Whether you’re lifting up customer service agents who fall behind or making superstars even better, coaching methods for customer service are more important now than ever before.
Excellent customer service is increasingly seen as a key differentiator for companies worldwide, and everyone in the team needs to deliver their best to make sure it happens.
In Google’s Project Oxygen rigorous, data-driven analysis, the results showed that the best managers are good coaches. Good managers were associated not only with solid team performance but high employee satisfaction too.
Some leaders might worry that telling staff members hard truths about their performance might lead to discontent in the workforce, but the Google study shows that’s not necessarily true.
When it’s approached in the right way, coaching actually increases a team member’s commitment to the company. Even team members who are highly competent, trained, and talented need some help now and then to bring out their best.
Of course, customer service agents who are struggling can definitely benefit from coaching, and call center coaching best practices can help your organization adapt to changing goals and priorities.
In today’s business climate, with new disruptors introduced every year, the ability to change with the market is a huge advantage. Implement some of these methods to give your business that critical edge.
1. Cultivate strong relationships
In workplaces the world over, there’s a clear divide between employees and the employer: the two parties have a distant relationship that leaves workers feeling alienated from their superiors.
While management figures tend to be extremely busy and may simply feel they lack time to build strong relationships with their workforce, this ultimately works against them. Why?
Because there’s no real sense of trust or engagement. If employees have a problem, they’re incredibly unlikely to approach managers for help or advice. If they feel they’re underperforming and letting their colleagues (and the company) down, they may just suffer in silence.
This would only lead to lowered productivity, possibly affecting the entire business.
The most sophisticated and effective call center coaching best practices will no doubt fall on deaf ears if your team feels no bond with you. They have to see that you’re genuinely interested in helping them reach their potential and view them as individuals with their own skill-sets, rather than a horde of anonymous drones.
They’ll feel comfortable approaching you for coaching when they need guidance or motivation. Setting individual goals will be easier too.
2. Set measurable goals with clear deadlines
Being specific makes a big difference in coaching sessions. If you can point to instances in which a call center agent may have failed to seize an opportunity to help or missed the chance for a first-call resolution, this will show the individual where they need to improve.
This is why it’s so vital to gather all the proper, relevant reports and statistics before delivering a coaching session. You need to be specific and constructive with your criticism, setting concrete goals the agent can aim for.
For example, the following is an effective way to motivate employees and boost their productivity: “Your customer satisfaction score dropped by 15% last month. We need to work together to get it back up. I'd like to see it rise by 50% over the next two weeks, and back up to normal again by the end of the month".
This is a clear, objective, actionable plan. It’s not picking apart the employee’s performance without reason, nor is it without evidence. This way, you can avoid any accusations of being out to cause upset.
Saying something vague and standoffish like “you need to fix your problem with your customer satisfaction score,” is likely to be confusing and unhelpful. How is the agent supposed to know how to achieve this? What do you expect from them? It raises more questions than solutions.
If you need to be more specific and give examples of a few bad customer interactions the agent has had in the past month, you can use quality assurance and tracking tools such as PlayVox. This software allows you to evaluate omnichannel customer interactions and coach agents based on those specific interactions. Setting and tracking goals to easily identify how effective the coaching session has been, as well as agents' progress and satisfaction.
3. Focus on WHAT they do, not WHO they are
You can’t afford to get on your employees’ bad side. Even if they’re unlikely to actually storm out or actively aim to make a negative impact on your business, they’re bound to resent you.
Also, do you think they’ll give their all and strive to achieve the best results they can if they feel personally offended?
If you frame an issue as being ‘their problem’, your critique may be easily seen as a personal attack. This will leave them frustrated and detract from their ability to take what you’re saying on board.
The most effective coaching methods for outstanding customer service ensure the focus remains fixed on those areas of the individual’s actions and / or behavior which need improvement, rather than their personal character.
Again, cultivating a strong bond and trying to keep your workforce engaged will minimize the risk of such misunderstandings.
4. Keep your coaching sessions private
Bear this in mind: shame is not a good coaching tool.
Anyone who has ever been disciplined or criticized openly in the workplace, in full view of your colleagues, will agree. Good employers and managers know this. You simply cannot make your call center agents feel small or inferior to their co-workers in front of the people they have to share an office with every day.
Even if you’re actually heaping praise upon an agent and offering positive coaching advice in front of others, this can affect the self-esteem of less-skilled workers. They may sling accusations of favoritism your way too.
To follow call center coaching best practices, keep your coaching sessions confidential, regardless of the strengths or weaknesses involved.
5. Never overlook the positives
Your team is more than just its results. Each member of your workforce is an individual with their own personal goals, fears, experiences and skills. They will all go through ups and downs in your call center, and you need to remain positive during both.
