In the call center, monitoring and coaching can improve performance 10 percent, 20 percent and even 30 percent. Or it can be a burden that adds nonproductive hours to your supervisor’s day.
Here are recommendations to make monitoring more productive in your inbound or outbound sales centers:
Use praise frequently. When working with supervisors, we often find that they focus only on the negative. However, one of the most effective ways of improving performance is to use praise to reinforce positive behavior. Praise should be used often to remind representatives that the job they are doing is appreciated.
When choosing how to praise, emphasize areas where there has been recent improvement and areas that are crucial to producing results. Also use praise to reward any changed behavior triggered by coaching or training even if it doesn’t sound smooth on the phone (yet).
Change behavior one skill at a time. No one can change all at once. We often see call center supervisors who create laundry lists of all the things heard in monitoring. To change behavior effectively, select one behavior that will have the most effect on performance. Then, give very specific feedback on how to improve this skill. If representatives see the tangible results of trying something new, they will be more open to future coaching and to change.
Be specific. Coaching is most effective when it is specific. If you want to change behavior, first make sure the representative understands which call you monitored. This, of course, requires the supervisor to take good notes.
Second, describe the specific aspects of the call that are of concern as well as what happened or could have happened as a result of the behavior. Suggest ways to improve the behavior. Consider what assistance can be given such as scheduling a skills training class, having the rep listen to others or providing tips for improving the problem area. Finally, ask the representative whether he understood the comments and ask for his commitment to improve.
Make a connection. Effective coaching is about making a connection and communicating with the representative. Pay attention to little details such as body language. Your body and face can be used to communicate both negatively and positively. Facial expression and direct eye contact can reinforce important points.
When coaching reps at their desks, sit or kneel to be at eye level and make that connection. Allow the reps to express their emotions, but be careful to remain objective and focus on performance, not personality. Use timing by pausing after especially important points, and don’t be afraid of silence.
History repeats itself. Time and again we find that supervisors correctly identify a weakness and proceed to tell the rep to improve. After three months, the supervisor is surprised that the rep didn’t improve. It’s likely that the rep did not understand what to do or how to do it differently. To really help the rep develop, the supervisor needs to vary coaching methods and be creative about helping the rep change.
Choose coaching methods depending on the situation. One-way coaching allows the supervisor to provide feedback quickly to improve performance. The supervisor does most of the talking, and it’s most effective where there are many representatives to coach. There are several situations where this method should be used:
• When time is short and the problem is straightforward.
• When there is a serious violation of call standards.
• When previous two-way coaching has been ineffective.
The downside to this method is that it has a tendency to sound abrupt. This can be overcome by choosing words and tone carefully so you are taken seriously without being offensive. Combine positive and negative aspects of the call into one discussion to make one-way coaching more effective.
More complex situations require more complex coaching techniques. In contrast, two-way coaching and negotiating are techniques where you spend more time with the representative to gain more information. Start this type of coaching by letting representatives share their concerns. This may help uncover a hidden problem or clear up a misunderstanding. In most cases, the new information will help the supervisor change behavior more effectively.
This type of coaching also is more effective when overall performance has deteriorated, because that is often a result of a change in attitude or circumstances. In this situation, simply requesting a change in behavior will not work. The supervisor will want to get the representative to share his concerns to shape a plan that will resolve the problem and improve performance.
Two-way coaching is more time-consuming, and the supervisor needs to be sure this method is the right one to justify the additional time. Another downside is the lack of control. The representative may have an issue that needs to be assessed quickly in order to respond appropriately.
Quality assurance is a valuable resource. QA provides valuable feedback that the supervisor can use to enhance coaching. It is QA’s responsibility to ensure that monitoring is consistent. It is important to see feedback as an additional tool in enhancing program performance. It is not, however, a substitute for supervisor monitoring. QA monitors to:
• Ensure a fair sampling of the entire department.
• Provide independent feedback to each supervisor.
• Provide consistent scoring across all teams.
• Identify trends and report on quality for the entire call center.
Create a learning environment. Creating a learning environment will yield rewards to the supervisor and the representatives. It is not a quick or easy task to make changes to the call center, but it is a rewarding one.
Make small changes to allow the staff time to adjust. Consider using only praise the first time a new coaching method is attempted. Remember, most people aren’t comfortable with change even when the change is a good one.
As changes are made to coaching methods, think about which of the team members will be more receptive. Try the new technique out on them first. Let others see the positive results before moving on to the more challenging team members.
Also, be sure of the change you are seeking and target your coaching to bring about that change. When change is for the better, it can be contagious, and the results will be improved performance throughout the call center.