Your Call Center Manager Playbook

A how-to guide to better call center coaching

So you’re a call center manager. Now what?

Growth isn’t coincidental. It’s carefully crafted, highly intentional and, most importantly, it’s just hard.

But in a business landscape as ephemeral as Snapchat, one where customer needs change in what seems like eight seconds or less, how can we possibly keep up with the shape-shifting terrain in your call center to build a dream team of agents? And how can you become a better call center manager to lead your dream team?

In a simple answer, to become a better call center manager you must coach your agents more effectively and efficiently. But what does that mean?

You, as the call center manager, set the tone for an effective, happy call center. Good managers know how to manage their agents. Great managers realize it’s equally important to keep agents motivated and aligned to the company’s mission and strategic objectives.

Yet, we tend to talk more often about what it takes for your call center agents to see success without addressing what you need to do to help them get there. That’s why we’ve created this complete, one-stop-shop guide for you to have a referenceable resource to manage and coach your agents.

You have an incredible opportunity ahead of you, one that is equal parts hard work and big reward. So scroll on, fearless manager, and learn how to coach like a champ and be the leader your agents need.

Quick snapshot of today’s call center

As you look at improving your skills as a call center manager, we want to give you a little heads up about its current state. Despite the upward trend of companies putting more effort into improving their workplace culture, call centers still have an average turnover rate of 45 percent. Global consulting group Mercer, sites non-challenging work, lack of recognition, no career growth or development and inflexible work environment as key contributors to high turnover.

Not surprisingly, their report found that turnover is highest among entry-level agents, and tapers off as those move up in ranks. In fact, turnover rates drop considerably, to 20 percent, among intermediate staff and then down even more significantly for senior agents (12 percent), team leaders (11 percent), team supervisors (7 percent) and team managers (6 percent).

Agent turnover is a huge problem. But there’s hope to empowering agents – and it starts with you. Rest assured, you’re going to have everything you need to set yourself, and your agents, up for success straight out of the gate – whether you’re a new call center manager or a seasoned veteran.

We’ve included tips, tricks, & templates throughout to set you up for success right out of the gate as a call center manager!

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Section 1

Being a good manager is different than being a great agent

As a standout agent, you worked really, really hard. You met your KPIs every month, you had a nearly-perfect scorecard daily, and you were never too overwhelmed to take that one extra call during peak queue times.

But now, as a call center manager, your job is different. You can no longer just work hard to be successful. Moving beyond the realm of a single focus on your personal KPIs, you’re now responsible for your team and their impact on the entire business unit’s metrics. Add in the pressure of rallying your team together and aligning them to your company’s mission. Then, there’s the learning curve to balance metrics and people – finding the sweet spot between encouragement and constructive feedback. You have to manage your time incredibly effectively (because you have WAY too little of it). All the while being a leader that your team wants to follow.

Making the transition from agent to manager (and being a good call center manager) is difficult. It won’t happen all at once. You’ll learn a ton, and you’ll grow. You’ll run into some obstacles, then you’ll grow some more. Even if you’ve been a manager for quite some time now, you know that you’re never done learning and challenging yourself to be a better leader.

Yeah, being a call center manager is one tough gig. But, it’s a rewarding one. You have the potential to shape the agents on your team and help them develop life-long careers. You have a direct impact on your company’s bottom line, and an even bigger impact on how your customers perceive and emotionally connect with your company’s brand. You lead a team that has a $3 return for every $1 spent. And, that team makes or breaks your customers’ experience. The stats show it: your job is SO important.

Making the transition from superstar agent to manager

Your job has evolved and it’s time for you to shift your priorities. Even if you’ve been leading a call center for quite a while, it’s still important that you step back and take a good look at your priority list. For years, the call center industry has been wrapped up in cutting costs and driving operations based on metrics alone. But, that’s not doing your customers, or your agents, any favors.

Now’s the time to pause and think. How can you shift your mentality to focus on your agents’ and customers’ satisfaction? This might mean optimizing a plan you already have in place. Or, it might mean throwing traditional methods completely out the window.

How did you become a manager?

I was promoted from an agent

70 percent of managers were once agents.

I was hired in as a new manager

You’re bringing a fresh perspective to this contact center.

If you were promoted:

Ding, ding, ding! You did it. You moved the through the ranks, and all your hard work paid off.

If you’ve been a manager for a while now, you already know that the job is radically different. If you’re new to the gig, then your learning experience starts now.

If you were hired in:

So you’re new here. On top of figuring out your team’s priorities and processes, you’re also tasked with learning all these new faces and names, who’s good at what, and who needs some extra coaching.

Connect with your agents on a personal level and build positive relationships. Follow along as we share tips and resources, so you can become the best leader and coach for your team.

Different levels of leadership

The way you approach leadership is as unique as you are. Some folks opt to go all-in on coaching while others lean toward a hands-off, never-around management style. People have different methods, each stemming from things like their experience, their training, and their personalities. We’re decoding four methods of leadership and helping you to figure out which makes the most sense to be a successful call center manager. (Spoiler alert, it’s the experience coach.)

