Featured Image for the blog: Your Call Center Manager Playbook

A How-To Guide to Better Call Center Coaching

Great call centers don’t just happen by accident. They’re the result of many moving parts coming together at the right moment under the oversight and direction of great leaders. Effective call center management is how we keep everyone focused on the right objectives and activities.

But it’s more than just managing spreadsheets. Great call center managers are also coaches, providing the right mix of encouraging and constructive feedback to help their agents perform at their best.

Whether you’re a first-time call center manager or a veteran in the field, we’ve created this guide to help you improve your call center management skills.

You’re a Call Center Manager, Now What?

Call center managers set the tone for happy, effective teams of agents.

A good manager understands the basics of leading a team of call center agents. But a great manager understands that day-to-day management is only part of the job.

Excellent call center workforce management involves inspiring agents to pursue their personal growth and aligning them to the company’s mission and objectives.

A Quick Snapshot of Today’s Call Center

Positive workplace culture is imperative for companies across industries today. Workplace culture is crucial for call centers given the turnover rate, which hovered at about 45% even before the pandemic. Mercer’s US Contact Center and Customer Service Compensation Survey found that entry-level agents have the highest turnover rate, with turnover declining as contact center agents move up the ranks.

Turnover is expensive. Gartner’s 2021 Customer Service Rep Role and Experience Survey reported the price tag to replace a single call center representative was more than $14,000. The same survey found that if your agents are disengaged, they are 84% more likely to look for a new job. Even neutral agents are approximately 43% more likely to go job-hunting.

Another challenge is the increase in work-from-home agents during the pandemic. Remote management is here to stay, and call center managers must adapt to a completely different leadership style.

Being a Good Manager Is Different Than Being a Great Agent

Managers typically start as agents and move up the ranks. Chances are, as an agent, you met your own key performance indicators (KPIs) every month and rated a nearly perfect daily scorecard. But as a manager, the standards for success are different.

New managers must move beyond the singular focus on personal KPIs to the responsibilities of managing a team and influencing business-unit metrics. This adjustment takes time. There is a learning curve, and the transition from agent to manager doesn’t happen overnight.

As a manager, you are responsible for more than just yourself. You must ensure your agents have the training, resources, and support to hit target metrics. Call center management is about creating excellent outcomes for agents, customers—and the company’s bottom line.

Different Styles of Management

SHRM’s 2021 Workplace Culture Report found that approximately 76% of employees say their manager establishes their workplace culture. Whether you became a manager through internal promotion or as an external hire, you are now responsible for setting the tone for your team. Several different leadership styles exist based on experience, training and personality:

    • The Absentee Manager: These managers expect their team to be self-sufficient and “figure it out” when challenges arise. There’s merit in empowering agents to be proactive, but this style is unsustainable for long-term growth.

    • The Micromanager: They want to help, but they can’t relinquish control and empower agents. This type of leadership means they retain approval power, depriving agents of the autonomy to make quick decisions for customers.

    • The Assertive Manager: These managers are all about building up their team. They know that growth requires presence and clarity. These managers speak their minds, defend their reasoning when challenged (and encourage others to do the same) and facilitate conflict resolution among team members.

    • The Experience Coach: Experience coaching is about finding the right approach for each agent in each situation. This is the leading method and most suitable for call center managers.

What’s Your Leadership Purpose?

A leadership purpose explains why someone wants to be a leader, what they stand for and what they want to be known for. A manager’s purpose depends on their values and goals, as well as on their company’s values, goals and culture.

You must define your own unique leadership purpose. Some leaders define their purpose as helping their team accomplish goals, while others might describe it as assisting agents to reach their full potential. But your leadership purpose is your own. Only you can decide what motivates you to become the leader of your team.

Define Your Team’s Purpose

In addition to the leadership purpose, you should carve out your team’s purpose ⁠— the single statement of meaning that connects personal, team, and company goals.

Creating a unified purpose isn’t simple. It requires you to ask questions that push your team members to think deeper about what it means to be part of the call center team. Collaboratively, work through these ideas and boil the goal down to a few essential points.

Then, turn the statement into a purpose that aligns with the company’s top goals, ensuring the objective is strong enough to serve as a cultural compass for the team.

How Do You Choose Your Priorities?

Understanding leadership and team purposes then inform the priorities you set for your team. Here are a few examples of priorities that successful managers have on their list:

    1. Coaching agents daily. Many agents leave because of a lack of growth and development opportunities. Make coaching a top priority.

    1. Share the mission statement and core values with your team. The team feels a sense of unity and purpose when everyone is on the same page.

