Close Performance Gaps with Full-Spectrum Coaching

Every contact center has its top performers, average performers and poor performers. The problem is, most contact center coaches tend to just accept this fact and they do little to try and close the gap.

They don’t question the bell curve when it comes to performance. They think it’s normal for a few agents to be superstars, while the rest are average – and some just plain lousy.

But contact center coaches can close this gap by implementing a process called full-spectrum coaching. This systematic approach involves setting clear expectations; providing consistent, timely, accurate performance feedback; and developing agent skills through education, modeling, practicing, applying, and inventing.

Let’s look at some of the basic components of a full-spectrum coaching program:

Education
Here the coach teaches the foundation knowledge required to master the skill. The agent reads, listens to tapes, fills out worksheets, and reviews the information with the coach once the lessons are complete. This is commonly referred to as the “book work” phase of coaching.

Modeling
Modeling means the coach demonstrates the skill required to be an expert. The coach demonstrates expert call handling through role playing (with the coach playing the role of the agent), taking “live” calls, and playing audiotapes of expert performance.

Contact center managers often ask if a contact center coach should be able to do the job of the front-line agent. My answer is, “Yes!” You have to be able to do a skill in order to model it. This doesn’t mean coaches are as efficient as agents who take calls every minute of the day, but they can certainly demonstrate a quality interaction.

Practicing
Practicing means the agent performs the skill in a simulated environment. This gives the coach the ability to control what “hits” the agent and allows the agent time to develop consistent habits and messages without worrying about the negative impact of a potential mistake. Practicing includes role-plays (with the agent playing the role of the agent), computer simulations, and producing simulated expert tapes (in which agents write and audiotape expert scripts).

Recently I asked several contact center managers, “How prepared are your agents to handle the job immediately following initial training?” The answers ranged from “barely” to “more than 60 percent.” Many managers said there was no way to prepare them adequately. Agents simply have to get on the phone and experience what it is like. I believe there are consequences to this approach.

One of the consequences is that you risk losing customers due to their interaction with inexperienced agents. One should design simulated training that covers everything an agent could encounter once on the phone. Just as airlines use flight simulators to train pilots, contact centers need call simulators to train agents.

Several software vendors today offer computer based simulations that are used to train agents on basic customer interaction skills. The great thing about these systems is they let agents train on simulated calls that are very realistic, without having to use customers as live guinea pigs.

Next week we’ll take a look at the applying and inventing phases of full spectrum coaching.

Kathryn E. Jackson, Ph.D, is president of Ocean City, N.J.-based contact center consultancy Response Design Corp.

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