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Tuning Your Training and Coaching

Tuning Your Training and Coaching

/ Strategy, Customer Experience, People, Development
Tuning Your Training and Coaching

How to get these key tasks in concert to deliver a great CX.

In my career, I have been fortunate to have both run numerous contact center/service delivery operations and consulted for hundreds of other contact centers.

I have been able to experiment, fail, and succeed, as well as leverage or learn from the vast array of approaches I have seen from the best-and worst-performing operations.

Of course, as a customer, I have also experienced the abilities (or lack thereof) of hundreds more contact centers to deliver really great customer service.

In all of these experiences, here’s what I can say for certain: most practices considered “best” are simply unable to deliver great customer service experiences to meet the needs of today’s customer.

While there is a long list of reasons and practices that fall into this category, I want to focus on coaching and training specifically.

All contact centers do some form of coaching and training. Perhaps it would help to define these two words a little more to ensure we are all looking at the scope of this from the same perspective.

What is Training?

When we hear the term training in a contact center, quite often our mind goes to new-hire training. This is the period of time from when a new hire begins to the time they are ready to fly on their own, handling customer contacts without a higher degree of support.

...the goal of onboarding/training is more than teaching product, skills, and systems information.

To break new-hire training down further we often think of it as including:

  • Onboarding
  • Product training
  • Systems training
  • Skills training
  • Transitioning (often called “nesting”)

Funnily enough, although many think of the onboarding experience as more of an HR administrative set of processes and tasks, onboarding, by definition, is a process of integrating someone into the company and their role. This includes culture, purpose, values, product, job expectations, support systems, policies, processes, etc.

A key objective of onboarding is to ease the new hires’ transition to being proficient in their roles. So, it is actually an inclusive term that covers all of the HR administration, all of the class-based training (physical or virtual), self-learning, nesting, and coaching as well.

With that lens, the goal of onboarding/training is more than teaching product, skills, and systems information. It is about making someone feel comfortable, supported, ready, aligned and importantly, to feel a clear understanding of how they fit in and contribute.

But can you think of how many new hire training teams have goals that are that encompassing? Some do, but many are hyper-focused on what I call the “knowledge dump.”

Quite simply: ”I have these 348 things a new hire needs to know…is all that covered?”, “Can I audit that?”, and “Can I test against that and show that it was done?”

This is important (to a degree which I will elaborate on) but how different would training approach things if their goal was based on truly onboarding someone as discussed above? And what about all the other aspects of training such as ongoing learning, advanced skill training, self-learning, business change training and adoption or addressing trending skill gaps found broadly in QA?

The needs highlighted above do not end after new-hire training. Training is a continuous activity, complemented by effective coaching.

What is Coaching?

What about the term coaching?

When we hear the term coaching in a contact center, quite often our mind goes to quality coaching which, in most centers, is easily the lion’s share of time spent and frequency of sessions.

I am speaking of the auditing of call recordings, emails, chat transcripts, and scoring them against set criteria and then sharing the results with the agents.

Another area that comes to mind with coaching is performance management discussions. This is typically triggered when an agent is not meeting one of the goals they are measured on, such as productivity or even things like schedule adherence and absenteeism.

These “coaching” conversations are sadly more often a meeting to deliver a warning (verbal or written) that if things don’t change, the agent’s job is in jeopardy. Not really coaching now, is it?

These two are the activities that agents in most companies say are the only coaching they get, and they tend to focus mostly on mistakes made, gaps, errors, etc. They also often come with deadlines set to improve and as described, heavy consequences if you don’t.

But if you knew nothing about contact centers and someone said, “hey, a big part of what we do is coach our team” how would you interpret that? You would more likely consider that coaching is the act of helping.

And for good reason. Coaches in many parts of society are known to make their people better at what they do. Coaches celebrate your wins, help you process your losses, and help teach you new skills or guide you on ways to learn them.

However, as shown earlier, this is often not what this function ends up looking like in contact centers.

Training and Coaching Purpose

The other key consideration of training and coaching is what is its purpose overall? Is it:

A. To get agents through training quickly by having them memorize as much as possible and comply with quality standards and productivity targets (even if they conflict with customer experience [CX])? Demonstrating a basic understanding of their tasks, systems, and processes? Telling them of their mistakes and their implications for their job security?

Stop thinking of training or coaching as an “event.” Instead, consider that the two work in concert for continuous learning and investing in your talent and continuous improvement of all.

B. Or is it to have a team that understands what great CX looks and sounds like? And which:

  • Knows how to get there such that agents can make good judgement calls.
  • Authentically cares, knows people, and how to adjust on an interaction versus comply.
  • Have resources and support structures to help and develop agents.
  • Understands what matters most so that agents feel prepared, supported, and empowered to deliver great experiences and are invested to constantly improve their skills?