    1. Improve metrics. Don’t view metrics in a silo. Focus on metrics that complement each other and influence the company’s desired outcomes.

A Good Manager Is a Coach

Talent is essential in today’s competitive economy. But how often are call center managers working to develop their agents? How frequently are managers sitting down with agents, going through performance goals and measuring their contributions? Does this type of meeting happen daily? Weekly? Never?

Feedback and employee development aren’t optional in today’s workforce. The truth is that employees in today’s economy crave feedback.

Officevibe’s 2022 Global Employee Engagement Study found that 96% of employees said receiving feedback regularly is a good thing, and 83% of employees really appreciate receiving positive or negative feedback.

Coaching is one way to ensure call center talent is developed, nurtured and engaged. Coaching opportunities exist throughout the manager-employee relationship, starting with a strong employee onboarding checklist. Well-trained agents become better prepared for the role and more receptive to continued coaching and development.

The Difference Between Managing and Coaching

Managers oversee people, but that doesn’t necessarily make them coaches. Coaching is about inspiring agents to do more and be more. The call center manager who coaches well acts as a guide for each team member rather than telling them exactly how to do their jobs,

Coaching is a mindset that managers use to influence the larger workplace culture. When call center managers use coaching as a management tool, agents and teams at all levels align with and rally around the organization’s goals. Collaborative research from the International Coach Federation (ICF) and Human Capital Institute (HCI) reported that 61% of employees at companies with strong coaching cultures are “highly engaged” compared with only 53% of employees at companies without strong coaching cultures.

Building a Coaching Culture

Coaching culture intentionally focuses on growing and nurturing agents to deliver critical results. Creating this culture starts with managers giving effective feedback.

You should listen closely to agents’ perspectives about why they do what they do. Ask genuine questions, close the gap in perception, and identify the root causes of problems or gaps.

Keep at it. Your agents deliver positive customer experiences while management regularly invests in agents through coaching and other forms of learning and development.

Types of Feedback to Use in a Coaching Culture

An effective feedback culture faces a stumbling block in the form of overcoming manager reservations and challenges in giving constructive feedback and actionable takeaways.

Solving this problem is an example of where managers like you benefit from coaching, too. Leaders are expected to create a feedback culture where call centers are safe spaces for open and constructive dialogue.

In an ideal environment, managers are comfortable giving feedback, and agents are comfortable giving each other tips and pointers while brainstorming ideas with managers. This collaborative approach builds trust and helps everyone perform better.

But those skills take time and training to cultivate. As a manager, seeking out training to assist you in giving better feedback will add another tool to your skillset and benefit your team.

Here are three methods of effective feedback that managers who coach need in their workplace:

    • Show appreciation: Showing appreciation recognizes people’s actions, reinforces those behaviors and motivates them to work toward the company’s mission and goals.

    • Coaching directly: Consistent and specific feedback increases employee satisfaction, engagement and performance. Without feedback, agents lose the chance to improve their skills and performance, and managers miss out on development lessons.

    • Evaluate: Evaluations help agents see where they stand in their career development. Monthly scorecards, for example, get everyone aligned on expectations and inform decision-making.

Don’t Forget to Ask for Feedback

Feedback is a two-way street that requires you to be receptive to employee input. But the manager-employee relationship is a naturally unbalanced power dynamic, which hinders honest responses from agents. To encourage feedback, managers should use these strategies:

    • Ask your team about your strengths.

    • Ask for context, and don’t settle for fluff.

    • Close the feedback loop by talking with anyone you impact at work.

Facilitate Effective 1:1s

Regular one-on-one meetings are some of the best opportunities to implement feedback best practices. You should meet with your agents at some agreed-upon frequency, whether monthly, every other week or weekly. Some agents want to dig into the details of tasks and walk through weekly customer interactions, while others are fine with in-line coaching and want less frequent formal conversations.

It’s essential to find a cadence that works for everyone while remembering that these meetings aren’t a one-way street. They are dedicated time to learn about what’s working, what’s not and where development and growth should occur during each agent’s time with the contact center.

These meetings are also chances for you to better understand each individual agent’s mental state. Agents can share if they feel overwhelmed, disengaged or close to burnout. Being aware of these situations is critical for managers to effectively guide and coach their agents. You may even help your employee find solutions or make accommodations that allow them to move forward.

Tracking Performance

Call center management should include metrics that directly deal with an agent’s efficiency, effectiveness and empowerment when tracking performance.

For example, efficiency metrics might uncover how easily the agent solves a customer’s issue while accounting for agent timeliness, resourcefulness and focus.

Consider tracking these four crucial call center dashboard metrics as you develop a KPI dashboard.

