While I’ve certainly had my share of coaching conversations in my career while working to help contact center agents improve quality and performance, it felt incredibly presumptive to position myself as the authority on the topic when I happen to work with a bunch of coaching experts here at FCR. I say “experts” because it’s a priority for members of our leadership team to complete our comprehensive course called “Coaching with Compassion,” which my colleague-and fellow ICMI Featured Contributor-Sheri Kendall-duPont designed.
Not a day goes by that we’re not coaching our agents in our contact centers. It’s the lifeblood of continuous improvement and great customer service. So, it’s with that in mind that I surveyed some of my colleagues (we call everyone a colleague at FCR, including our agents) for their top coaching tips for great team performance. Here are the top five.
1. Make a Connection
Before you do anything else with your colleague, begin by making a human connection with them. Joe Ortega, Program Manager, believes that coaching sessions are never just about the coaching. They are also about making a connection. Here are a few of the questions he asks at the beginning of his one on one sessions:
- What’s your impossible dream job? (We all know we’re a little too old to be astronauts, so think of that level impossible.)
- What’s your achievable dream job?
- If you found yourself in a situation where you didn’t have to work for a living, what passions would you be pursuing?
He’s also careful to answer these questions, so it’s a conversation. Making this connection before discussing performance can work wonders to put agents in a position where they’re receptive to feedback and open to honest, frank discussion.
2. Focus on what can be improved.
It’s so easy to focus on everything colleagues have done wrong. In fact, Rachel Perry, Program Manager, commented that this can weigh heavy on new leaders who initially see this as their sole responsibility. She works to shift their focus as coaches saying, ” I always tell them to remember that you are not here to point out every little thing that they do wrong.”
Jordan Hilker, Program Manager, agrees that pointing out everything colleagues do wrong is a waste of time and energy. “Instead, prioritize the processes and behaviors you know you can improve upon,” he says. “Not only does this help build confidence for a new supervisor or lead, but it also fosters a culture of positive influence, helping them with day to day direction.”
3. Assume Positive Intent
A second tip about positivity? This must be important. Honestly, it’s so easy, and I think instinctive, to focus on the negative. Many coaches enter sessions assuming the worst about their colleagues - that there was malicious intent at the heart of whatever was or wasn’t done. “My experience has shown that gaps in job performance are usually due to something that an employee missed in training or an unclear understanding of where to go for answers or how to escalate an issue to help achieve resolution for the customer,” notes Diane Burks, Program Manager.
Joe Ortega, Program Manager, also points out that a heavy dose of humility goes hand in hand with positive intent. He says, “Be open to being wrong, too. Maybe you’re coaching a colleague on what you thought was a clear violation, but when asking questions, they point out something you didn’t catch. Own up to that.” Positive intent puts us in the best mindset as coaches to fairly assess the entire situation, recognizing both where the colleague can improve, and where we can grow.
A note of caution: There will still be difficult issues and as leaders and we need to have those conversations with our colleagues, adds Laura Daniel, Program Manager. She says, “Don’t make something seem less important than it is. Have the hard conversation. Assume positive intent and always explain why these goals, or corrective actions, or even just conversations are happening.”
4. Be an Active Listener
If you want to master the first three tips, listening is critical. When we first think of coaching, it’s easy to envision the coach doing a whole lot of talking and teaching and our colleague listening and learning. Great coaches flip this around and spend more time listening and learning in the conversation.
As my colleague, Rebecca Herrera points out, this requires that we’re present and in the moment for that coaching session. “Sometimes it can be very hard as leaders in our hectic days to take a step back for a moment and be in that moment with the colleague,” she acknowledges. ” When we listen closely, pay attention, and really hear what our colleagues are saying, it opens up a conversation that is full of interesting questions and genuine responses.”
5. Partner in their Success
While the initial coaching session is important, what happens in a coaching session with a colleague shouldn’t stay in that coaching session. The conversation is just the beginning of the improvement process. Laura Daniel says, “Invest in their success. If setting a goal with a colleague, take ownership of part of this. Be active in following up and following through. Don’t set it and forget it.”
Rachel Perry likes to see this as a mentoring relationship between coach and colleague. She encourages leaders to “have a mindset that they are going to work through this with the colleague instead of telling the colleague what they did wrong and how to fix it.” By coming alongside the colleague in this effort, they are vested in their success.
Finally, we need to set goals with our colleagues to ensure that coaching is successful and they’re improving. Damon Zeliff, Program Manager, recommends using the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely) Goal format and uses this extensively with his team.
“It just makes sense,” he says. “You can push quick turnarounds by targeting a single, specific behavior. Once that’s mastered in a short time-frame, move on to the next behavior. The goal is to master each aspect as you work through it, so you don’t have to revisit this continually. SMART goals make it clear what the goal is, the time in which it needs to be completed, who owns what in the improvement process, and it focuses on the colleague’s behavior - not the number. Finally, it’s a documented path towards either successfully improving a particular KPI, or determining if a performance improvement plan is appropriate.”
If you work in the contact center, you no doubt have KPIs that you’re continually working to improve both on a team and individual level. A coaching process where you effectively connect and partner with agents in their improvement will be a major key to both your success and to the success of the agents your company has invested so many resources in recruiting, hiring, and training. Use these five techniques to keep the needle moving in the right direction.