agent coaching

Key Steps to Successful Agent Coaching

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contact center agent coachingMany agents and supervisors cringe when it is time for coaching. From an agent perspective, the coaching experience has historically been associated with a supervisor controlling a conversation; speaking to what the agent has done wrong on a call. Supervisors pull their hair out anticipating another 1-on-1 conversation with an unruly, eye rolling agent who hasn’t grasped what was expressed during previous coaching sessions. Mentally, this makes coaching nerve-racking, time consuming, unpleasant and often unproductive. This blog speaks to approaching agent coaching from a positive and prepared mindset; allowing for a better experience for both supervisor and agent.

Preparation is Key

In sports, athletes and teams will often prepare for a match by gathering data on their opponent, and reviewing their own performance; assessing what they did well and what they need to work on. This type of preparation is also helpful when coaching agents in the contact center. Make sure that you have collected all the necessary data, reports, etc. in advance so that your information is timely and precise for the session. Items may include actions plans from previous coaching sessions, quality evaluations, surveys and speech analytic reports. Some supervisors have agents additionally prepare by bringing in a self-evaluated call along with their own feedback on performance. This is a great way to hold agents accountable and actively involve them in the process.

Secluded (or Private) Coaching Area

Before bringing in your agents, make sure you have a private space for your session that is away from distracting noises and prying ears. Agents will appreciate the discreteness – especially if constructive feedback is given. A more comfortable and private setting lends itself to active engagement and the agent being receptive to your feedback.

Collaborated Communication

Traditionally, supervisors have done most of the talking during a coaching session. This approach is fine for critical disciplinary actions, but is not productive for a standard coaching session. When coaches do most of the talking, they are not getting buy-in from their agents. As a result, the feedback may be easily dismissed. A best practice approach is to have the agent do most of the speaking during a coaching session. Self-assessment is something that is common in sports; allowing athletes to speak to their own performance, and where they need improvement, before the coach actually points it out. This approach can be used to put the agent and supervisor on an equal platform. Athletes are often much harder on themselves than their coach, and the same holds true with agents in the contact center. Collaborated communication is beneficial by allowing the agent and supervisor to share their specific observations on strengths and opportunities.

Behavioral Focus

“It’s not personal!” That is what my coach used to say to me while giving me feedback on my performance following a basketball game or practice. Some of the best coaches focus on the behavior not the individual. Agents will shut down if they feel they are being attacked. Keep the focus on the behaviors that you would like to address. In addition, make sure to speak on behaviors that are positive as well as behaviors that need improvement. Agents need to receive acknowledgment and recognition on what they are doing well so that those behaviors continue. Allow for agents to co-create a behavioral action plan for their improvements rather than creating one for them. Once again, we want to make sure we have the agent’s buy-in to increase accountability and the motivation to improve. In this step, we also want to provide examples of the ideal behavior we are seeking. This may be done through role playing or even listening to peer calls that display that specific behavior. For example, Jane has a successful sales pitch which often results in a positive sale conversion. John often has a challenge with closing his sales. During the coaching session, you may play Jane’s sales pitch for John to have him observe her sales presentation and then have him try it out through role play.

Show Versus Tell

What does the data say? How does the customer feel about the interaction? During the preparation stage, we compiled the necessary information regarding the topics of focus. In this step, we let the data validate our concerns. Telling an agent something can only go so far. If we are able to show them where he or she succeeded or fell short, we can paint a more holistic picture of their performance to help guide improvement. Speaking to the data helps dismiss any biases the agent may assume their supervisor or quality team may have. Voice of the customer is a great tool to include for validation on success or challenges during a coaching session. This information also helps break down silos because the information came from an external source. For example, if a survey result mentions that the agent was very pleasant on the call, that can help validate that their tone, pace and soft skills were good. In another example, however, the agent placed the customer on hold multiple times and the customer comments indicate that the agent was not equipped to handle his concern. In this scenario, there are opportunities to retrain on the subject that led to the behavior of placing the customer on hold.

Follow up

Coaching is an ongoing process–not a session-by-session event. Following the coaching session (where agent and supervisor co-created an action plan), a good coach will conduct regular check-ins with their agent to see how they are working towards their goals, identify any roadblocks and determine if the agent needs any additional tools or assistance prior to the next scheduled coaching session.

Coaching is an avenue for agent improvement and empowerment within your contact center. It should allow for collaboration to achieve a common goal. It should not be frowned upon or viewed as the “meeting of doom” as it has historically been perceived. By implementing these steps into your coaching strategy, you can shine a new light and create a positive outlook for your supervisors and agents.