    • Average Speed of Answer = Total Initial Wait Time of All Callers ➗ Number of Inbound Calls Handled

    • Customer Satisfaction Rate = Number of Satisfied or Very Satisfied Customers ➗ Number of Customers Surveyed

    • Cost Per Contact = Total Annual Operating Expenses ➗ Annual Inbound Contact Volume

    • Average Handle Time = Total Talk Time + Told Hold Time + Total Post-Call Work ➗ Number of Total Calls

When you track key customer service metrics, you’ll ensure that your agents work productively and keep customers satisfied. Train your agents to efficiently find the resources they need to help solve customer issues and provide an exceptional overall experience.

Agent Experience Drives Customer Satisfaction

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

Customers expect every interaction to be a great experience. However, most companies fail to meet this expectation. A famous 2005 Bain & Company report found only 8% of customers felt they received an excellent customer service experience, while 80% of the organizations actually delivering the service thought they did a fantastic job.

A full 63% of employees feel like they don’t get enough praise, according to  Officevibe’s 2022 Global Employee Engagement Study findings. Recognizing and rewarding agents who exceed expectations and demonstrate growth motivates agents to show up as their best selves to work.

Engage your employees by improving their processes through automation. A 2021 Salesforce survey studying the link between stress levels and business automation found that 89% report increased satisfaction with their job since the adoption of automation in the workplace. That’s because call center automation takes on monotonous, repetitive tasks that eat up hours of valuable time.

Now, your call center agents are free to tackle more challenging customer situations that actually require human intervention. Implementing automation tools raises the bar in assisting your agents when it comes to delivering outstanding service to your customers.

Customer Satisfaction Hasn’t Budged in Decades

Agents have an outsized influence on customer experience and retention. Pricewaterhouse Coopers Future of Customer Experience Survey found that 59% of people will walk away from a company they love because of a few bad experiences. A further 17% will walk away after only one bad experience.

Yet, despite this data and the overall emphasis on customer experience, the American Customer Satisfaction Index reports that scores continue to hover in the 70s.

Effective call center management improves engagement among agents, which in turn creates a better customer experience and leads to higher rates of customer satisfaction.

The Benefits of Engaged Agents

Engaged employees perform better. Qualtrics XM Institute research names employee engagement as one of four core customer experience competencies that allow an organization to create a genuinely customer-centric culture. The research states that engaged employees try harder at their tasks, are more likely to do something good for the company even if it is not expected of them, and freely offer to help others.

Other benefits of an engaged workforce include:

    • 18% lower turnover in high turnover companies

    • 43% lower turnover in low turnover companies

    • 28% less shrinkage/theft

    • 64% fewer safety incidents

    • 81% lower absenteeism

    • 10% higher customer metrics

    • 18% higher sales productivity

    • 23% higher profitability

According to the Gartner 2021 Customer Service Rep Role and Experience Survey, disengaged reps are 84% more likely to think of quitting or actively look for a new job. That same study found that these agents also perform three times as many high-effort behaviors when resolving customer issues as their engaged counterparts.

The State of Empowerment for Agents

When employees feel empowered at work, increased job satisfaction and commitment to the company almost always follow. As a manager, there are ways to encourage agents to take control of their careers and daily work schedules. Of course, the level of control agents receive is directly related to their performance and engagement levels.

Here are the five stages of empowerment for call center agents and how you should coach them.

    1. Avoidance. These agents aren’t interested in the job and actively disengage from their roles. They’re not focused on meeting their KPIs or reaching out for your guidance. Coach them by challenging them directly and giving them crystal-clear expectations.

    1. Complacency. These agents are getting the job done, but that’s about it. In your 1:1s, discover what these agents use as motivators and inquire about their long-term goals.

    1. Growth. The agents in the growth stage are a coach’s dream. They crave manager input to understand their strengths and gaps. If an agent is in the growth stage, they’re actively working toward a defined goal and using you as a resource.

    1. Struggle. Overloaded agents without guidance will silently struggle. They’ve been self-sufficient, so they don’t know how to reach out for help, and they are hesitant to accept help when it’s offered. Handle these exhausted superstars with care.

    1. Burnout. Agents enter burnout because they give their role 110% every day. They needed the support of their leaders but didn’t get it, so they started to check out. Listen to their pain points and develop remedies.

Get Started With Call Center Management

Modern call center management requires leaders with a clearly defined purpose who are comfortable coaching and giving feedback. These leaders understand how to measure performance and bring out the best in their agents, thus driving better outcomes for customers and the company.

Are you one of these leaders?

Follow our advice, and you will become a standout manager your team members will never want to leave.