Quality coaching of your customer service reps is a critical component of training, motivation and service delivery in the 21st Century, yet many times it’s done poorly and can actually work counter to the goals desired. Companies often promote good customer service reps to the supervisor or QC position, but those individuals don’t necessarily have the skills to translate what they hear into positive, developmental coaching. Before hiring a supervisor or coach from the outside, or promoting an employee to that position from within, companies should make sure the individuals have the unique skills to be a coach…and then provide them with training and tools.
Good coaching skills include excellent listening skills, the desire to assist and guide… NOT tell, as well as patience, motivation skills, and the ability to translate what they want to communicate into clear and actionable instructions and guidance. These are not skills that everyone possesses…even the best CSR might not have these skills. So it is critical to identify them in the selection process; through observation of behaviors, interview questions that probe for those skills and desires, and, when warranted, third party assessment tools to help uncover behaviors and attitudes that don’t surface during the interviews. Assessment tools are extremely helpful when the individual is being considered from outside the company and there is not a history of observable behaviors to judge suitability as a coach.
Once the coach is selected, that individual needs training to develop an approach that incorporates 2-way communication. Many coaches view their role as telling the employee what went wrong…and how they should do it better next time. That type of delivery creates hostility and defensiveness. There are 5 cornerstones to effective coaching:
1) IMMEDIACY – The coach should deliver the coaching session soon after completing call monitoring of a series of calls. Stockpiling monitoring forms or tapes of calls and listening to them days after the behavior can let a bad habit get worse…or miss the opportunity to praise a positive behavior so that it will be repeated.
2) APPLAUSE – Praise the employee as much as possible. Not the old “sandwich approach”… here is what is good, here is what is bad, and oh by the way, here are some more good things. That style has been worn to death. Instead, praise and applause should come anywhere in the coaching discussion where it is appropriate and warranted. The #1 goal of call monitoring is to “catch them doing something good!” The coaching session is the way to communicate applause of the good behaviors…and then employees will repeat them.
3) OBJECTIVE OBSERVATIONS – Whenever a coach presents information about behaviors, it should be presented as a factual observation “this is what I heard”, NOT as “I think…” Facts are very objective, they take any personality or special likes and dislikes of employees out of the coaching session.
4) CREATE A 2 WAY DIALOGUE – Ask questions to get the employee talking about the calls. Many coaches feel that the burden is on them… that they have to do all the talking in a coaching session. Not true. The better coaches involve the employee in the dialogue. It’s very similar to sales…if the sales person talks too much they will lose the sale. Same in coaching, if the coach talks too much, they will lose the employee’s interest in listening to the advice. The model for creating that two-way dialogue is very easy…
5) LISTEN – If the coach is asking questions, then the next step is to sit back and listen to the answer. Don’t interrupt, don’t say “but” and take the conversation away from the employee. A good coaching session allows the employee to verbalize their concerns and difficulties so that the subsequent advice and direction from the coach is relevant to what the employee feels are the important development areas.
Good coaching in a labor intensive, high customer contact environment requires the ability to listen, diagnose, involve, applaud, motivate and instruct so that employees move forward and up in their skill set and behaviors. Make sure all the coaches on the team have the personalities and the tools to do this well!
Sam Black is owner of Sam Black Consulting, a sales and telemarketing training company that helps call center CSRs or TSRs and field sales teams build their core skills in selling and customer service. Sam has been helping her clients for 12 years in St. Louis and nationally to match the right people to their sales, sales and call center management, customer service, or telemarketing positions using state-of-the-art assessment tools. She then develops customized training programs to help those employees excel in their sales or service goals!