The Absentee Manager – This manager expects their team to be self-sufficient and “figure it out” when a problem or question arises. And while empowering your agents to be proactive is a solid concept, being an absent call center manager just isn’t a sustainable model for growth. The two key components of an absentee manager are giving little-to-no feedback and being unavailable to your team. Employees can’t reach their full potential under an absentee manager. Distant leaders can actually cause more damage in the office than over-bearing ones because they’re management tactics stay under the radar, so they’re not properly addressed.

The Micromanager – The micromanager only wants to help but has a problem letting go of the reigns and empowering agents. Agents can’t make a call, try a new tactic to reach a KPI, or take a five-minute break without their time and work methods being monitored by the micromanager. This type of leadership means you have the ultimate approval power, and your agents don’t have the autonomy to make snap decisions for your customers.

The Assertive Leader – These leaders are all about trying to build your team up, not tear them down. You know that growth requires presence, so your role as an assertive leader is to be there, not to be hands off. You make your thoughts and opinions clear, you defend your reasoning when you’re challenged (and encourage others to do the same), and you act as a facilitator when members of your team have disagreements. You are open and honest with communication, and you aim to accomplish goals, not to be right 100 percent of the time.

The Experience Coach – Experience coaching is finding the right approach, for each agent, in every situation. It’s ultra-personalized, and it’s in-the-moment. This is the leadership method that’s most suitable for call center managers. To be successful as a manager, you must coach your agents and personalize training and feedback to each of your individual agents. Your focus is always on your agents’ holistic well-being. You know that giving them a positive experience will ultimately improve your customers’ satisfaction.

After you lock-in your leadership style, define your leadership purpose, tailored to your call center goals.

What is your leadership purpose?

Your leadership purpose explains why you want to be a leader, what you stand for, and what you want to be known for by those in your contact center and out of it. It lays a foundation for your mission, vision, and the strategies you will use to guide your team.

Ask yourself what you stand for as a leader and how you want your team to see you. Then, combine the style of leadership that suits you (and your team) with your leadership purpose.

Your leadership purpose can’t be discovered in a vacuum. Look at the current state of your call center, your company’s goals, and your agents’ overall well-being and performance to determine your path. You may be in the midst of an all-star team who only needs to be nudged in the right direction, or you may have been handed a set of frazzled agents who’ve never had the leadership they need. Stack up your team’s unique circumstances to define your purpose.

Assertive leaders might have a leadership purpose defined by helping their team accomplish goals, always being honest and transparent, and being known as the voice of reason within a company.

Whereas the experience coach could have a leadership purpose dedicated to helping each individual agent reach their full potential, being invested in the well-being of their team, and is known for their humanistic approach to management.

After you have your purpose defined, create your list of priorities. There are hundreds of strategies and tactics out there that you can use to accomplish your goals and fulfill your purpose. But, the reality is, you won’t have time to implement every single one.

Setting priorities helps you effectively manage your time and focus your leadership, so you can actually accomplish all those lofty goals you set for your team and align with your leadership purpose.

Now, how do you choose your priorities?

Use the foundation you’ve built so far to single out your key goals and the strategic objectives that will help you get there. Each call center manager’s priority list will look a bit different based on your leadership purpose, but here are a few examples of priorities the most successful call center managers pin to the top of their lists.

1. Coach your agents daily. Your agents crave coaching. In fact, some 32 percent of employees say they’ve headed for the door because of a lack in growth and development opportunities. And, 75 percent of employees say their manager had a direct impact on why they left.

Make coaching your top priority. Start by delivering in-the-moment feedback. Some tools (like ours) use bots to shoot over interactions that need your attention based on criteria you’ve set up which can provide context in your coaching moment. Be direct and specific on what the agent did wrong and what the steps are to improve.

2. Share your mission statement and core values with your team. Working toward a common cause gives your team a sense of unity and purpose. And studies show it makes your agents happier and more productive. Your company’s mission ignites the people-first passion in your agents. Rally them around your company’s driving force, so they’re connected to something bigger and are more eager to help customers. Put pen to paper and align your contact center’s vision to your company mission. Think up how, together, you can act on your company values to accomplish your call center vision, and ultimately, further the company mission.

3. Improve your metrics. For starters, don’t view your metrics in a silo. Pair metrics together that complement each other and influence the outcomes you’re driving. Look at how certain metrics impact each other, and how if one’s disrupted, others fall closely behind. When you dive into metrics across the board, see how they’re impacted by your agents’ well-being, too. Having a team full of happier agents has a direct impact on your team’s productivity and your customers’ satisfaction. Metrics are useful meters of success. But, if you only measure efficiency and effectiveness numbers, you miss out on key indicators about your agents’ happiness and overall experience. We’re sharing more on that in section two.

What are the three components of an effective leader?

You’ve defined your leadership style and priorities. Now, it’s time to take action. You’ve nailed the pre-work, but the real work starts here.

