Follow-Up & Recognition Tasks are automatically distributed to Supervisors depending on whether Agents improved or not post-coaching – so what’s asked of people to work on, is held accountable, but without manual tracking
    • Coaching Effectiveness scores and rankings show Supervisors the results of their coaching efforts – so they know who they helped to improve or not, and how that compares to their peers on the same program
  • For Leaders
    • Coaching activity and effectiveness visualizations highlight trends by program, site, and supervisor – so leaders can easily see who coached, how often, who got coached, metrics and behaviors coached most, and coaching effectiveness

 

Features:


 

coaching workflow_1Coaching Form and embedded workflow

 

 

 

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Coaching Effectiveness scores show whether people improve after coaching

 

 

 

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Task Manager automates follow-through and more! 

 

 


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Agent Dashboard: Performance by Metric, Current Coaching Commitments & Best Practices

 

 

 

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Coaching History

 

 


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Coaching Summary Dashboard shows coachings per Agent against frequency goal

 

 

 

2. Training Your Coaches & Developing Coaching Effectiveness – Coaching best practices are housed in AmplifAI and are proactively pushed to Supervisors to help them increase coaching competency.

 

We’ve worked with some of the best and most innovative customer care organizations over the last two decades to build a set of simple but powerful coaching guides and tools that empower frontline supervisors to be better coaches and leaders.

 

We streamlined that content into a set of short, engaging Micro-learning videos that are ~5-minutes in length, single-skill specific, and incorporate video, animations, graphics, audio and captions, to deliver precise bits of learning that quickly build skill and spread best practices.

 

 

 

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Example: Inside Sales Micro-Learning; Behavior: Following The Inbound Script; Skill Set: Collecting Customer Information; Series: Effective Inbound Phone Calls

 

 

 

Our foundational Introduction to Performance Coaching Series includes six titles, and best of all – we are offering this series complimentary, to the first 100 organizations that sign up – so sign up today to secure your place in line!

 

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Micro-Learnings for Supervisor coaching competency

 

 

3. Providing Visibility into Performance & Coaching – Few organizations have scalable mechanisms across onsite and at home teams that give visibility into who coached, who got coached, metrics and behaviors coached, and whether performance improved or not.

 

AmplifAI provides all that visibility and more, in dedicated views for each level of user, displaying individual, team, site and program level trends on coaching activities and results.

 

Visibility into coaching activities allows you to:

  • Understand coaching trends
  • Inspect your coaching processes
  • Recognize or reinforce expectations
  • Identify outlier and top performing coaches
  • Know which coaches needs development to be better coaches

 

 

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Coaching Export showing behaviors and sub-behaviors coached, by manager, with effectiveness

 

 

 

4. Measuring Coaching Effectiveness – Even fewer organizations have any insight into which coaches are actually helping people improve, and which are not.

 

AmplifAI supercharges Coaching Effectiveness, with:

  • A continuous algorithm that calculates coaching effectiveness for every Supervisor
  • Effectivity scores based on how often Supervisors’ coachings helped people improve
  • Stack-rankings that display scores across peer Supervisors on the same program
  • Dashboards that display coaching activities and coaching effectiveness scores at the individual, team, site, and program levels

 

Having visibility into coaching effectiveness is absolutely essential to evolving your operations to one of higher engagement, elevated experience, and improved performance – because you can’t improve what you can’t see!

 

 

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Coaching Effectiveness Score and Rank

 

 

 

5. Coaching Your Coaches – The #1 way to boost engagement and performance across your enterprise, assuming the procedural infrastructure has been put in place, is helping your coaches improve their coaching competency and effectiveness.

 

Evaluating your coaches’ coaching effectiveness is so critical to your operations, that if you don’t have this process in place today, we’ll help you build it as part of your AmplifAI implementation.

 

AmplifAI supports evaluating coaches, with:

  • An embedded, custom-configured ‘Coach-the-Coach’ form to evaluate coaching
  • Ability to record coaching sessions (from a tablet or laptop)
  • Ability to drive automated actions based on coaching performance


Coach Assessment


The Results of Using AmplifAI to Drive Coaching Effectiveness

 

AmplifAI has freed up managers from manual analysis, interpretation, and distribution of performance data, resulting a return of up to 50% more-time spent coaching and developing people!

 

  • With Agents having direct access to performance, coaching commitments and coaching history, they’re empowered to self-identify gaps and take independent action even before supervisors’ coach them – resulting in increased employee engagement and accountability!
  • The embedded coaching form and workflow ensures coaches are consistently applying your methods, that you have consolidated documentation, and the ability to easily inspect process.
  • The post-coaching workflow and progress-tracking ensures everyone has visibility into coaching commitments, history and results.
  • The continuously updating Coaching Effectiveness Score and ranking keeps supervisors informed of the impacts of their developmental efforts.
  • Coaching dashboards highlight for leaders which coaches need coaching skill development!

 

As a result, AmplifAI clients have seen exciting results, and have finally vanquished the age-old challenge of not getting a return on their coaching time investments: 

 

Benefit  Result

💯

Improved Performance & Customer Experience

Month over month gains in Issue Resolution, FCR and NPS;
Month over month reductions in Handle times, ACW and Hold

👥

Winning additional client headcount

30% improvement in sales conversion

💪

Retaining talented people

8-point reduction in turnover

💰

Improving financial performance

10% increase in utilization

 

 

Summary

 

The future of success in your contact center is contingent on how you impact performance in ways that are both immediate and sustainable. And it doesn’t matter whether your agents are on-site, at-home, full-time, part-time, or temporary – you must deliver on performance.

 

Coaching is one of the most significant tools we can use to deliver on the engagement and performance of our people – but we must develop our processes, our people and leadership skills, and our technology tools, in order to overthrow the pervasive challenges to achieving greater coaching effectiveness and supercharging contact center performance!

 

 

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Connect with the authors:

Melissa Pollock Customer Success at AmplifAI

Jim Rembach President at Call Center Coach

 

 

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Customer Experience Update