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17/12/2017

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How to implement performance coaching in the Contact Centre
 

No one I have met, contact centre manager, team leader or agent will disagree that coaching is a valuable and important part of running a contact centre. Yet, when you ask the same people if coaching is done regularly in their centre it is not unusual for them to look slightly uncomfortable and hear comments such as “not as much as we’d like” or ‘other things are a priority at the moment”

Why is this the case? In my 20-year experience it can be due to a variety of factors. These include:

  • Coaching is not recognised by staff or management
  • Operational issues taking priority over coaching
  • Insufficient commitment and ‘buy in’ generated from staff, team leaders and management at the outset.
  • Lack of knowledge in how to set up an ongoing coaching programme
  • Fear of line managers to commit to a ‘coaching relationship’ with colleagues/staff
  • The misconception that you need expensive recording equipment
  • Insufficient training of managers in how to coach

 

All of these issues can be tackled quickly and simply if there is sufficient will to do so.

Lets look at each of them in turn:

Coaching is not recognised by staff or management

A coach – a term originating in the world of sports, is someone in charge of training a person or a team. They encourage performance. Transposed to the workplace –in the contact centre, coaching is also frequently used to increase performance. The use of the term, suggests that:

  • The coach is working to help someone achieve a goal or target of their (the team member’s) choosing
  • There is a clearly defined route to achieve the goal or target
  • The coaching relationship has been chosen by both parties
  • There is an alignment of objectives
  • The coach understands the capacity and skill of the person(s) they are working with.

      

If you have worked in business for any length of time then you will probably recognize that it’s not uncommon for some of the items above to be missing.

Yet, even so, in reality, much coaching could be taking place on a day-to-day basis in the contact centre butunless these, and other assumptions are explored and agreed upon, coaching may not be recognized when it is given. People don’t always recognize when input is provided and if it is not recognized, it may not be appreciated or acted upon. 

Key message (1) make sure coaching is defined and understood by all

 

Operational issues taking priority over coaching

This is an age-old issue for any contact centre environment and an excuse that can cloak other issues. Because generally people are not rewarded for saying ‘I don’t know how to do something’ or admitting vulnerability such as ‘I feel scared about doing this’, a condition similar to ‘skilled incompetence’ can develop in organisations. Skilled incompetence is where people become accomplished at looking like they know what they doing when they haven’t got a clue. It is similar to staff deflecting anticipated negative attention by looking busy when a manager appears, when work is short. Where coaching is concerned, unless senior management formalise and prioritise it as an activity and monitor the outcomes it is relatively easy for staff reporting to them to sideline it. When coaching is postponed or cancelled it send a message to team members that says, “Other items are more important than you”. When it is consistently postponed it can be interpreted as “ the organisation/management are out of control”. It is easy to understand how staff can become sceptical or even cynical regarding management intentions when mission statements proclaim ‘we value our people’ and yet organisational behaviours and concerns suggest otherwise.

Key message (2) Get senior management to back it, schedule it and stick to it.

 

Insufficient commitment and ‘buy in’ generated from agents, team leaders and management

Insufficient commitment and ‘buy in’ from agents, team leaders and managers can be a possible cause of coaching being moved or abandoned.

Most HR specialists would agree that coaching should be an integral element of the performance management cycle, where business needs and people development needs are aligned. Coaching, properly implemented, can provide real time feedback to individuals, contributing to their personal and professional development. People at all organisational levels need to understand the coaching process, how it fits with appraisals and possible benefits – WIIFM (What’s in it for me). Of course it takes time and thought to gain commitment, but if this stage is missed the consequences can be painful and costly for all concerned.

Key message (3) build commitment to coaching as part of the performance management cycle

 

Lack of knowledge in how to set up an ongoing coaching programme

As discussed above a coaching programme requires careful planning and sustained commitment to happen. Coaching schedules need to be developed in the same way that shift patterns are planned. Coaching records need to be designed, written, agreed and stored. The coaching process and its benefits need to be explained to everybody. Staff need an opportunity to honestly express fears and concerns so these can be answered before coaching is implemented and deliverables from the coaching programme should be reviewed regularly if its to succeed.

