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Coaching - the call centre missing link

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5th Feb 2007
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By Rob O'Malley, CallCentrePeople.com

Over recent years, I have been lucky enough to have reviewed over 100 call centres whether as a consultant or judge in call centre related awards. Time after time, I am assured by top management that the company has a 'coaching culture' and that the number one priority of its team leaders is to coach. However, I can count on one hand the number of centres where this is a reality. It comes as no surprise that these are the centres with the lowest attrition, the most motivated staff and the best at achieving the demands of their customers.

At our recruitment firm, callcentrepeople.com, we constantly interview team-leaders. Their cv’s almost always include the fact that they do coaching. However, when we probe further, we consistently discover that the quality of quantity of coaching is far below what would be expected. So why is it that coaching simply isn’t being done, how are they able to hide this from senior management and how do we create a culture where this does happen.

Why isn’t coaching being done?

1. Team leaders don’t know what to do beyond the basics
It’s true that most team-leaders are very proficient in coaching systems or product knowledge but often very weak in terms of skills-based knowledge. Team leaders are very good at taking induction trainees and giving them the basic skills, but not so good at taking more experienced agents to the next level.

2. Team leaders prefer to have time to be able to react to immediate requirements
You don’t need me or Stephen Covey to remind you that effective people spending most of their time on things which are important and not urgent (or quadrant 2 in Covey’s theory on time management). For almost every call centre team leader, the most important quadrant 2 task is coaching.

3. Team leaders are scared to coach
Team leaders often believe that they are not as good as their agents and that this can be exposed during a coaching session. However, this is often just a perception and there are plenty of things a team-leader can do in a coaching session to improve the performance and morale of its staff.

4. Agents believe that they don’t like to be coached
In an environment where everything is measured, some agents try anything to resist receiving coaching sessions. If an agent is performing, a team leader will bow to the pressure from the agent and not conduct coaching sessions. When the agent takes the inevitable dip in performance, the agent continues to resist the coaching. Coaching is like servicing your car. If you don’t do it on time, the car may work well for a time but when it breaks down, the car is often beyond repair. If you service the car, it will be more efficient and will stay with you longer!

5. Team Leaders have so much to do
If you spend time analysing what your team leaders do, you will find a mixture of unimportant tasks being performed. I have known some team leaders who fill their day by doing little more than compiling reports, sending e-mails and then imposing their management style by walking round the back of the desks of their staff and rarely giving any input. This gives them the illusion of self-satisfaction at the end of the day after they have ticked items off their 'to do list'. In their heads, they justify their lack of coaching by pointing to the lengthy list of actions they need to perform on a daily basis.

6. They don’t understand why coaching is important

Many team leaders who don’t coach, weren’t coached themselves when they were an agent. Imagine that you are a team leader who was one of your most successful agents and received promotion despite rarely receiving coaching. You would undoubtedly believe that coaching is not important. When conducting coaching workshops with team leaders, I am often amazed to find that they believe that coaching is one of the least most important items on their agenda.

7. QA do the coaching
This excuse doesn’t warrant a response. How can team-leaders perform their job effectively without knowing their staff? How can they know their staff without coaching?

Ineffective coaching
There is also a problem with the basics of coaching:

1. Team leaders do not know the fundamentals of coaching
Some of the skills of a good coach are inherent in good leaders but nobody is an island and learning best practice is essential. They need to be better at all aspects of the preparation, delivery and follow-up of coaching sessions especially in the way communication is delivered.

2. Each coaching session is stand-alone and not part of an overall goal
Rome wasn’t built in a day! Each subsequent coaching session must review what has been done since the previous session. This helps focus the agent in the target area(s) and is a great motivational tool for both the agent and the team-leader when improvements have been made.

3. Focusing exclusively on quick wins
Quick wins are often an important part of any coaching session but the team leader needs to think out of the box to help the agent improve on more complex skills.

4. The coaching process needs to be constantly reviewed
A quality coaching system should not be limited to ticking boxes on a pre-designed form. There are literally dozens of different ways of conducting coaching. By continually challenging the way coaching takes place, the whole process is more enjoyable for the agent and the team-leader. Oliver Thompson of Transphorm is one of the UK’s leading experts in coaching and he believes that coaching is so effective as it draws on the candidates own knowledge, values and beliefs to discover the solutions to move them forward. Team leaders often apply themselves in a very creative manner. So many good ideas on things like improving scripts, improving efficiency and call routing patterns come from team-leaders. They need to use this creativity to come up with new and innovative ideas to improve the quality of the coaching session and more importantly the output it achieves.

5. Guiding not directing
Oliver Thompson says: "Anyone with experience of children will know that if they have an idea to do something (commonly, not what you have in mind), they will think up their own way of achieving it and will continue to apply themselves until they succeed. They want to use the method they devised to complete the task because it was THEIR idea.” To put this into the context of coaching call centre agents, team leaders need to analyse the way in which they communicate with their staff. Most agents know most of the answers…they just need to know where to find those answers.

Apologies to those call centres where they truly do have a coaching culture but it is important that we stress the importance of coaching. If you are experiencing problems with attrition, productivity or even unsatisfied customers or staff, the most important thing you can do is to develop a culture of high quality coaching.

In addition, coaching can even replace much classroom training particularly if you have an operation or department that cannot support everyone being in training together on the same day, or even that you do not have enough people to fill a course tailored to your business.

Rob O'Malley is Managing Director of CallCentrePeople.com

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