Sincere Guidance

Lead your team with honesty and transparency. Give agents direct, specific feedback when they need improvement, and when they’re nailing the process. Do it sans the sugar coating, too. And remember, don’t let your all-star agents slip under your radar, they still need you.

Developmental Collaboration

Be a collaborative partner and a guide to each of your agents. When a KPI is missed, foster a dialogue, not an interrogation. Let your agents take ownership of their impact on your company’s bottom line. And, develop individual career paths instead of laying out one or two linear tracks to follow.

Trusted Accountability

Be accountable for your responsibilities. Show up to their 1:1s, and keep your paths of communication open. Hop on the phones when WFM predicts a crazy period. Consistently give feedback. And honor the commitments you make to your team.

Managing your peers

Now that you know what it takes to be a truly effective leader, you can tackle anything, right? You know the basics about becoming a successful call center manager. But if you’re among the 70 percent of managers that used to be agents, you’re now managing people who may have been your peers. This can be tricky, and it needs to be approached sensitively. The good news is, you’re at an advantage because you already know all about your call center’s processes and the demands of the role. Plus, you have established relationships with the agents on your team.

Here are some key Dos and Don’ts to managing your peers.

Do:

  • Address the awkwardness. There’s no denying that your role as a manager may leave your former peers uncomfortable, or even worse, your new position that comes with a bit more power may make you seem unapproachable. Get your team on board with the transition by bringing up the elephant in the room. Let them know that this is new and different for you, too. And be sure to show them that you’re still the same person and are a resource for them.
  • Ask for feedback and how you can help them. Your role as a manager may intimidate your former peers, but now you’re in the position where you can actually help them accomplish what they want to. As agents, you might have had conversations about your dreams and aspirations with your peers. Now you can help turn those dreams into a reality. Ask your team how you can use your management role to support and develop them in their roles, and always leave your door open for feedback and suggestions on how you can be a better leader.

Don’t:

  • Make major changes right away. Having your work best friend become your boss is enough of a change as is, so as much as you might want to revamp the entire call center, take it slow. Ease your team into the changes one-by-one, and be sure they’re included in conversations leading up to any big shifts.
  • Underplay your new position. As much as you may want to act like nothing has changed between you and your peers, it has. And, in an effort to be the best coach you can be, you’re going to have to be constructive at times. You’re going to have to say no to your agents, and that’s tough. But, YOU were chosen to lead the team, and you have the credibility to do so. Be sensitive to your team’s feelings, but make sure there are some set boundaries, too. Own your job as a coach and a stellar manager.

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Section 2

A Good Manager is a Good Coach

In today’s knowledge economy, we understand how important our people are to the success of corporate growth. Yet, call center manager, how often are you working to develop your agents? How frequently do you work through their performance and contributions to your bottom line? Does this happen daily, weekly, quarterly? Maybe never?

People are, without question, the biggest expense on your budget sheets. But, they also have the potential to make the biggest impact on your bottom line. According to research from the Temkin Group, customers who have a positive emotional experience are 6x more likely to purchase from your company again. And, they’re 12x more likely to recommend you to their network. What’s more, the lifetime value of that emotionally connected customer is 2x that of a highly satisfied customer. Don’t you think it’s time to start developing and driving your agents’ performance?

And your agents crave your guidance. In fact, some 42 percent of millennials look to you weekly for any kind of feedback. They want a pulse check to make sure they’re aligned with your expectations, just like you want to remain aligned with their needs.

Unfortunately, too many call center managers fall short of success because they’ve pigeonholed themselves into focusing on tasks and bottom line results. They’re holding manager-agent meetings that focus only on current issues and problems without offering coaching moments to squash bad behaviors early. These well-meaning managers have completely missed the fact that results are best achieved through developing and inspiring others.

Focusing on poor results will not magically improve them. Instead work to continuously coach your agents on their performance daily. Understand the behavior choices they make and the skills they need developed to actually improve your results.

The difference between managing and coaching

People are more successful and motivated when their leader is personally invested in their success. Being higher up on an org chart alone does not mean people will work hard for you. Developing a high-performance call center team isn’t easy, but leaders who see the importance of being a coach and building a coaching culture, not just being a good manager, will achieve more. Coaching is about inspiring your agents to do more and to be more.

But you can’t go straight into a coaching experience until you’ve dealt with performance issues. No one can initiate a change, no matter how important it is to the company, if it’s not adopted by the person who needs to make the change. That’s why day-to-day performance management capability needs to work in combination with coaching. Performance drives ownership and coaching drives development and change.

When managers across your call center – and your entire company, for that matter – use coaching as a management tool, agents and teams at all levels align and rally around the needs and goals of the business. Yet, a slim 25 percent of companies report having a strong coaching culture, according to a study published by the Human Capital Institute and the International Coach Federation.

The same study said a strong coaching culture breeds higher employee engagement and produces a stronger financial performance. Companies with a strong coaching culture report that 61 percent of their employees are “highly engaged” as compared to the 53 percent from companies without a coaching culture. And almost half – 46 percent – of companies with a strong coaching culture reported their 2016 revenue to be above their peer group.