Key message (4) set up communication forums before and after implementation

 

Fear of line managers to commit to a ‘coaching relationship’ with colleagues/staff

Many mangers and team leaders are promoted because they are effective at achieving results personally. It has often been said, a good solo performer doesn’t naturally make a good team leader, manager or coach. There is a specific skill set employed by a contact centre coach which whilst it may contain generic competencies is always applied in specific organisational circumstances.

It is outside of the scope of this article to provide a definitive list of competencies for the contact centre coach however they should have sufficient grasp of the organisational culture to understand its challenges without being subject to ‘group-think’, the psychological phenomenon where people are unable to ‘think out side of the box’. As Einstein is reported to have once said ‘ you can’t solve a problem by the same level of thinking that created the problem’

The values and behaviours of a professional coach must be understood and embraced by the coach. Many mangers instinctively sense the shift they would be required to make personally to attain this and unless supported to make those changes will shy away from doing so. This is understandable and a defence for the individual against being placed in circumstances that they might find unpleasant or be unable to cope with. However, for the contact centre to have effective coaches the manager must develop a sense of purpose and identity as a ‘developer of people’ that transcends focusing solely on metrics or commercial results. They must be effective communicators, facilitators and overcome personal considerations regarding staying in their comfort zones and worrying about maintaining their social relationships.

Of course, all human beings establish social relationships and I am not suggesting that their importance should be disregarded. In fact, quite the opposite – strong social and work relationships are an invaluable source of assistance and support Rather, I am drawing attention to the fact that many coaches are promoted from within their teams and have friendships with those they work with. Managers and team leaders can have real challenges in managing the social aspects of these relationships and becoming sufficiently objective to step back and provide continuous developmental feedback.

To establish internal credibility with themselves (and their organisation) and maintain the respect of those they coach they should ‘walk the talk’. In simple terms this means demonstrating the behaviours the coach desires to see others perform – as a day to day experience – not a one off role play.

How can a coach ask for increased levels of behaviour/performance in others if they are not good examples of it themselves or prepared to change personally?

Key message (5) Choose coaches that can ‘walk the talk’ and act as role models for the behaviours you wish to see embodied by others.

 

The misconception that you need expensive recording equipment

A popular misconception in the contact centre is that you need expensive recording equipment to coach agents on their vocal delivery and telephone communication skills.

Of course, it is an advantage if you can record calls and have your team leader listen in remotely, however it is not necessary to spend a fortune to set up the technical equipment for a formalised coaching programme. For those working with limited budgets it is quite possible to set up coaching programme with a few simple recording devices. The key is the extent to which you involve your people and have their active collaboration and input.

Key message (6) you don’t have to have expensive recording equipment to get started.

 

Insufficient training of managers in how to coach

In the same way it cannot be assumed that everyone can work in a contact centre, it cannot be assumed that anyone can coach. Performance coaching is about helping those you work with reach their personal best. Easy to say, but to reach and sustain a personal best take continued practice and commitment. It is difficult for a team member to become more skilled than their coach. If you are to avoid unconscious bias and unexamined limitations a structured training programme is a necessary support for your coaches.

Key message (7) coach the coach if you want the best results

 

Summary

The purpose of this article was to increase awareness of some of the issues to be addressed in implementing performance coaching in the contact centre. For anyone considering reviewing their existing coaching structure and methods or setting up a formalised programme there is much more that could be said in response to specific situational questions. It is hoped that, in a small way, these ideas will encourage those interested to think further on the issues and people in their organisation.

 

About the author: Steve Shellabear is Principal consultant at dancing lion training & consultancy limited. He has been in the industry since it first became recognised as such and has worked internationally as a professional trainer and consultant since the early 1990’s. To download further articles written by Steve Shellabear or hear about how positive principles and practices have been applied to performance coaching in call centres please visit www.dancinglion.com or email steve@dancinglion.com Telephone 0044 (0) 1908 644791

 

 
Contributor: Steve Shellabear @ http://www.dancinglion.com
 

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