Off Center
 
Timely and positive coaching is one of the most important tools in the contact center. Notice I said “timely” AND “positive” – this is no either/or scenario. Giving agents immediate feedback following an interaction with a customer is great, but not if that feedback makes them cry or want to punch you. By the same token, positive praise and constructive comments are wonderful, but not if the praise and comments refer to an agent-customer interaction that took place during the previous President’s administration.

A good coach plays a big part in determining whether an agent becomes a service nuisance and an early turnover statistic, or a long-lasting high-performer.

So, what comprises good coaching? Here are five practices that coaches in the best contact centers use to give their agents serious game:

Letting agents self-evaluate. When it’s the agent starting the “what needs to improve” conversation, things tend to flow much more smoothly and agents remain much more open to input and feedback compared to when the coach launches a unilateral attack. The best coaches give agents the opportunity to review their monitored contacts and allow them to express how much their performance stunk before the coach goes and does it for them.  

Agents are typically quite critical of their own performance, often pointing out mistakes they made that QA staff and supervisors might have otherwise overlooked. Of course, the intent of self-eval sessions is not to sit and watch as agents eviscerate themselves – as much fun as that can be – but rather to ensure that they understand their true strengths and where they might improve. Self-evaluations should cease if agents begin to slap themselves during the process, unless it is an agent whom you yourself had been thinking about slapping anyway.

 
Praising before pouncing. When it comes time to provide feedback, the best coaches start off acknowledging and recognizing what the agent did well, as opposed to opening with something of a more critical nature that may put the agent on the defensive. Even if the agent stunk up the call, it’s still important to start off with something positive: “Mary, you did an excellent job of being in your seat, continuing to breathe, and not pressing ‘release’ when the call arrived. Now I’d just like to talk a little bit about how you swore at the customer before breaking into tears…”

If an agent fails to identify a performance issue during their self-evaluation, good coaches don’t shove it down their throat. Rather, they point out the issue or behavior in question and ask the agent what they could have done differently, and then engage in an interactive discussion featuring constructive feedback and sometimes lollipops.  


Tapping the power of ‘ideal contact’ archives. One of the biggest complaints you hear from agents about coaching is, “They tell us what we did wrong, but they don’t help us to get better.” A great way to show agents how to get better is via recordings (or email/chat transcripts) of past agent-customer interactions that demonstrate a desired skill or behavior you want the agent in question to emulate. For example, if you have an agent struggling with excessive handle times, have them listen to a recording featuring an agent demonstrating excellent call control. Or maybe you have an agent who unwittingly comes off as rude to customers. If so, sit them down to listen to a call handled by an agent who isn’t a total sociopath.

Telling an agent they have to decrease their handle time and/or not be so mean doesn’t work nearly as well as showing them what call control and courtesy sounds like and asking them to comment on what they’ve just heard. Plus, most agents like learning from "one of their own” – more than being told what to do by a cranky supervisor who likely has it in for them.


Taking the “customer as coach” approach. Sometimes the best coaching in the contact center comes from folks who don’t even work there. As experienced and proficient as your supervisors and team leads might be at providing feedback on how agents can improve performance, it’s your customers’ direct comments that often have the biggest impact on agent development. This is certainly not to suggest that agents don’t require and value feedback from their superiors as well as from experienced peers, but there’s something about hearing things straight from the customer’s mouth that causes agents to not fall asleep during coaching sessions.

Having a supervisor tell an agent he needs to work on his empathy doesn’t hit him the same way as having him read “The agent I spoke to was colder than a naked Eskimo” on a survey completed by a customer he recently interacted with. Where agents may occasionally feel a supervisor’s or QA specialist’s take on their performance is subjective, there’s no arguing with the “Voice of the Customer”. So, whether you share customer comments taken from post-contact surveys, emails/letters sent from customers, or customer’s direct conversations with supervisors/managers (following an escalated call), those words can do a lot to engage agents and drive them to stop stinking so much.


Collaborating with agents to develop action plans. At the end of each coaching session during which a key area for improvement is identified, the best coaches typically work together with the agent to come up with a clear and concise action plan aimed at getting the agent up to speed. Such collaboration, just like with letting agents self-evaluate, is engaging and empowering to agents and makes them more likely to work hard to improve. The supervisor/coach still has the final say, but the agent is actively involved in the creation of the action plan.

