Contact Centre Agent Coaching: Be Prepared!

Agent Coaching - Be Prepared

Penned by Lord Baden-Powell for the Scout movement, the motto “Be Prepared” is just as appropriate when it comes to Contact Centre Team Leaders conducting coaching with their Agents.

Agent coaching offers a training process in which Agents are supported, not instructed, to achieve performance goals. When delivered effectively, coaching can be flexible, empowering, challenging, and rewarding for Agents and Team Leaders alike. So why does Agent coaching so often fail to deliver the benefits it promises?

Acquiring the skills to effectively deliver Agent coaching requires care, tenacity, and practice. However, the benefits coaching can deliver in the pursuit of high performance can be tremendous, and should be embraced by Contact Centre Team Leaders. This article offers advice for Contact Centre Team Leaders and explores an area of Agent coaching where difficulties commonly occur; coaching preparation.

It is important to recognise that effective Agent coaching is more challenging for Agents than it is for their Team Leaders. It demands an Agent’s creativity, effort, commitment, and self-confidence. From this perspective it is wise to ensure coaching is applied to a limited number of performance challenges at any one time, and that it is applied to those performance challenges that are of most importance to the success of the Agent, the Team Leader, and the contact centre in which they serve.

Before coaching is undertaken, a Team Leader must ensure a performance challenge has been identified, and that the scale and nature of necessary performance improvement to achieve success can be clearly illustrated. To assist in this process, an Agent performance challenge should be Pinpointed, Researched, and Recorded before commencing Agent coaching.

Pinpointing an Agent Performance Challenge

To pinpoint an Agent performance challenge you’ll need to ensure that it is measurable throughout the period over which it must be resolved, and it can be attributed to an individual Agent.

Performance challenges are often assigned to a Team Leader as a Team target for a composite of individual behaviours. It can be tempting to launch immediately into Agent coaching with the assigned Team target, but to maximise the chance for coaching to be effective, the Team performance target should be broken down into an individual Agent target, and then further broken down from a composite to a specific target before it is discussed with an Agent.

As example, consider a Team Leader who has been told that their Team’s call average handle time (AHT) needs to be reduced by 40 seconds over the coming 6 months:

Breaking Team Challenges into Agent Challenges

The Team’s AHT is currently 450 seconds; so the Team’s AHT performance challenge is to reduce the AHT down to 410 seconds over the next 6 months. The individual performance challenge for an Agent in the Team currently at an AHT of 470 seconds is going to be vastly different from an Agent operating at an AHT of 430 seconds. And for an Agent operating at an AHT at 395 seconds there will be no AHT performance challenge at all. Working towards an AHT of 410 seconds represents a different challenge for each Agent in your Team – so don’t set a Team target, set a target for each individual based on their current performance.

Breaking Composite Challenges into Specific Challenges

The Agent currently operating at a 470 second AHT is handling ‘general enquiry’ and ‘contract extension’ customer enquiries. The ‘contract extension’ calls represent 70% of the calls they handle, their AHT for these calls is 495 seconds; 65 seconds above the average for the Team. The AHT for ‘general enquiry’ is within 15 seconds of the Team average at 412 seconds.

To maximise the benefit of coaching, the more specific the performance target the better. In this scenario, coaching should focus on a performance improvement for the ‘contract extension’ AHT. The performance gap is more significant than that for the ‘general enquiry’ calls. Once improvements are made on the ‘contract extension’ calls you can always turn your focus towards the ‘general enquiry’ calls. You might even find that many of the efficiency improvements made for ‘contact extension’ calls will have also translated to the ‘general enquiry’ calls!

Research and Record an Agent Performance Challenge

Once a specific performance challenge has been identified, past performance should be researched and recorded to clarify the scale and nature of necessary change. For efficiency or effectiveness based performance challenges, this research could consist of analysing the past 3 months of performance metrics related to the challenge. For attitudinal challenges, the research could consist of gathering examples of behaviour that meets and fails to meet the standards.

For efficiency and effectiveness challenges, a simple line graph provides an ideal way to analyse and present performance data, as well as visualise the scale of change that is being sought for success. As example, the following chart illustrates past performance in comparison to the future performance goals.

Agent Coaching - AHT Perf Challenge

As well as supporting the scale and nature of necessary change discussion, this table and chart provides a simple format to track improvement progress, providing an ideal means to measure the effectiveness of the course of action an Agent has chosen to take during coaching.

But Doesn’t This Mean you’re Setting the Agent’s Performance Goal?

A core differentiator of coaching from other Agent training approaches is that the Agent, and not the Team Leader, is responsible for setting a performance goal and choosing a course of action to achieve that goal. Yet, the example table and chart appear to have done just that!

When presenting performance data in this format, you should consider the data as feedback reflecting past performance. The performance goal can be framed as the upper limit to the performance improvement required. The Agent can still determine when and how AHT will be reduced, but their goal needs to fall within the boundaries offered. After all, there is little point in pursuing and achieving a performance goal that is still considered below required standards!

There’s a Lot More to Agent Coaching

Of course Pinpointing, Researching, and Recording an Agent’s performance challenge won’t ensure every Agent coaching session will be destined for success. But it should assist in getting your Agent coaching to focus on the right performance targets, and help Agents to understand the magnitude of change needed for success.

I would love to hear your thoughts on preparation for Agent coaching by Team Leaders. Have you discovered an alternative approach that delivers the results you need? And remember, while contact centre Agents and Team Leaders are responsible for delivery of effective coaching, it is certainly a skill for which assistance can be found!

 

Jason Metcalfe, QPC Solutions Manager