Of course, we would all agree with B., but most training and coaching programs are not set up to achieve these. Their design and measures of success are often even in conflict with it.

So, what can you do in your operation to change that? Or if you are somewhere in between A and B, how can you get all the way there?

Conduct the Training and Coaching in Harmony

Stop thinking of training or coaching as an “event.” Instead, consider that the two work in concert for continuous learning and investing in your talent and continuous improvement of all.

So, how do you conduct them so that they play and sing from the same sheet, with the sound being a harmonious CX?

1. Training considerations

  • How can you look at your inventory of skills and develop deep-dive training into each so that after new hire training, you might offer advanced skill training by skill or refresher training when there are gaps observed broadly?
  • How can training be tapped to align to your career mapping? If an agent can become a trainer, a supervisor, a workforce analyst, etc. how can you create focused training on those skills to pre-develop your team and maintain constant bench strength? And all while improving employee engagement?
  • How do you engage training in change? Some companies trickle information down to leaders who share in huddles or create their own training. But good training requires skilled and experience instructional design and facilitation. So, how can you tap that talent to develop special training for more complex change?
  • How can you observe agents who are doing things better than you could have planned and apply that learning back into training? (Note: you need a very flexible QA program as a starting place or agents will only ever do things in a very similar way that puts a cap on how good things can get.)
  • How can you tap into voice of employee (VoE) and voice of customer (VoC) to create special trainings that address current business issues?
How do you make coaching holistic versus just QA or performance managing productivity, absences, etc.?

2. Coaching considerations

We say coaching is the most important thing a frontline leader does and should be the bulk of their job, but have we set them up to deliver?

  • Have we trained them on how to be great coaches both in soft skills but also in good processes (tools, forms, systems, tracking, time management, etc.)?
  • Do we measure their skills (side-by coaching, 360-degree feedback, team performance, team engagement)?
  • Do we share learning (coaching collaborations, team swaps, leadership coaching meetings with success stories shared and where leaders can ask each other for help and tips)?
  • Do we have the right leader/agent ratios, so they have time to coach, factoring in not just session times but pre-and post-session activities?
  • Do we have the right job specifications and organization structure where leaders are actually focused on this and not also doing scheduling, reporting, and on a million other things that take them away from their teams?

How do you make coaching holistic versus just QA or performance managing productivity, absences, etc.?

  • Coaching to experience.
  • Coaching to values like teamwork, helping, and contributing.
  • Career coaching and mentorship (establishing direction, identifying paths, helping to close gaps, meeting hiring managers, job shadowing, etc.).

How can you make coaching about improvement versus failings?

  • Celebrate agent wins and probe on how they felt, what they did differently, and on what they learned and adopted for next time.
  • Limit areas to improve on to one big skill at a time versus overwhelming and discouraging: with a litany of mistakes that can’t all be improved at once.
  • Commit to helping agents, have an action plan you both commit to like role-playing, do more shadowing and real-time coaching, pair them with peers, add a few more check-ins, and find even small wins along the journeys to celebrate.

How can coaching be a partnership?

  • Leaders can share the agenda in advance and solicit topics from them.
  • If QA coaching, share the call in advance and have them self-assess.
  • Treat each session like a collaboration that starts with their self-assessment first.
  • Focus on the areas of agreement as priorities and explore the areas where there isn’t. That could be an area where the leader feels the agent is much better than their self-assessment which is a great discussion to have.
  • Leaders should be open to change; otherwise, there is no point in allowing a self-assessment: both parties are experts in different ways and leaders are certainly not infallible.

How can coaching and training work in concert?

  • Coaches can identify trends across teams that could help to develop a refresher or advanced skill training.
  • Training can coach the coaches first, so they are able to support and reinforce learning.
  • Coaches can be more focused on things that were just training to shore up gaps through spot coaching and help retention and mastery.
  • Coaches can share results back to training to help training identify opportunities for continuous improvements.

These are just some of the ways coaching and training can improve in ways that will:

  • Empower agents and coaches.
  • Remove friction between what makes a great experience and what is taught and coached.
  • Make agents feel more supported.
  • Improve everyone’s skills.

And finally, be more meaningful and gratifying for agents, coaches, and trainers which results in big improvements for customers.

Please contact me with your comments if you do some or all of these and share the results (yes, brag!). Or share other ways training and coaching can be improved.

Neal Dlin

Neal Dlin

Neal Dlin is a Human Experience (HX) award-winning executive, consultant, keynote speaker, and executive coach, Vice President of Customer Service Experience at Aviso Wealth and president of Chorus Tree, Inc. His successful and status quo-quashing approach has helped organizations transform their operations through the lens of our most common human needs.

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