Best Practice Coaching for Call Center Agents

Updated: September 08, 2009

Best Practice Coaching

Study after study shows that the supervisor-agent relationship has one of the largest impacts on retention. Additionally most supervisors were high-performing agents who were promoted to supervisor, without much training in how to manage and coach performance. Many supervisors attest to being overwhelmed with the administrative burden of the job, which leaves little time for coaching. In a survey on coaching conducted by Knowlagent, 71 percent felt they did not have sufficient time to coach every day, with 80 percent spending less than two hours a day on all coaching activity. In instances where there is performance coaching, it is typically not consistent from team to team.

These facts add up to a setting where agents feel that they lack a supervisor who can truly foster their performance. A common result is that agents leave just when the center has invested the most in them, and that investment is paying the highest returns.

Best Practice Coaching

The foundation for coaching outlined here is based on the key principles needed to change behavior though coaching in the call center in order to improve performance, satisfaction and retention.

True Coaching

What gets called coaching on many teams is really managing without much guidance on improvement. Eighty percent of executives in a study by Knowlagent indicated that they do not believe supervisors have all the right skills for coaching. Because they lack the experience and often the training to do so, supervisors rarely have the skills to coach for improved performance and behavior change. Improving these skills with training is critical to making an impact on performance and attrition.

Targeted

By its nature, coaching should be targeted, but it's difficult for supervisors to keep up with all team members' performance and customize coaching accordingly. By linking to KPI's, coaching instances can be targeted to performance trends that indicate problems as well as those that indicate opportunities for enhanced performance. Supervisors with access to personality assessment results can even leverage that information to help them tailor their coaching.

Frequent

The demands on a supervisor's time are many. And often the lower performing agents take up a disproportionate amount of that time. To meet the needs of all experienced agents, time must be uncovered and exploited for both agents and coaches to interact on performance problems as well as enhancement opportunities. Finding pockets of call volume downtime for agents and available time for supervisors to meet and work on coaching plans and activities creates the time needed to provide frequent coaching.

Actionable

Unless it is actionable, much of what is called coaching is merely advice, perhaps applicable, perhaps soon, perhaps not. Basing coaching on the call flow creates actionable coaching. The steps to this process are:

  1. Break the call down into key steps.
  2. Identify the step where the agent struggles.
  3. Identify the behaviors needed to execute the step successfully.
  4. Develop a plan to change those behaviors.

Using this process provides a clear context and specific actions.

Consistent

Because most coaching happens on an ad-hoc basis, similarly performing agents can receive very different types and levels of coaching. Nearly 50 percent of supervisors surveyed can not define their coaching process. Creating standards and baking them into center processes ensures that agent performance and retention efforts are individualized to needs and achieve consistency in application.

Measurable

Even though it is one of the greatest points of leverage with the agent, coaching is largely unmeasured, an anomaly in the call center. By embedding a measurement system that shows how much, who and what is getting coached as well as its link to performance, constant improvement through coaching becomes systemic in the center.

Individual Accountability

With the experienced agent, training results may reach a plateau, and more individual plans might be required to reach higher levels of performance. But without a skilled coach and without a mechanism to take ownership for increasing performance, proficient agents may be left adrift, becoming dissatisfied with the prospects for improvement and/or advancement. There are areas where agents can work independently to improve, and in others, they may require supervisor intervention to get the full benefit of coaching. Creating a partnership for performance between the agent and the supervisor provides the ownership needed at a more experienced agent level and provides a framework for creating and sustaining improvement.

Coaching Check

Key Questions

  • Are my supervisors prepared to coach?
  • How targeted and actionable is coaching?
  • Is coaching consistent across supervisors?
  • How often do supervisors coach?
  • Do agents have a mechanism to take ownership for performance improvement?

Key Measurements

  • Compliance to coaching processes
  • Time spent in coaching
  • Problem coaching vs. enhancement coaching
  • Performance changes directly linked to coaching
  • Proficient agent attrition

About Knowlagent

Knowlagent's on-demand agent management solutions ensure you get the right people on your team and keep them there. By automating traditional call center management processes, Knowlagent's solutions for training, coaching and hiring reduce spending attributed to off-phone activities while improving the key metrics that matter most to you. With Knowlagent, you can optimize frontline performance faster and more affordably than ever before. You can spend less and get better. For more information visit www.knowlagent.com.

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