How to build a coaching culture

A coaching culture is when you’re intentionally focused on growing and nurturing your agents by actively coaching to deliver key results. If, for instance, you have an agent who has a goal to move into the tech sector someday but works in your B2C call center in the meantime, a strong coaching culture would work with their strengths to develop their leadership capacities meeting their individual and organizational goals.

To create a culture of coaching and developing your agents, start by giving feedback. Prepare your feedback objective, then open with a neutral, clear purpose. As you talk, listen and clarify their perspective. Find out why they’re doing what they’re doing. Are they constantly coming in late for their shift? Maybe their daughter broke her leg, and it’s taking extra time to get her ready in the morning. Ask questions to show you genuinely care and then close the gap on the perceptions and identify the root cause. End the session by collaborating on an action plan you both can support. Then, monitor progress and follow up.

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Three types of feedback to use in a coaching culture

Appreciation

Coaching

Evaluation

Show appreciation:

Showing appreciation lets your team know that you believe in them. Yet, despite the proven benefits of showing genuine gratitude for your team’s hard work, managers are still defaulting to treating agents like replaceable robots. Rest assured, robo-agents spend their days contemplating two things: how much longer they’ll put up with their boss and how much more work they’d get done if their boss (you) actually respected them.

Appreciation, on the other hand, motivates your agents. It gives them a little pep in their step and the energy to double-down on their efforts when things get tough.

When people say they’re not getting enough feedback, often times they actually mean they’re wondering if anyone notices or cares about how hard they’re working. If they don’t care, why work hard? They don’t want advice, they want to be understood.

Coach directly:

Frequent, specific feedback increases employee satisfaction, engagement, and performance. And, it creates a culture of trust on a company level. Without your feedback, your agents are losing the chance to improve their skills and refine their performance. And you’re missing out on development lessons, too.

Coaching doesn’t have to happen by appointment. If one of your agents has a habit of using terms like “Lol!” on chat, call them out on it. Directly, but politely. Be constructive about your feedback. Don’t say: “I’m taking you away from chat because you don’t know how to message people!” Instead try: “Please remember not to use slang on chat. Here are a few other ways to make conversations feel casual, but still professional, while you’re interacting with customers.”

Make sure you’re not spoon-feeding your agents, though! Challenge them to engage and participate in the conversation. Clarify your feedback and have them talk through their interpretation.

“Moving from great to stunningly great is more inspiring/empowering than underperforming to mediocre.”

-Kim Scott, Radical Candor

Evaluate:

In a study of 4000 people who’d recently received constructive feedback in their evaluation, 74 percent of them said they already knew about the problem and weren’t surprised to get the feedback. Even more interesting, most employees prefer corrective feedback to praise and recognition. In a survey of 900 employees, 57 percent said they prefer corrective feedback while only 43 percent wanted praise or recognition.

Use evaluations to help your agents see where they stand in their own career development paths. Things like monthly scorecards help to keep both of you aligned on expectations, clarify consequences and inform decision making.

While it may be tempting to avoid confrontation about poor performance, it’s actually really detrimental to your agents.

Accepting feedback:

How you handle feedback from your agents will determine whether they feel comfortable reaching out to you moving forward. But if you’re hearing constructive feedback, it’s hard to keep cool in the heat of the moment. In fact, most people tend to react with defensiveness and anger, or – even worse – attack the person giving the feedback. But the truth is, we need to get over ourselves.

When an agent comes bearing feedback, first, stop your instinctive reactions. Don’t lash out, but rather calmly listen. Then think whether you’ve heard this sort of feedback before. Don’t get bogged down by weighing the validity of the feedback. Instead, think of the when and how this might be true rather than if it’s true. Once you fully understand the feedback, put the insights you’ve gained to action. Then circle back with the agent in a few weeks to get a pulse check from their vantage point.

How to ask for feedback

Getting honest feedback from agents who directly (or indirectly) work for you isn’t always easy. Here are a few steps to take to get the ball rolling.

Start by asking your team about your strengths. Don’t let humility stand in the way of understanding what you bring to the table and how it impacts your team.

Ask for context and don’t settle for fluff. Ask direct questions like, “When did you see me doing that well?” and “What behaviors do you see in others that are examples of personalized leadership?”

Close the feedback loop by talking with anyone you impact at work. Meet with your boss, peers and agents to understand what value you’re bringing and where you can improve.

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Section 3

Your Agent Experience Drives Your Customer Satisfaction

A good manager is a good coach. A good coach means happy agents, and happy agents mean happy customers.

Customers expect every interaction to be the best experience they’ll have with any given company. The challenge is, however, that even though it’s a priority, most companies are failing. In fact, a slim 8 percent of customers feel like they’re receiving a great customer service experience; compared to the 80 percent of organizations who think they’re nailing the CX.

With attentions and budgets around customer experience growing, don’t you think it’s time to recalibrate your strategy toward customer satisfaction?

