Effective Call Center Agent Coaching and Recognition
Of the opportunities that contact centers have to improve their first call resolution (FCR), the quickest and greatest individual wins typically come from improving agent source of error for repeat contacts. Whether they be will or skill issues, roughly 40% of an average contact center’s fail-points are due to frontline agent source of error. This translates to performance gaps between the top and bottom performing agents in an average contact center, accounts for roughly twice as many customer defections, and 15% more repeat contacts. In an effort to drive improvement, the responsibility typically falls to an agent’s manager or supervisor.
Agents are vital to organizations improving FCR performance, hence, one would imagine that supervisors would be largely focused on coaching agents. Interestingly though, while many contact centers claim that their supervisors spend approximately 50% or more of their time coaching agents to improve FCR, our research shows that it is much less. In most cases, four to five calls per agent, per month are evaluated and agents are coached once a month for less than one hour. This means that, typically, an agent receives only 1.5 days total coaching time on an annual basis, and in most cases, the coaching information is based on a traditional quality assurance (QA) practice where the customer's experience is judged from an internal perspective, rather than an external perspective where the customer is the judge of their experience. (For more details on best practices for incorporating the voice of the customer (VoC) into your QA program to improve FCR performance, please see our recent white paper on Customer Quality Assurance or access our on-demand webinar to learn more.
Coaching is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced and can be challenging for supervisors who are promoted from the agent level and not properly trained to coach agents. Many agents are uneasy about receiving call coaching from their supervisor because their coaching style tends to focus on the negative aspects of the call. Although there are always areas an agent can improve upon for call handling, these aspects should not be the sole focus in a coaching session. The most common feedback SQM receives from agents about coaching, is that their supervisor is not skilled at coaching them on how to improve their call resolution and customer satisfaction (Csat) performance.
It stands to reason that if the traditional QA process is not effective for helping improve call resolution and Csat, then how can a supervisor be successful at coaching to improve agent performance when they are using the traditional QA process? SQM agrees with the vast majority of contact center professionals’ opinions that coaching agents is critical for FCR improvement. Also, using VoC feedback for coaching agents is a best practice to improve FCR performance. As an example of how to coach to VoC feedback, the below figure shows an ongoing four-step VoC agent coaching model for helping agents improve call resolution and FCR performance.
We welcome you to read case studies from SQM clients whose agent coaching programs have demonstrated best practices that improved or helped maintain high FCR performance. Also, to help you further assess the effectiveness of your agent coaching program, here are a few questions and points to consider:
- Knowing that World Class contact centers are up at around 80% of supervisor time dedicated to coaching, do your supervisors invest at least 50% of their time coaching agents?
- How much coaching and training do your supervisors receive?
- Do your supervisors have the right skills to coach your agents?
- Have you established world class supervisor VoC performance metrics and targets?
- Are there VoC goals that both agents and supervisors are held accountable to?
- Do you track agent performance improvement based on VoC to quantify the effectiveness of coaching?
- Are your supervisors only coaching to an interaction, or are they coaching to behavioral trends?
- Do your supervisors know what motivates agents on their team?
Agent Recognition Best Practices
Motivating agents to use the desired customer service behaviors to improve FCR and retaining the best agents are great challenges. This is where your agent recognition program can be instrumental in supporting your FCR improvement strategy. An effective recognition program will greatly help managers and supervisors in motivating agents to excel in providing call resolution at the world class level and to retain the top performing agents. It is important to note that 46% of customers whose call was not resolved felt the agent could have done more to resolve their call. In many of those cases, the agents were not motivated to use the desired customer service behaviors to resolve customer calls. In other words, from a customer point of view, it was a will issue rather than a skill issue.
A best practice is to recognize agent behavior and reward VoC results in a frequent, descriptive, impactful, and personal manner. This way, agents know what they are being recognized for and it motivates them to continue to use the behaviors that helped them achieve the VoC results. SQM’s world class performing clients have common best practices as part of their recognition programs. More specifically, their recognition programs are:
- Frequent - Recognize agents daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. The more timely, consistent, and frequent, the better.Recognize CSRs daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. The more timely, consistent, and frequent, the better.
- Descriptive - Recognize agents for specific behaviors that they used to resolve a call or provide great FCR customer experiences. The more descriptive the feedback, the more the agent will feel it is sincere.
- Impactful - Focus agent recognition on behaviors that have a positive impact on improving FCR. These are the behaviors you want the agent to repeat.
- Personal - Know that each agent is motivated by recognition differently. Do they prefer private or public recognition? Are they motivated by money, time off, recognition by leadership, or additional responsibilities? Most importantly, how can you (often with great creativity) tie-in agent motivators into your recognition program?
To be effective, your recognition program must drive results. It is not uncommon for contact centers to allocate significant resources to recognition programs that do not improve customer or employee experiences. At their heart, successful recognition programs motivate employees’ willingness to improve, and world class organizations leverage that willingness through enabling highly effective coaching programs.
By not only understanding what drives agent motivation and their willingness to improve but also leveraging that motivation through a well-designed coaching program, FCR improvement comes in two ways:
- you get longer-term wins from keeping top performing agents in their roles.
- average to poor performers are motivated to continuously improve.
Coaching and recognition go hand-in-hand to drive better employee engagement and great FCR performance by galvanizing the relationship between an agent and their supervisor as one that provides guidance and motivates the agent to improve the ways they deliver on your customers’ experiences.