Waterfall Coaching For Agent Engagement

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Published:  January 12, 2016

One of the greatest opportunities for agent engagement — and yet from my observations, the least implemented — is the consistent involvement of top leadership in hands-on coaching activities and quality monitoring.

Many C-suite and higher-level managers feel that coaching is an activity for the frontline leaders. Or they may do a lot of feedback “telling” in team meetings with agent groups or with supervisors and leads.

As we know from our coaching best practice studies, this type of “tell and not do” communication style often falls on deaf ears. Agents and frontline coaches such as supervisors and leads tell me that they feel that the people on the top have no idea what the customer interaction work is really like for them including the coaching work and time it takes. They feel the C-Suite have no interest in how the contact center work environment is or how coaching should be done until a customer complains loudly. Then, the feedback (not really coaching) is all about what they did wrong.

Other agents tell me that the C-Suite folks at their company simply email blast the contact center teams with written platitudes such as, “Go Team!… you can do it!…we are behind you 100%!” when in reality they rarely see the top people in the center to engage with them directly. They receive volumes of attitude notes without the substance behind them.

If we want to have our employees truly invested and engaged in coaching and quality programs, it must begin with the people at the top. Coaching needs to be lived and breathed by everyone in the company responsible for customer experience, especially managers and executives who have direct reports who coach frontline center agents.

When we aren’t great coaches ourselves, why are we surprised when agents or supervisors fail as coaches or avoid coaching activities?

I believe in what I call “Waterfall Coaching.” Waterfall coaching means you are an active coach with your managers and frontline leaders, while they in turn are coaching with their agents.

This must be active coaching: Observe them coach with an agent, let them watch you coach an agent, listen to calls with them and make sure everyone agrees on the quality level expectations, skills needed and shares how to help the agents improve and how to drive active agent engagement.

One of my favorite clients is a Vice President of Marketing and Sales I’ve been working with for a few years. He knows sales and marketing practices extremely well and he also understands how to engage with his employees using active coaching.

When he decided to roll out a new coaching and quality program, he asked me to coach with him which involved listening to him on recorded customer calls and actually scoring his skills as we did with the agents.

His willingness to be monitored for quality and coached by me and also by his customer service managers spoke volumes about his interest in not just telling what to do but by learning what to do himself. He told me he better understands what both the agents and the manager coaches feel when participating in the coaching process.

The VP’s coaching participation also involved looking at the tools both managers and agents were using for customer interactions, processes and the time they needed to be successful. This allowed him to look at ways to improve the tools used.

Do you have expectations for your frontline leaders to drive quality and then load them up with everything but the tools and support they need to get the job done?

Having high expectations for quality and coaching without supporting with training and agent coaching tools will not bring you the agent engagement results you are seeking.

This company has seen great success from their coaching efforts, including written praise from customers worldwide regarding the quality of service. Their feedback was not asked for in a survey but offered freely by customers at conferences that my client and his peers attended.

Find the time to be a great coach yourself, give others the time to be a great coach, too and practice waterfall coaching every day. Your agents, your frontline leaders and your customers will all see the benefits.