Let’s start with your agents. This is the section to say why it’s so important to our customers that they’re dealing with engaged, happy agents. The whole fill-your-cup mentality.

Why CSAT hasn’t moved in ~25 years

Despite the global shift to prioritizing the customer experience and service, and the gobs of technology that have emerged in the last 25 years, customer satisfaction rates haven’t budged from the mid-70 percentile range.

Consider this: according to the 2017 Global Contact Center Survey from Deloitte, some 88 percent of call centers are prioritizing the customer experience to realize growth. Similarly, contact center executives are committed to optimizing costs and improving the customer experience rather than explicitly focusing on revenue growth. “While 46 percent of respondents believe customer satisfaction will be the most important factor in two years, only 3 percent believe revenue will be the most important.”

So how can you, call center manager, create a better customer experience and, in turn, a higher customer satisfaction rate? In general, according to the Deloitte survey, accuracy and the quality of information is the most important attribute of a successful customer interaction, with the ease of the interaction a close second.

That means your call center agents need frequent coaching to understand the information surrounding your organizational offerings. They need to feel connected to your company goals and values. And they should be comfortable, confident and empowered to handle the interaction both effectively and efficiently — without escalating it.

If your agents are comfortable and engaged in their role, and they have a manager to provide support when they need it, they’ll create a better experience for your customers.

The Business Impact of a Better Agent Experience

A better agent experience = a better customer experience.

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The benefits of engaged agents

Engaged employees perform better. They are the foundation to a successful organization and the key ingredient of a customer-centric culture.

In fact, research from Temkin Group found that employee engagement is one of four customer experience core competencies. In other words, if your agents are engaged in their role and in your company, they’re primed to create a better experience for your customers. Here are the other benefits of an engaged workforce:

lower…

25% lower turnover in high turnover companies

lower…

65% lower turnover in low turnover companies

less…

28% less shrinkage

fewer…

48% fewer safety incidents

lower…

37% lower absenteeism

higher…

10% higher customer metrics

higher…

21% higher productivity

higher…

22% higher profitability

How coaching in your call center helps your agents feel engaged

In today’s competitive labor landscape, skilled workers are leaving their jobs faster than ever. According to statistics from the Bureau of Labor, people in customer service roles only stayed in a single job for an average of about two years. If you want your agents to stay and grow in your company, you must engage them in their role and align them with your company’s vision.

Now, it’s easy to talk about engaging your employees, but it’s a totally different thing to put action behind it. In fact, despite rising in priority, most companies aren’t making any noticeable gains in moving the needle on employee engagement. Coaching your agents daily, allowing them to develop their skill set, will help them to effectively plan and execute projects. Not to mention, people who use their strengths daily are six times more engaged than your average employee, according to Gallup.

Quick Tip: Creating a coaching culture for engaged agents

Use in-line coaching and training to provide in-the-moment feedback and let your agents respond back.

Praise your agents in public and offer constructive criticism in private. Make it the norm to praise publicly.

Encourage your agents to recognize, support, and coach each other. Build a team that cares enough to be honest.

Trust your agents to do the job you hired them to do. Do NOT micromanage – but don’t let them fly on autopilot either.

What are the States of Empowerment for your agents? And how do you coach to them?

Only about 33 percent of workers in the US are actively engaged in their work, according to a study from Gallup. That means, two-thirds of the American workforce is either coasting through their workday or they’ve totally checked out at work. The same study found only 15 percent of the world’s working population is engaged. What’s worse is that these numbers have hovered in this range for more than a decade.

Yikes.

Each of your agents live in a different state of empowerment which drives their engagement. Whether they need very little of your time and guidance, or they’re over-extended workaholics who need their call center manager’s interference to say, “Yo, time to take a break!” Agents tend to travel through five states of empowerment while in the call center. Here are some tips on what your agents are feeling, and how to coach at each stage.

  • Avoidance – These agents aren’t interested in the job and tend to actively disengage from their role. They’re not focused on meeting their KPIs and they’re certainly not reaching out for your guidance. Coach them by challenging them directly, and giving them crystal clear expectations for their performance.
  • Complacency – These agents are getting the job done, and they’re doing fine. They’re not raising any major red flags, but they’re also not doing anything extra. In fact, they’re more concerned about getting out of work on time than they are about figuring out creative solutions for your call center’s processes and customers. In your 1:1s, find out what these agents use as motivators and what their long-term goals are.
  • Growth – The agents in the growth stage are a coach’s dream. They crave your input to know where they’re succeeding and what gaps they need to fill. If an agent falls in the growth stage, they’re actively working toward a defined goal in their life, and they’re using you as a resource. It’s important to realize that while these agents may seem like they’re happily chugging along, they feed on your direct and consistent feedback.
  • Struggle – If those agents in the growth stage take on too much without the guidance of their call center managers, they’ll end up silently struggling. They’re still intently focused on their goals, but they may not have all the tools or skills to reach them alone. But because they’ve been self-sufficient up to this point, they don’t know how to reach out for help, and struggle to accept it when it’s offered up. Handle these exhausted superstars with care or they’ll face burnout.
  • Burnout – Agents enter burnout when they’ve given their role 110 percent each and every day, but they’ve hit blockers that their hands-off managers aren’t helping to smash. They needed the support of their leaders, but didn’t get it, so they’ve started to check out.

