Agent Coaching that Your Workforce Actually Wants to Receive

According to a study that I’ve completely made up to make a point, 90% of contact centers either don’t provide any agent coaching or provide agent coaching that makes agents wish the center didn’t provide any coaching.

While a total lack of coaching certainly won’t win your contact center any awards, it’s actually better than providing bad coaching. Bad coaching not only fails to effectively address the performance issues that are driving your customers up a wall (and away from your company), it also makes agents completely resistant to coaching, and can lead to them stuffing their supervisor in the trunk of a car.

Most agents want to improve and to delight customers, and thus are open to – and even welcome – coaching and feedback, provided the coaching/feedback doesn’t make them want to cut themselves [VIDEO: Automating the Coaching Process].

Following are several coaching tactics shared by contact centers that never have to bandage agents’ arms or rescue supervisors from a car trunk:

Deliver coaching in a timely manner. Coaching is of little use if the agent doesn’t receive it until after they’ve quit and moved to Marketing. In the best contact centers, supervisors provide clear and concise coaching and feedback soon (and sometimes immediately) after a customer interaction that the agent totally blew. Such timely instruction not only limits the number of customers who must endure poor service going forward; it also shows agents that the organization is on the ball, cares a lot about customers, and is willing to invest in agents not sucking.

Gives agents an opportunity to self-evaluate. Supervisors that let agents start off the “what needs to improve” conversation find that coaching goes much more smoothly and drives improvement. Agents tend not to embrace input and feedback that comes in the form of a unilateral attack. The best coaches give agents the opportunity to review their monitored contacts and allow them to express how much their performance stunk before the coach goes and does it for them.

Lead with the good. When it comes time to provide feedback (after the agent’s self-evaluation), good coaches start by acknowledging and recognizing what the agent did well, as opposed to opening with something of a more critical nature that may put the agent on the defensive. Even if the agent stunk up the call, a good coach will still find a way to lead with something positive: “Bob, you did an excellent job of being in your seat, continuing to breathe, and not pressing ‘release’ when the call arrived. Now I’d just like to talk a little bit about how you swore at the customer and broke into tears before pressing ‘release’….”

And when it comes time to address the problematic aspects of the agent’s performance, top coaches are graceful and tactful in their approach. They point out the issue or behavior in question and ask the agent what they could have done differently. This results in a collaborative conversation that makes the agent feel respected and forget all about the headset shocks and repetitive stress injuries they must endure all day long.

[Read how Intradiem helped this global outsourcer drive improvements in both FCR and AHT by automating standard coaching processes and delivering targeted coaching to agent desktops during downtimes in call volume.]

Show, don’t just tell. Agents often complain, “They tell us what we did wrong, but they don’t show us how to get better.” The best coaches eliminate such complaints by using recordings (or email/chat transcripts) of past agent-customer interactions that demonstrate a desired skill or behavior they want the agent in question to emulate. For example, if an agent is struggling with excessive handle times, the coach can have them listen to a recording featuring an agent demonstrating excellent call control. Or if an agent is unwittingly coming off as rude to customers, the coach can sit them down to listen to a call handled by an agent who isn’t a total sociopath.

Telling an agent they have to decrease their handle time and/or not be less sociopathic doesn’t work nearly as well as showing them what call control and courtesy sounds like and asking them to comment on what they’ve just heard.

Turn your customers into coaches. As good as your supervisors might be at providing agents with feedback, there’s just something about customers’ direct comments – taken from post-contact surveys and hate mail – that cause agents to really take notice and strive to improve. Having a supervisor tell an agent he needs to work on his empathy doesn’t hit that agent nearly the same way as having him listen to a recording from a post-contact survey and hearing the customer say, “The agent I spoke to made me want to learn a deadly martial art.”

Where agents may occasionally feel a supervisor’s or QA analyst’s take on their performance is subjective or biased, there’s no way an agent can argue with the “Voice of the Customer” – unless, of course, the agent really is a total sociopath, in which case he should be transferred immediately to a job in IT.

About the author

Author of Full Contact: Contact Center Practices and Strategies that Make an Impact. He has written hundreds of feature articles, case studies, blog posts and research reports on contact center best practices trends and challenges. He is founder and principal of Off Center, which provides a variety of resources to educate, inspire and entertain contact center professionals. Levin is the former editor of ICMI’s pioneering publication Service Level Newsletter, as well as its highly regarded follow-up journal Call Center Management Review.

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