Coaching Challenges: Apple and Oranges

One of our coaching challenges is to find ways to balance the coaching of skills, that impact processes and solutions, with the soft-skills coaching needed for our agents to provide the empathy and personal touch that our customers want to receive. Sometimes we may feel like these skills are at opposite ends of the spectrum as in the “apples” versus “oranges” reference in my title. We know both are fruit but they sure look and taste very different!

If we are focused solely on process, our agents may be doing a great job providing accurate information to customers but may not be appropriately engaging with them and building value. Agents could sound robotic and lacking interest if their voice tone and words aren’t empathetic enough. We know from customer surveys that our customers need to feel important, regardless of the channel on which they communicate with us, so whether spoken or written interactions, empathy and engagement are key skills for coaching.

If soft skills are our only coaching focus and we miss the process skill opportunities, our agents might have the customer thinking “how nice” and friendly the agent sounded but may be unsure about the information or solution provided if given in a hesitant or unclear manner.

When the customer doesn’t trust the information given, they not only call back, which causes more call queue issues, but this lack of trust often leads to losing future business revenue.

How do I coach both? Should I emphasize one over the other?

Our best coaches find ways to make sure that agents understand how these skills must be blended together to create a positive and successful customer experience.

One key is to communicate to your agents the importance of BOTH of these skill areas. As discussed earlier, if we emphasize one and drop the ball with the other, we will not give the agent the complete skill package needed for success.

Another consideration is the process you use for monitoring skills quality. If you use a scoring method for monitoring and coaching, be sure to rate soft skills as separate categories and not added into processes or security verification ratings since you will coach and train each of these skill areas differently.

Here are some opportunities for blending soft skills and technical skills:

  • During your new hire training, discuss the need for agents to keep the balance between metrics, processes and soft skills. Help new agents learn ways to add empathy to solutions and how to engage at the start of the call, email or chat customer interaction to help build confidence and trust.
  • When you are looking at agent metrics, did an agent’s longer call happen because they were slow to find the information needed? This is an opportunity for a side-by-side navigation and tech review with you.
  • Ask agents in coaching sessions how the service or sales processes can be better for them? Better for the customer? We often think of coaching as a time to focus on specific skills using more controlled questions to keep on track instead of asking open questions about what the agent thinks or feels. Finding out “why” an agent processes or provides a solution a certain way can be helpful for future training design and for learning what is driving that agent’s skill behavior.
  • Ask the agent for suggestions on how to better “connect” with the customer using soft skills. What do they say or do that turns around that challenging customer? Which phrases and word choices are helpful to engage once they are past the greeting? Get the agent involved in the coaching by continuing to get their input.
  • Be sure to include metrics coaching, too. Agents often share with me that the number expectations are reasons to focus on the dry facts and avoid engaging because of fear of getting bad feedback from their coach if the call is too long. Teach them how to balance control of the call with offering the soft skills.

We should always coach our agents on ways to transition from the engaging opening to a “down to business” process mode while continuing to engage throughout the communication. This will make sure the customer receives the benefit of their knowledge and accuracy combined with a friendly and empathetic approach.

About the author

Since 1983, Melissa has partnered with Contact Centers and Retail Teams to help them develop strategies, operational processes and skills to successfully blend People, Process and Technology for Customer Experience success.

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