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7 Steps to Coaching Success

Byline article for industry magazine placement, attributed to Ron Hildebrandt, founder of Enkata

7 Steps to Coaching Success

Contact centers are constantly under the microscope. On the front line with customers, they’re tasked with providing the best possible service in the most efficient way. To do it, they often invest millions of dollars to route, manage, record and analyze calls. Yet, most spend relatively little on managing the foundation of good customer service: agent performance. Contact centers with the best customer service records have begun to pull ahead of the competition by taking an entirely different approach, investing in next-generation coaching tools to ensure that they get the most from their people.


“Performance Coaching” is a structured, best-practice method that can transform contact centers. It helps companies shorten agent on-boarding time, reduce agent turnover, improve first call resolution, reduce average handle time and improve quality scores—often within the first six months.

From Traditional Coaching to Performance Coaching

Performance Coaching is a paradigm shift from traditional coaching. It’s a systematic approach that concentrates supervisors’ time on the agents, metrics and behaviors with the most improvement potential. Performance coaching differs from traditional coaching in focus, consistency, topics addressed, success metrics and time investment, as described in the table below.

The 7 Steps

Moving from traditional coaching to a Performance Coaching model takes planning and time. The following seven practices are critical to making Performance Coaching take root during the transition period and succeed for the long term.

  1. Define the yardstick for coaching success.
  2. Personalize the coaching process.
  3. Focus on the right “vital few” metrics.
  4. Coach the right agents.
  5. Provide specific feedback to change behavior.
  6. Coach your coaches.
  7. Continually raise the bar.

1. Define the yardstick for coaching success.
A Performance Coaching program is about results. By measuring and rewarding agent performance and supervisors’ coaching results, companies can establish a foundation for the right Performance Coaching culture. Measure success at the site, team and supervisor level to ensure full visibility. For example, highlight your most effective supervisors by tracking the percentage of under-performing agents (below a target) by supervisor, as well as the percent of agents who achieve key performance indicator (KPI) goals. Give accolades to your best-performing coaches. Give assistance to those who struggle.

2. Personalize the coaching process.
Coaching is not a one-size-fits-all process. Coaching frequency, content, workflow and forms are often very different between sites, groups and coaching type. Personalizing the coaching process to reflect these differences ensures supervisor buy-in, and also that each and every session is relevant and productive. However, don’t overdo it. Too much variation between agents increases the complexity of the process and can create an inconsistent coaching culture.

3. Focus on the right “vital few” metrics.
Narrow your coaching focus to a list of three to five metrics, and you’ll set clear priorities for agents and concentrate coaching time in the most critical areas. Suggested criteria for your vital few KPIs:

  • Linked to key company initiatives
  • Part of agent incentives
  • Achieve balance between efficiency and effectiveness
  • Highly varied among agents
  • Easy to understand

A good place to start is with average handle time, quality monitoring (QM) scores, customer satisfaction (CSAT) and first contact resolution (FCR). These best-practice metrics balance each other, and they’re the critical drivers of call center performance.

4. Coach the right agents.
Supervisor coaching time is a precious commodity. Invest it where it yields the highest payback: in the agents with the most improvement potential. Performance Coaching dedicates 60-80 percent of time on the middle performers, the 30-40 percent of agents clustered around the average.

To avoid over-coaching the worst performers, create a coaching strategy that outlines the percent of coaching time by agent segment. For example, a best-practice plan might call for spending 20 percent of monthly coaching time on the best performers, 20 on the worst performers, and 60 on those in the middle.

5. Provide Specific Feedback to Change Behavior
Performance metrics are only actionable if supervisors present them along with specific suggestions on how to change the behavior that causes them. For example, agent “desktop management” behaviors, such as poor typing skills or not using keyboard shortcuts, are often a major reason behind long handle times.

Supervisors can identify behavior-change suggestions by conducting side-by-side observations and reviewing QM results. New technologies (vendor offerings differ here) can also help uncover costly habits by linking directly to desktop analytics systems and call recording systems.

Once identified, it’s best to focus on just one well-documented and researched suggested behavior change during each coaching session.

6. Coach your coaches.
Great coaches are made, not born, as the old adage goes. Supervisors need training to establish and improve solid coaching skills. Help them feel confident that they know to provide not only specific and timely feedback in a constructive manner, but also that they match their response to each situation.

Consider certifying your supervisors in a course before deploying your performance coaching program. Then, regularly assess skills with “ride-alongs,” where a leader evaluates each supervisor at prioritizing which agents to coach, selecting the focus metric, matching their coaching model to the agent situation and providing relevant, behavior-based feedback.

7. Continually raise the bar.
Contact centers are dynamic places, with new agents, products, marketing campaigns and initiatives to keep up with every month. To ensure your organization can improve its performance in these ever-changing conditions, establish a coaching competency team to assess overall coaching effectiveness, maintain best practices and address business changes in coaching and training. Include representatives from every site and give the team the charter to help the organization achieve coaching mastery. A coaching competency center can become the place to meet, share ideas and evolve the coaching process as the business changes.

Performance Coaching Technology

While launching a Performance Coaching program primarily requires new processes and approaches to management, don’t underestimate the technology piece. It’s critical. A Performance Coaching initiative needs infrastructure that supports best practices, workflows, activity tracking and accountability. The technology must ensure that everyone in the organization is playing from the same playbook and measured against the same set of objectives.

Additionally, by automating reporting and administrative tasks, coaching technology creates more time for supervisors to spend with agents. For example, it can cut the time required to prepare performance reviews in half by providing employee targets, percent attainment and coaching notes at the click of a mouse.

For Best Results: Back to Basics

Agent coaching is the foundation for improved contact center performance. It’s by far the most effective management tool that a call center operation has to impact the business. However, the traditional, informal coaching processes that most centers use lack the focus and structure to achieve optimal results.

Performance Coaching is a new approach that requires transformation from the top down. It’s a leap forward from traditional coaching in its ability to help supervisors and agents become top performers. To be successful, supervisors must coach the right agents, using the right metrics and the right process. Performance Coaching drives results by focusing on changing agent behavior.

In the process, Performance Coaching will improve your KPIs, customer satisfaction and agent retention in a sustainable way. Although not a panacea, Performance Coaching is becoming a cornerstone of leading-edge service operations worldwide.