Coaching serves several goals: monitoring the quality, guiding and motivating agents and maintaining contact with the market. This task is often overlooked because of hectics. A structured approach is the solution; a matter of time, attention, planning and organization.
Text: Erik Bouwer
Inside the call centre, quality and quantity are often at odds with each other. Contact centres need to be reachable and realize good service levels. The monitoring of quality is a more labour-intensive process that is often pushed into the background because of ‘priority settings’.
But coaching has important benefits: agents learn from feedback and will perform better; they feel better and the manager performing the coaching maintains contact with the market as well as the employee.
What is coaching?
Coaching boils down to the guiding of the employee with the goal of freeing potential qualities in order to improve the performance. The main thing of importance regarding the learning aspect is the ‘joint effort’ – the starting point of collaboration.
The call centre offers many direct possibilities to gain an insight in how employees do their job. One can easily listen from a distance; the operational manager is more often than not present in or close to the work space and there is often many numeric (ACD-)material that can be combined with other information. The result of coaching needs to be that quality and quantity together come to a higher level, in combination with an optimal motivation of the employee.
Two tips for successful coaching
1. Invest in time and people
Coaching in a call centre starts with planning time for the care of personnel. In call centres where one plans well-considered and carefully, time is reserved for things like breaks, discussion of progress, vacation days, sickness absence and training of employees. The normal staffing, required for the settling of incoming volumes at a certain service level, increases because of this. One also needs to schedule time for coaching.
Supervisors or team leaders need to be capable to spend time on coaching. These managers thus need to have good planning skills themselves. When the initiative to start coaching is presented to the employees and the plan fails because of a lack of time, the trust employees have in new attempts will decrease. In practise, you only have one chance to correct your mistake as manager, after that you can forget about successfully implementing coaching.
2. Tuning in and embedding: the important of a basis
It is crucial that the coaching activities are geared to the HR-policy. A good coaching system can for instance be the basis for periodical assessments. By using ACD-reports on employee’s level, combined with the qualitative coaching data, a surplus value comes into being: at the end of the year the people doing the assessment are not overwhelmed with lots of work that is the result of the periodical assessment period, but they can profit from information that was already gathered in the past.
When employees are not used to someone ‘on the job’ listening from a distance and giving feedback, coaching becomes – certainly when the results are used for assessments – a difficult story. The methodology of coaching and guiding can therefore be best introduced in an initial training. Resistance against listening in to the conversation is restricted by confronting employees during their training and initial period with ‘service observations’. It is also necessary to give an explanation about ACD-numbers: which are used and what do they mean? Give coaching activities a clear name.
The methodology of coaching needs to be clear for employees and managers. Involvement of employees with the development, and the careful explaining of a new instrument, provide a broader basis. Not only the ‘what are we going to do and why’, but also the ‘who, how, where and when’ is important. Norms and criteria need to be defined; the connection with ACD-numbers needs to be applied by every manager in the same way. Calibrating between managers leads to data from coaching activities to be used for assessments in a univocal way. Supervisors also need to have competences in the field of tuning in, being able to plan and carry out the registering and delivering of feedback.
Planning and realization
The planning made for employees includes time per employee that is reserved for training and coaching. After the initial training new employees are trained on the work floor by selected and trained experienced colleagues – this means that there needs to be a training available for coaches/guides. New employees can listen in with experienced employees during the training. Then the roles will be switched more and more. The senior employee now listens to the new employee and coaches him. After this, the supervisors also listen in from a distance.
By not telling when one will be listening in during the daily process, the most reliable information is gathered. The service observations can be performed by means of ‘monitor forms’. These prove to be of better use in practice (faster overview) than the application of sound recordings. Sound recordings are used very exceptionally when there are suspicions about telephonic misbehaviour of agents, where is it necessary to create a file and to gather onus of proof.
A handy form follows the build-up of a conversation, like it was learned during the training. Scores are based on quality criteria that were also covered during the training. For instance the start of a conversation: use the company name, look at and check data.
After listening in
While one is listening in, indications are noted on the form, together with notes, snippets of the conversations and examples of situations. After a few conversations, the supervisor takes the time to recapitulate: what is the most important point discovered while he was listening in? Sometimes it is possible to derive trends from a series of conversations, sometimes the occurring problems stand on their own. A service observation leads to a condensed account that can give feedback to the employee. The form is thus more of a registration-device than a score list.
Feedback can be delivered in a conversation of ca. 30 minutes with the aim of stimulating the employee and complimenting him on the good points and guiding him concerning the bad points. By restricting feedback to the most important points, it is possible have a clear view on how the employee can work together with the supervisor on improvement. What works well for this is to discuss not more than 3 improvement points during one session. The employee can give solutions and suggestions himself, but also the supervisor can give concrete suggestions: “pay attention to how you deal with angry clients during the coming weeks”.
The follow-up consists of summarizing, formulating improvement points for the period to come and making agreements concerning further guidance. The gathered data can be used as a report and filed in the employee’s file, the employee gets a copy. During the next session the supervisor and employee can continue the coaching on the basis of this report.
Erik Bouwer has a background in organizational psychology and has managed different contact centres. He is now a business journalist en editor of Customer Contact Magazine.