Empower and engage your agents to help them see their value. Draw the connection between their role and the impact they make on the company and on people they’re interacting with. Then offer up hands-on coaching and a happy, healthy call center.

Put intention into celebrating your team, and work with them to understand their work-life goals beyond the confines of your call center walls. See how you can help them find the growth opportunities that will resonate.

Metrics still matter, too

You can have the most engaged, empowered team of agents, but if they’re not meeting established key performance indicators, your customers are still struggling to communicate with your company and your team hasn’t reached its full potential yet. Regular, extensive, and effective performance monitoring and management of your call center business unit is a necessity for you, your agents, and your bosses to make well-educated decisions. And to continue to grow.

To capture a holistic view of your agent’s well-being, you need to look at metrics relating to their efficiency, effectiveness, and, of course, empowerment.

As a call center manager, you have a ton of metrics to choose from as key performance indicators. Narrow down your list by focusing on those that directly deal with the efficiency, effectiveness, and empowerment of your agents.

For instance, for efficiency, track the metrics that uncover how easily the agent can solve a customer’s issue. These metrics usually relate to agent timeliness, resourcefulness, and focus. Then take a look at your agents’ effectiveness, or the quality of their results. Measure how your agents approach their customers in terms of soft skills, competence, and reliability. And finally, understand their empowerment, or how your agents feel as humans at work. This is, without a doubt, the trickiest to measure. But get a sense of empowerment by understanding your agent’s perceived value, ongoing development, and their fit within the team.

Here are four metrics that are important to track, then look here for others as you develop your KPI dashboard.

Four metrics to track performance

ASA measures the average time it takes for an interaction to reach an agent. It gives a look into how responsive a call center is to inbound traffic.

This is the number of customers who are satisfied (hence the name) with the level of service they’re getting from your call center.

This is what it costs your call center every time an agent makes contact with your customers. It keeps tabs on efficiency and helps with budget forecasting.

Average handle time measures the time it takes an agent to handle an interaction from start to finish – including after-call work. This evaluates agent productivity, empowerment and engagement.

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Section 4

Your How-To Guide to Coaching More Efficiently & Effectively

A man is walking through the woods trying to find his way. He pulls a tiny brass circle from his pocket, flicks it open, then immediately gets clarity about the direction he needs to go. As far back as the 11th-century Chinese Dynasties, people have been using a compass to guide them in the right direction. The compass gives directional intent and helps people reach their ultimate destination. As a coach, you are the compass for your team. You give your agents direction and point them towards the right priorities. Doing so helps them reach their developmental goals. And, it has a tangible impact on your call center’s performance and your company’s bottom line.

Serving as the center point to lead your team in the right direction is no easy feat. It means you have to pave the way, first. And, if you take a few too many wrong turns (or you sit still and opt out of paving that clearly-defined path), your agents will scramble to find their way.

Being a manager and a coach is a demanding job. But, it means YOU were chosen as the person who’s capable of leading a team full of rockstar agents in the right direction to boost your company’s success. With the right attitude, resources, and knowledge, you can build a path for your agents where it’ll be nearly impossible to get lost.

Here are a few key points to keep in mind as you start laying the pavement.

1. Use data for accountability. Think of KPIs as launching pads to help you reach your goals, not end results. They are there to prompt response from you, so you can track your contact center’s performance and optimize it accordingly to reach your target goals.

2. Motivate and influence your agents. Find out how each of your team members get meaning out of their work, then tailor their job duties to match these key motivators. Coach for intrinsic motivators and passion drivers to build an all-star team with high morale.

3. Coach for empowerment. Empowerment means your agents have the tools, resources, and the confidence they need to do their jobs well and put your customers’ best interests first.

As you build your team, there are two questions you can ask yourself when you need a little added direction to get your team on the right track. Whenever you feel like you’re getting lost in the weeds, simply ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Am I showing my team that I care personally?
  2. Am I challenging each person directly?
    -Kim Scott, Author of Radical Candor

When you personalize coaching and challenge directly, you empower your team to squash your goals all while being the ultimate compass for your team. Now, onto some steps on HOW to coach and develop the people on your team.

Three steps to coaching & developing the people on your team

Relate

Be present with your agents, and connect in a way that’s sincere. Focus on your tone, and use statements that resonate with your agents and level the playing field rather than placing you tiers above them.

Learn

Facilitate conversations and ask for feedback, so you can understand how your agents want to be coached. Change up how you ask questions, and challenge your current knowledge to find new ways to start a dialogue with your agents.

Advise

Give direction and delegate tasks. Delegating well means you’re using the 80 percent rule: you’re hands-off 80 percent of the time, but you’re coaching and giving your agents feedback the other 20 percent.