When aiming for call center coaching best practices, you should demonstrate to your customer service staff that you always value their contribution, even if they're having issues right now. During a coaching session, mention the parts of their job they're good at — not just the areas they need to work on.
Show your appreciation for them as a team member, but state your expectations for improvement clearly and firmly too. They should leave the coaching session knowing exactly what the situation is and what they need to do to improve, while still feeling confident in their abilities to do so.
6. Encourage self-assessment in your workforce
One of the strongest call center coaching best practices for boosting the quality of customer service is to encourage more self-assessment.
Invite agents to take a look at their own past results, their working methods and the way in which they engage with customers. Do they feel there are any areas in which they could improve? Are there any obstacles they’re struggling to overcome that may be holding them back?
Providing them with data and reports relating to their performance will make this much easier. Using PlayVox enables you to share such key details and help them spot their own strengths and weaknesses. Real-time messaging makes providing feedback on the fly far easier, and more practical.
Listening to previous customer interactions together can be a helpful technique: ask them to make notes on their performance and list ways in which they could be better. Self-assessment reduces the amount of time you have to spend on coaching overall, but ensures agents are more accountable for their own performance.
It cultivates more personal development too, helping them to explore their own potential.
7. Embrace the power of role-play
Role-playing is a terrific method for offering your agents more insight into a customer’s potential problem. This is one of the more interactive, engaging call center coaching best practices, an excellent alternative to simply providing employees with a list of do’s and don'ts.
Your agents can develop their listening skills without worrying about the pressure of a real customer interaction, and learn how to handle varying attitudes with less risk of angering a caller.
You can turn role-play into a regular coaching process, reviewing previous performance in your sessions and real customer interactions alike. You can identify ways in which the role-play helped and which areas need similar attention.
Your agents should be given the freedom and flexibility to incorporate their own ideas during role-play, as they may have suggestions to improve the customer experience.
8. Find out what the roadblocks are
Each customer service agent in your employ will face their own individual obstacles and challenges. These may vary from one day or week to another, depending on different circumstances.
It’s crucial to speak with agents and discuss what they feel may be standing in the way of their achieving their goals. For example, this could be due to environmental factors, like the ambient noise of multiple conversations all around them.
In this case, equipping your agents with noise-canceling headphones would offer a simple solution, potentially transforming their performance for the better with a quick purchase.
After all, the fewer distractions there are, the less likely your agents will mishear customers and ask them to repeat themselves.
Alternatively, other issues may be related to individual skills and weak spots. For example, one agent could be experienced and well-trained in handling complex technical problems but helping a customer to file a return / refund request leaves them struggling.
This would require you to provide targeted training to address specific gaps in their knowledge. PlayVox’s Learning Management System makes such targeted training fast and simple.
You can identify personal roadblocks by studying performance-related data ahead of your coaching sessions, and speaking to agents face-to-face can bring less-obvious problems to the surface. There may be deeper issues — such as a lack of confidence when dealing with customers or an inability to concentrate — that need to be handled sensitively.
9. Let team input direct the action plan
Inviting your customer service agents to help formulate the action plan is an outstanding way to ensure you and they remain on the same page. They will be able to identify the actions they have to take to achieve goals and boost their productivity during coaching sessions, rather than simply being dictated to. This makes it a must on your list of call center coaching best practices.
You will be able to feel reassured that they understand what’s expected of them because they helped create the action plan themselves. This allows them to guide their own destiny a little more and feel more motivated to improve. It’s less likely they will feel frustrated or imposed upon.
Your agents can forecast potential stumbling blocks along the way, ones that you’re unable to predict. Trust their opinions and input, to enhance the coaching process’s efficiency.
10. Make tracking progress a regular routine
When your customer service agents have set goals during your coaching sessions, make sure you check in with them on a regular basis to see how they’re progressing. Being able to monitor calls and listen to their interactions with customers enables you to ascertain which (if any) of their goals are being met. Are they using the training they have undergone? Do they show an improvement over time?
PlayVox enables you to create custom QA scorecards, with your own metrics, to measure agents’ performance. It’s easy to see where they are succeeding and where they need further guidance; you can provide it straight away to minimize any further mistakes.
Make time for regular conversations about their progress, and how they feel the coaching they have received is helping them to develop. Coaching should be an organic feedback loop — not restricted to infrequent formal sessions.
It’s vital that transparency and openness are encouraged, both on your part and theirs. They must feel as if they can be honest and relaxed, to ensure you can get to the root of any issues. This can help to encourage an atmosphere of productivity and progress, rather than letting employees feel as if they’re working in a vacuum.
All of the above call center coaching best practices can help you encourage and motivate your agents to new levels of success. Have you integrated any of these into your coaching process already? What suggestions of your own would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!