Go Beyond Quality Assurance With Coaching Strategy

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The call center industry in North America is at a crossroads. Hourly rates for services are down, competition is ubiquitous and, whether or not you realize it, those offshore call centers have been talking to your clients when you are not around. What is a good old North American call center to do?


How about making sure your phone representatives can sell? How about ensuring that your phone representatives handle each customer or prospect like the precious commodity he is?


You know about your quality assurance department and how those in the department listen to calls and make notes, then review the notes with your phone representatives and supervisors. Then what? Unfortunately, this process does not make much of a dent in performance. That is because call center quality assurance is primarily a linear observation process, a checklist approach that often identifies "what," but not "why" or "why not."


Quality assurance is critical to the call center industry. Quality standards must be enforced to meet regulatory and client-mandated guidelines. That concept is not negotiable and should never be. However, the process should be the first of two steps. Today's call center needs to have a quality and performance assurance department.


If quality assurance is the linear observation process that guarantees compliance, then performance assurance is the next step. Performance assurance builds on the observations by introducing skill set development through practical approaches into the process. Simply put, performance assurance is coaching.


In all aspects, all disciplines and all professions, coaching is designed to develop and motivate. The call center industry has done several surveys in an attempt to better understand what factors are important to employees. The top answers are:


· The environment in which they work.


· The way they are treated.


· The way they feel about their co-workers.


Compensation is usually at the lower end of the list. The reason is that, like everyone else, call center employees want to feel good about what they are doing.


Whether it is on the softball field or in the call center, recognition and praise motivate people to excel. And those who are not receiving praise and recognition want it. They see it around them, they see the effect it is having on the top performers and they want to be part of it. If they are serious, they will ask for help: "How can I get there?"


In a standard quality assurance environment, the answer would be: "Here are the things you have to do, and here are the things you can't do. Now, go do them."


In a performance assurance environment, the answer is: "Let's review where you're struggling and discuss why you're having that problem. Here are some things I've done to overcome the same obstacle. Let's try these ideas on the phone. "


Quality assurance is important for legal reasons, but it is not geared toward coaching. In fact, it can be a very demoralizing process. When an individual is constantly identified for doing something wrong, with little to no explanation on how to avoid it or overcome it, that employee becomes a short-timer. When the same employee gets coaching and development advice from a supervisor or manager who actively shows that he cares and is interested in that individual's success, you then have a motivated and loyal employee.


With high turnover averages and inexperienced personnel at the call center level, implementing a coaching, or performance assurance, program is no easy task. Executives need to hire trainers and call center managers who understand and believe in the concept and can execute it every day. If you are not consistent, it will not work. The minute that a coached employee feels a lack of attention, her perception of value to the organization is in danger of changing.


When a phone representative is coached and developed, he becomes more valuable to the organization. If he becomes a supervisor or manager, he has received coaching and can coach his employees. The coaching process can create a new dynamic in the call center, one that is designed to endure turnover and eliminate morale problems.


As the dawn of offshore call centers, which charge rates half of those in the United States, grows brighter, the industry needs to change. If you cannot improve results by doing the basics -- developing your employees -- a lot of jobs will be lost. If U.S. companies have to accept mediocrity, why not pay less for it? If call centers in this country embrace coaching and development today, they will not have to worry about offshore activity tomorrow. In fact, they would welcome the challenge.


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