How to define your team’s purpose

Once you have the basic steps needed to coach and develop your team, you can use that knowledge and what you’ve learned in conversation with your agents to carve out your team’s purpose.

Your team’s purpose is the single statement of meaning that connects your goals to the goals of your company. And, more importantly, it connects each agent to one central mission. It unites agents around a cause and gives them the motivation to work toward that single purpose. It gives each agent table stakes in your company’s success, making everyone an outcome owner.

So, how do you create this unified purpose? Ask yourself and your team members questions to get them thinking deeper about what it means to be a part of your call center team. Use your company’s mission and vision to guide the conversation, and be sure to incorporate the values your company emphasizes.

Pull your agents in on these conversations and brainstorming sessions to amplify the brainpower building your purpose. After all, this is their purpose, too. They need to be involved in creating it.

Boil your purpose down to a few key points that are most important to you and your team. In your own words, hearts, and minds, why do you exist as a team? What’s the most valuable thing you want to bring to your company? If you want to be known as world’s best customer service team, start there. If you want to focus on wowing your customers with a little something extra like handwritten notes after difficult interactions, then mark it down. Come up with your team’s WHY statement to get things moving.

Next, turn that why statement and your key focus into a purpose that aligns with your company’s top goal. You may want to write handwritten notes and consistently wow your customers with delightful moments, but if your company’s goal is to grow exponentially and dominate a marketplace, you’ll need extra resources to make that idea scalable. It might still be a valuable goal for your team, but you’ll need strategy and buy-in to make it happen. Shift your why statement into something that can work as a support system to help your company achieve its mission, but still keep your glimmer of light and team’s unique vision intact.

Finally, be sure that whatever your purpose is, it’s strong enough to serve as a cultural compass for your team and empower your agents. Your purpose should act as a constant motivator for your team, so it needs to be powerful and resonate with each of your agents. Beyond that, it needs to empower them to bring their best to work each and every shift to truly provide value to their peers and customers.

Create a framework for coaching your team

With your team’s purpose pinpointed, draft a framework for coaching your team. For starters, you’ll need to identify some common themes that you can apply to your coaching and use to shape your training methods. There’s chatter and buzz in the call center space about agent empowerment and making your customer experience more human, but talking about it isn’t doing something about it. Use the themes of agent empowerment and a human customer experience to craft your coaching framework. Here’s how.

Empower your agents

A recent study dug into the impact of customer service on a company’s success. Turns out, 37 percent of customers leave a company when staff are rude and unhelpful, 30 percent leave for the competition when they have been passed around to multiple agents, 27 percent quit when they can’t get answers to their problems, and another 27 percent say “see-ya never” because they were kept on hold too long.

Statistically speaking, your agents’ inability (or lack of confidence in their ability) to find answers and autonomously solve customer problems drives your customers away. That means, a majority of the reasons customers quit working with you can be fixed when you empower your agents.

Prioritize your agent’s experience by coaching often

Your agents control your customers’ service experience. In the U.S., 59 percent of people will walk away from a company they love because of a few bad experiences. And 17 percent will walk away after only one bad experience. Prioritize agent well-being and coach daily, and you’ll have a team full of agents who rank high for efficiency, effectiveness, and empowerment. Your agents deliver positive customer experiences when they feel like valuable assets to your company, when they are listened to, and when they’re treated like real people, not just a tool to drive metrics.

Show them how valued they are by investing in their learning and development regularly. You can squeeze extra hours out of your week to coach your agents when you use contextual lessons and in-line training to quickly deliver coaching moments. Current state, you only have an average of 3 hours and 18 minutes per WEEK to coach all of your agents. That simply won’t cut it. In-line training and micro-learning lessons are in the moment and more impactful than traditional coaching methods, plus they add extra time to your day when you feel like your clock is always running out. When you coach frequently, you give agents daily prep to handle customer calls with poise and consistently deliver happy, humanized customer experiences.

Tip: Not all agents should be coached the same

You’re coaching a team full of individuals, so your framework is just that, a framework. It’s not a universal method that can be copied and pasted from one agent to the next. To be a successful coach, you need to connect personally with each agent and understand how they learn and how they need to be managed. Then, take your coaching framework and meld it into something that works for Mary, and Tom, and then John. Consistently check in with your agents, so you know if you’re missing the mark in some areas or if they’re functioning at super-speed all the time. Adjust your coaching framework as each agent uncovers new obstacles and triumphs, so you can always personalize the feedback and coaching moments you deliver.

How to facilitate effective 1:1s

Take some time once a month, every other week, or weekly to sit down with each of your agents and have a conversation. Give your agents some basic guidelines, but let them have wiggle room to determine how often you meet. Some agents want to dig into the details of tasks and walk through weekly customer interactions while others will be rocking along with in-line coaching and want less-frequent formal conversations. In many cases, pushing those outstanding, free-spirited workers into the confines of formal, weekly meetings will have the opposite effect that you want and take their confidence down a notch.

