Use Full-Spectrum Coaching to Make Every Agent an Expert

If you’re a contact center coach, you know there are good agents, decent agents and lousy agents. So how can you close the performance gaps between these groups?

One way is to implement 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.

Last week, we reviewed the education, modeling and practicing phases of a full-spectrum coaching program. Now let’s look at the other phases, including applying and inventing.

Applying
The application phase takes place in the “real” environment of the contact center. It consists of four stages. The coach controls the frequency of the first three stages. The agent controls the last.

First is the partnering stage. The coach sits with the agent in a highly interactive exchange. The coach decides who handles various parts of the call depending on the agent’s demonstrated skill and comfort level.

The second stage covers support. But in this stage, the agent is in full control of the call and the coach takes control only if the agent signals her to do so.

The third stage is a continuation of the support stage, except the coach is at a remote location. As in the second stage, the coach does not intervene unless there is a request from the agent.

The final stage is the polish stage. The agent “goes solo” without coach intervention or continuous monitoring. The agent is asked to start taking control of his own learning process by recording the areas of the call in which he is comfortable and those in which he is not. The coach spends time with the agent after designated call handling sessions to “debrief” the experience.

Inventing
In inventing, the last phase of skill development, the coach periodically observes the agent without intervening. In this phase, the agent creatively explores and resolves anomalies between what is supposed to happen and what appears to be happening. He learns how to vary his behavior according to the context of the call and the personalities of those involved. It is in this phase that the agent gains the highest level of skill mastery.

A few words of caution
There are several cautions about these phases of intervention. First, you may not be able to use all of them in your contact center. For example, you may find it difficult to trade off responsibilities on the same call as described in the applying phase.

Also, the phases are not linear. You don’t complete the coaching cycle by going directly from educating to modeling to practicing to applying to inventing. You may find you are practicing a skill and need to return to modeling or educating. The coach determines the intervention that expedites the imbedding of the skill.

Through the use of full-spectrum coaching, call center coaches can make every front-line agent an expert. The most important thing is to ensure that each link in the process is as strong as the rest. Only then you can start building a contact center where every agent truly gets it.

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

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