A typical action plan may call for the agent to receive additional one-on-one coaching/training offline, complete one or more e-learning modules, work with a peer mentor, start taking powerful psychoactive medications, and/or undergo a lobotomy.

 
“Smile, you’re on Customer Camera.”

Such a statement isn’t quite as silly or absurd as it sounds. Video calls are no longer just a whimsical fantasy. The technology that drives video interactions with customers is ready for prime time, and has been for a while.

Not a lot of contact centers have experimented with video calls to date, but some have and even report success in the visual medium. These centers claim that video calls aren’t just a gimmicky trend but rather something that many customers want – particularly those who are voyeurs and/or exhibitionists.

Video calls break down the barriers that exist with faceless phone conversations (and emails, chats, tweets), thus enabling companies to establish stronger rapport and more personalized relationships with customers. And because video lets customers put a face with a name, it makes it much easier for a disgruntled customer to find the exact agent he wants to slap after driving (or flying) to the contact center site, thus saving innocent staff members from any harm.

Achieving success with video calls, however, requires careful planning and strategy. Easy to overlook when implementing video are the unique performance metrics the center needs to measure in association with this new contact channel. While many of the metrics used for traditional phone calls also apply to video contacts, there are a few new measures that are particularly essential for success with video, including…

Food Particles In Teeth Per Shift (FPITPS): Agents who handle traditional voice-only calls can get away with having a piece of spinach or broccoli caught between their teeth, even if it does disgust their coworkers. For video agents, however, such a common occurrence can cause a customer experience disaster. In fact, a recent study found that video callers are 87% less likely to continue doing business with a company whose video agents fail to floss effectively.

Video agents should be coached and trained not only on proper pre-call flossing but also on the use toothpicks and hand mirrors to ensure that their FPITPS numbers remain very low. While there is no industry standard for FPITPS, the best video-enabled contact centers aim for between 0.0 and 0.2 food particles in teeth per shift for the entire center. The exception is suicide prevention hotlines, where higher FPITPS numbers are not only tolerated but encouraged, as studies have shown that agents with food caught in their teeth on camera helps emotionally distressed callers feel a lot better about their own lives.

 
Agent Smile Radius (ASR): Agents have historically been told to “put a smile in your voice” (and your emails/chats/tweets). Despite being an annoying and ambiguous command that makes agents feel like punching their supervisor, this practice has been shown to increase customer satisfaction. Now, with video, agents must learn to put an actual physical smile on their face when interacting with customers – no easy task when you consider the long hours, verbal abuse, physical confinement, low pay, and corporate motivational posters that agents must contend with each day.

To ensure that agents smile widely on a consistent basis during video calls, it’s important to hold them accountable and reward them for achieving an ambitious yet feasible Agent Smile Radius (ASR). ASR is the distance from one corner of an agent’s mouth to the other when forcing a smile during customer interactions. When choosing an ASR objective, select one that requires agents to smile big enough to make customers feel warm and special, but not so big that the customer mistakes the agent for Julia Roberts or Mick Jagger.
 
If you have some agents who simply cannot force a smile onto their face during video calls, consider using some strategic tools and props to help elicit genuine grins from these grumps. Possible smile-inducing tactics include having a supervisor stand off-camera wearing a pinwheel hat, and investing in workstation chairs that tickle.

 
Average Eye-Roll Rate (AERR): For traditional phone agents, the rolling of eyes while speaking to bothersome customers is as common a practice as sobbing alone in the break room or beneath a workstation. However, video agents must strive to keep such insulting actions in check. If customers see an agent rolling his/her eyes, they will feel the company doesn’t value them – thus increasing the likelihood of them taking their video contacts to a more caring company where agents merely have food particles stuck in their teeth.

Given the idiocy of some customers today, it’s unfair to expect video agents to completely refrain from rolling their eyes. Still, it’s important to keep eye-rolling to a bare minimum. Establishing a strictly enforced Average Eye-Roll Rate (AERR) objective and educating agents on said objective will help in this endeavor.

For best results, reward and recognize video agents who maintain a low AERR over time, or who last more than 10-15 minutes without rolling their eyes even once during a shift. And be sure to deal with problematic eye-rollers swiftly and sternly, either by docking their pay or by telling them that if they don’t stop rolling their eyes, their face is going to stay that way. 


Got any good (read: funny) metrics for video-enabled contact centers you’d like to recommend? Please share them in the comment section below.