One-on-ones are the ideal slot for agents to bring their questions, concerns, and needs to the table. You’re there to listen, be a resource for them, and keep them on track if need be, but this is your agent’s time for direct, personal coaching.

How to shift gears if you’re already running 1:1s

If you already have standing appointments with each of your agents at least once a month, congrats! You’re ahead of the curve. Now, shift your focus into creating a conversation rather than a review session. Coaching isn’t a one-way street, and 1:1s should be a time for your agents to express themselves and get a dialogue going with you. It should be their safe space to talk about concerns, or their pesky desk neighbor, or their rough time at home that’s cutting down on their sleep and the energy they bring to work each day. Conversational coaching lets your agents drive the message of the meeting, while still giving you room to step in when needed and shape the conversation to help improve your agents’ performance and overall well-being.

Optimize the meeting invitation beforehand, so agents have regular reminders on what to think up before coming to the meeting. Send an initial email invitation one week in advance, and include a list of topics your agents can bring to discuss, along with potential questions they ask you (or ones they can answer about how you’re doing as a coach). Use the email to create guidelines for your 1:1 conversation and spark some talking-point ideas for your agents. If this is a completely new concept in your contact center, then agents might feel a bit uncomfortable with it at first. Here’s an example email of how you can kick things off:

Hey (agents name)

Let’s meet every other Thursday at 1:00 p.m. for a chat about how you’re doing and what you need from me to make your job easier. With this calendar invite, we’ll kick things off by meeting every other week, but if you find you need more (or less) time to talk, we can meet more frequently or drop our time down to once a month. You’re the leader of the conversation when we meet, but here are a few topics you might find helpful to talk about.

  • What do you have on your plate this week?
  • Have you struggled with anything lately?
  • Do you have any big wins or customer stories to share?
  • What would help improve your job?
  • Are you happy with the work you’re doing?
  • Are there any other tasks you wish you were doing?
  • How can I improve as your manager?
  • Do you have any questions or concerns about your job, my job, or the company?

Keep those in mind, and bring anything you’d like to discuss. The floor is yours. See you Tuesday!

Thanks,
Your manager

Tip: If you’re having trouble receiving real feedback, ask for it, then wait silently. Stay hushed until the awkwardness sets in, then keep quiet a little longer. They’ll be more prone to give you feedback just to break the silence.

A guide to feedback

If you’re a call center manager who sits in the group of 37 percent of managers who are uncomfortable giving feedback, like we talked about in section 2, then use this section as your guide to get more comfortable. Creating a culture of feedback not only means consistently giving feedback to coach your agents, but it means actively soliciting feedback about your own performance, so you can be introspective.

Here’s how to dish out feedback and properly seek it, too.

Sincere Guidance

All feedback you share with your agents must be sincere. And, make sure your feedback is about the situation, not the person. Finally, never call your confidence in your agents’ abilities into question. Feedback is a tool for improvement, not a tool to crush confidence and capability.

Developmental Collaboration

Personal learning and development come with the territory of being a stellar manager and coach. To effectively coach your team, you need to know what you’re doing right and where you could use some pointers. New perspectives help YOU learn and grown.

Trusted Accountability

Build a culture of feedback, and your agents will share the good, the bad, and the ugly with you. No one likes to hear they missed the mark on something. But, if you gracefully receive feedback and take it to heart, you’ll learn from missteps and improve how you coach.

With the three standards of feedback ingrained in your mind, you can move on to fostering that culture of feedback we keep mentioning.

All creating a culture of feedback really means is making your call center a safe space for dialogue. And, that doesn’t just apply to your agent-manager conversations. Creating a safe place for dialogue means your agents are comfortable giving each other tips and pointers, too. And it means when they get those tips and pointers, they’re thankful for the help and added input, not peeved at their neighbor.

So, how do you kick off all of this dialogue? Start by upping how often you give feedback to your agents. A single piece of feedback doesn’t need to take long. Don’t wait for formal channels like your 1:1 or team meetings. Feedback that’s in-the-moment is more impactful than a stockpile of comments on months’ worth of interactions. Not only will your agents have context around the interaction in question, but you’ll immediately correct their mistakes. And those corrections will keep your agents from repeating mishaps that would otherwise turn into bad habits. If you’re saving feedback for pre-scheduled meetings, you’re doing it wrong.

Beyond giving feedback regularly, make sure you’re giving feedback that’s five parts positives to one part negative. Sharing too much constructive criticism, too often, can make your agents feel like they’re not doing a good job. While you might share criticism with the intent to make your agents better, too much of it has the opposite effect and can actually make agents perform worse and suffer from crushed morale.

Finally, touch on topics that are actionable and relevant to each of your agents. If there’s no outcome or takeaways from your conversations with your agents, then they have no way to act on what you tell them. Be clear and specific with every point you make. Having a team full of happy agents who constantly work to better serve customers is the end goal of creating a culture of feedback.

Now, call center manager, go forth, and coach to make it happen.

Congratulations! You did it!