Posted by Bruce Simpson, Guest Blogger
This post is a modified excerpt from an article that originally appeared in the July 2013 edition of Contact Management magazine. It is reproduced here with permission of the author.
The benefits of skillful coaching are substantial and can have a dramatic impact on the overall profitability of any company. For contact centres in particular, a well implemented coaching program is the surest path to minimizing costly repeat calls, optimizing revenue opportunities, and delivering a consistent, high quality customer experience. With 65-75% of contact centre costs driven by agent wages, benefits and incentives, coaching has become the critical tool for world-class operations to improve the retention and overall performance of frontline knowledge workers. Coaching also corrects the problem constantly voiced by non-coaching organizations that, despite the expense and effort, classroom training fails to produce a performance ROI.
Foundational Elements of Coaching
The first foundational requirement to developing a “coaching culture” is the ability to establish trust and engage people in meaningful work. You can manage employees without trust, but to lead and coach them requires that they trust you.
The second foundational element is that coaching can only be successful if it becomes a top priority / responsibility for the frontline leader. In most operations, frontline leaders have become the “dumping ground” for tasks and have no time to coach.
With these two foundational elements in place here are 10 steps to high-impact coaching:
- Get the Coach on the Court – Get the coach (supervisor) working side-by-side in, and on, the business with every individual on their team. It’s very difficult to establish the foundational credibility needed to be an effective coach if the coach does not understand the business today.
- Prioritize Ruthlessly – Stop the emails and the special projects and start applauding managers for being on the floor and working with their people. Focus is critical. What is more valuable than the coach’s ability to motivate and help accelerate the performance of their people? The answer is nothing.
- Define Management Leadership and Coaching – Be clear on the differences. Most call centres struggle because they are over-managed, underled, and under-coached. Most often leaders are wearing their management hat up to 90% of the time, caught in a reactive paradigm that focuses on processes, control, and what happened yesterday. Coaching by contrast is proactive, impacting results now, today, and tomorrow.
- Ask vs. Tell – “Ask” is the foundation for both commitment and accountability. Focus on helping managers learn from their people versus being a judge. In this knowledge-based world of contact centres ask yourself, “Who knows more about workflows, work-arounds, systems, and products: agents or managers?” The common “command and control” approach is useless in the new era of knowledge-based call centres.
- Add Energy, Then Value – If agents don’t trust management and interaction with the “higher ups” sucks energy from them, it is unlikely supervisors will be trusted and welcomed on the call centre floor. It’s a leader’s job to bring positive energy first, before they can be in a position to provide / add value to their people.
- Start from What They Do Well and Build on Strengths– Don Schula, the former Miami Dolphins coach, is famous for saying, “If someone is doing her job well 75% of the time, why isn’t 75% of the feedback they receive positive?” A decade of employee satisfaction research shows that the top reason people leave an organization is due to a poor relationship with their direct boss. What does your attrition, attendance and employee satisfaction metrics tell you about this?
- Focus on One Skill and Step at a Time – A weekly or daily approach which first focuses on specific behaviours produces incredible results. Conversely, giving someone a monthly list of required results without support typically fails.
- Be Specific – If your coaching suggests they need to “build better rapport,” or “ask more questions” then there’s no way to leverage these suggestions into measurable results. If an agent and manager can’t walk away and both know exactly what to work on, then coaching has not occurred.
- Follow-Up – If the coaching can’t be used on the next customer call and the agent doesn’t start implementing and learning immediately, would it be likely that they will suddenly implement the new technique weeks from now? The objective of ASAP follow-up is to provide support and positive reinforcement, not micromanagement.
- Practice – Why should coaches be any different than their athletes? They should practice too.
Coaching used to be a discussion limited to the Human Resources group, but now operating executives and heads of Finance are clear on the tangible benefits it provides to the organization. It is clear that coaching isn’t a soft skill or feel-good activity but rather a critical leadership tool that produces quantifiable results and delivers a bottom-line financial impact.
World-class organizations that make the investment in developing this skill in their frontline managers overwhelmingly outperform their competitors from a service delivery and revenue generation perspective. They enjoy a culture of high performance, retain their top talent, and get the best out of their people.
Bruce Simpson is a founding partner of Switchgear Consulting with a sales background in pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and insurance. He was a founder and COO of North Direct Response, a call centre outsourcer that became ClientLogic, then Sitel Intl. He is the co-author of “Call Centers for Dummies” and the author of several industry white papers including “The ROI of Coaching” and “How to Control Payroll Leakage,” published by Frost and Sullivan.