The Supervisor Coaching Gap
If we in the contact center industry are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that the industry as a whole, has a large gap in supporting, managing and developing Supervisors in their role as a coach and motivator. The gap begins as most Supervisors were first hired as agents and not as experienced managers. Offshore and nearshore agents are hired based on language ability and North American or domestic agent hiring has lower standards for skills and experience than are present in most other industries. New hire training does an outstanding job preparing the agents with product, process and systems knowledge, but largely ignores the skills that are necessary for the agent to excel in providing a top level customer support experience, retaining a customer, selling a product or negotiating a collections call. New agents graduate from training with their success or failure dependent on their own natural ability and on the willingness, knowledge and ability of their Supervisor to coach and communicate. Agent coaching and performance management is where the gap in Supervisor performance is deepest and widest.
In the Contact Center, Supervisors are promoted from being an agent, largely because they achieved superior call results when compared to other agents. As a first time manager of people, they are asked to coach, motivate and develop their team to be as successful as they were on the phone. Unfortunately, performance as an agent, seldom translates to the leadership, communication and coaching skills necessary to drive the performance of their team. According to Gallup, “About one in 10 people possess high talent to manage. Though many people have some of the necessary traits, few have the unique combination of talent needed to help a team achieve the kind of excellence that significantly improves a company's performance.” Without accountability and the talent, knowledge and experience to coach, Supervisors follow the path of least resistance and spend the majority of their time completing reports, responding to email and managing behavior such as attendance and adherence. Too often, Supervisors can be found at their desks, avoiding coaching, rather than engaging and working with their agents. When they do required coaching, they provide “negative feedback”, rather than impactful skills focused coaching and their communication can be detrimental to employee engagement and moral. A Supervisors failure to engage in meaningful coaching facilitates poor performance and increases agent attrition.
To bridge the Supervisor gap, contact centers engage in training and development programs that seek to help Supervisors become better managers, leaders and coaches. These programs focus on leadership attributes and communication skills that are difficult to develop and take high motivation, natural ability and experience to master. While development programs can be successful for naturally talented and driven leaders, this approach does not bridge the coaching gap for the approximately 80% to 90% of the Supervisors without the motivation and natural ability to lead and coach. All but the top performing Supervisors require a new and different approach.
Some time ago, a contact center I was involved with managing, conducted an experiment in agent scripting. Results showed that low performing agents improved sales results with call scripting. High performing agent’s sales results were impeded by the rigid adherence to scripts. While these results are not surprising, the results beg the question of, “What if the same principles are applied to Supervisor coaching?” What if we “script” Supervisor coaching so that lower performing Supervisors are provided an outline of coaching activities with the requisite coaching material and simple directions to coach their agents? What if we provide the Supervisor everything they need to coach in pre-built coaching activities that are customized and constructed to develop agent skills? What if we end the cycle of “negative feedback” coaching that is prevalent with most Supervisors and instead managed the Supervisor to Agent coaching engagement so that it builds agent skills and confidence while creating real Supervisor accountability?
In a study performed by the Sales Executive Council, evidence showed that coaching was the top manager behavior associated with agent success. Agents that received more than 3 hours coaching per month achieved 107% of their goal while agents that received less than 2 hours of coaching per month achieved only 90% of their goal. In a similar study, the Sales Executive Council found that the lowest level of coaching effectiveness has a 19% gap in agent performance when compared to the highest level of coaching effectiveness. While studies that show the effectiveness of coaching are worth while in an academic proof of concept, it is common sense to understand that agents that receive coaching and practice their skills will improve their performance.
Everyday contact center experience in working with Supervisors, and study results, clearly show that we need to abandon the old approach of “training and developing” Supervisors and replace it with a coaching program that will manage Supervisor coaching by providing well-defined, simple coaching activities and targeted skill development. At Liberty Call Center Solutions, we have developed a revolutionary coaching software tool that bridges the gap in Supervisor coaching performance. By providing customized, online coaching outlines and coaching activities that manage the Supervisor to Agent coaching engagement, we create real coaching accountability and coaching effectiveness by providing the Supervisor everything they need to coach. No more excuses of not knowing who, how and what to coach. Coaching activities focus on developing agent skills and on providing practice for agents to master the skills that are necessary on each call. In joint effort with our clients, we develop coaching programs that take the best practices, of their best agents, and place those behaviors into coaching activities that are coached, tracked and consistently re-enforced through the Supervisor to Agent engagement. Customized coaching outlines and materials are available through our CoachTelesales, CoachCustomerSupport, CoachDebtCollections and CoachCustomerRetention coaching programs. It is commonly said that a good Supervisor makes a good team of agents. Coaching is the difference. The right coaching software is the only way to ensure ALL Supervisors are actively engaged in effective coaching and agent skill development.