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5 Keys to Better Contact Center Phone Coaching

talkingOne of the most difficult things to do in life is to watch somebody else perform a task that you can do well. As a phone coach, you listen to reps handle calls less than perfectly. You see where they should have asked this question or used more empathy. You may feel the knee-jerk reaction to step in and do the job for them. Or you might feel the urge to just offer corrections and tell them what they did well, where they messed up, and how they can do better.

However, neither stepping in nor directly telling reps what they did wrong will give you the results you want. Coaching is about helping your reps develop and grow. And sometimes, the best approach is to observe, ask insightful questions, and allow them to discover what needs to be changed themselves.

Here are some keys to better phone coaching will help you hone your phone coaching skills so you can help your agents improve their performance:

Create clear call flows and SOPs

Create clear call flows and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to make sure the coach, trainers, and managers are aligned. This prevents coaches from presenting contradicting information which may confuse the reps.

It’s no fun being an agent that gets different feedback from different people about how to handle a call. You also want to provide agents with resources that reinforce what they’re being told during coaching. Agents can’t remember everything that team leads and managers say.

Providing them with resources they can reference during each call enables them to consistently apply feedback and suggestions.

Build a safe environment for reps to ask questions and get feedback

Let’s face it — phone coaches can be intimidating for contact center agents. Phone coaches have a reputation of just pointing out what agents are doing wrong, which doesn’t help build morale.

Create an environment where reps feel safe to share what they're experiencing — the good and the bad. Contact center phone coaching is a team project. Let your agent know that together you will determine the best path forward so that they can continue to grow in their job. You are their ally!

Remind your agents that even professional athletes have coaches. Just because they have a phone coach doesn’t mean they aren’t good at their jobs.

Being happy at work and growing in a job is a delicate balance of accepting where you are at and recognizing that you have room to grow

Do coaching right after a call

Sometimes coaching sessions are set up so that the agents don’t receive feedback until hours, days, or weeks after they perform a call. Often, phone coaching involves reviewing recorded calls an agent has done in the past. The problem with that structure is that the agent has forgotten why they made the decisions they made while they were on a call. It makes it difficult to pinpoint the reason for the mistake.

Instead of using recordings, listen to live calls. Immediately, after the call is done, have a debrief with the agent. This leads me to step 4.

Follow the 7-step coaching conversation plan

As a phone coach, your role as a listener doesn’t stop when the live call ends.

It can be tempting to go into a list of feedback — both compliments and corrections — but your goal is to help your agent improve. This involves getting buy-in from your agents and teaching your agents how to recognize shortcomings and areas they excelled on a call.

Active listening as a contact center phone coach involves asking questions and listening as your agent reflects on the work they did on a call. I recommend following a basic 7-step plan for active listening:

Ask a door opener question like, “How do you feel that went?”

Paraphrase/summarize what your agents say and reflect back any feelings you hear. For example, “The caller asked you about ______ and you noticed that you kind of fumbled around because you weren’t sure how to respond. It sounds like you don’t feel very confident explaining ______ to callers.”

Validate your agent's experience. Continuing from above, you might follow it up with, “It sounds like you don’t feel very confident when explaining _____ to callers. Which makes sense because you haven’t had a lot of phone calls about that topic.”

Ask clarifying/insightful questions. Continuing from above, you could follow it up with, “How could you feel more confident responding to questions about _______?” Or, “What thoughts come up for you when a caller asks about _______?”

Share your observations/suggestions. If the agent is missing the mark, you may need to offer some suggestions and share observations. First, ask permission if you can share your observations/thoughts, “Mind if I share an observation? I noticed that you didn’t pull up any job aids to help answer the caller’s question about _________ and I’m wondering why that is.” Or, “Mind if I share a suggestion? Now that you’re starting to take more calls about ________, it would make sense for you to take the course on _______ and review our knowledge base articles about _________ so you can confidently handle those calls. How do you feel about doing that?”

Overcome objections/roadblocks. If the agent shares doubts or concerns, it’s often because there’s a misconception or misunderstanding. Help them get past those roadblocks by getting clarification from them and offering clarification. For example, if an agent says they don’t have time to take a course, respond with, “It sounds like you feel overwhelmed and you don’t think you have time to take a course. What are your expectations about what the course will be like?” Or, “What do you need in order to take the course?"

Move to action. The goal of active listening is to get clarity. Once you and the agent have a clear idea of changes to make and are on the same page, move to action. For example, “What actions will you take after our conversation?” Or, “When will you be able to do _______?” Or, “How would you like for me to help you do ______?”

Follow up and hold agents accountable

Once you’ve come up with a plan and you get the agent bought in, make sure you take notes and follow up. If you have amazing coaching conversations but never hold agents accountable for doing what they say they’re going to do, then you’ll create a culture where people aren’t growing and improving. The follow-up could be as simple as an email asking how progress is coming along. Or you could schedule a follow-up conversation to check in. However you do it, make sure you do it.

Topics: Best Practices, Coaching And Quality Management, Manager