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 honesty
- 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.