For those of you who manage call centers and support centers, you are tasked with watching operational costs in addition to dealing with a team of agents. Your managerial skills can mean the difference between an effective call center or one that’s failing. Good management requires a heavy-dose of both intuition and technique, and each circumstance requires a personalized blend of skills. When practicing call center coaching, there are a mix of methods that we’ve seen work particularly well. Below we outline 5 top call center coaching tips to add to your toolbox. We’ll tackle another 5 in the next post.
- Set specific and measurable goals. The ability to set targets for you and your team to meet will give you focus and motivation. Choose goals that are realistic. A quick test to see if yours pass muster? Ask:
What will be improved?
By how much or how many?
If you can’t specify how you’ll measure your goals, go back to the drawing board.
- Create action plans. Setting goals is one thing; implementing them is another. Allow us to introduce you to the Action Plan.
For example, say you set a goal in Step 1 of completing a coaching course so you can become certified in the Support Staff Excellence program. That’s your goal—completion of the course. Your action plan will define how you reach your goal. Here's how you might write that action plan:
“Set aside two hours every week on Monday and Wednesday to go through the support center coaching curriculum. Next will be to pick three new skills from the course every week and apply it at work. Based on the study schedule, I’ll be ready to take the test by October 15th.”
- Be positive. Your language and tone matter.
Positive thinking has been credited with everything from stress reduction to better health. In a work environment, staying positive is just as powerful. So how do you apply the “power of the positive” to your call center coaching? To start, examine your language. Take these two examples:
“Unless you make those callbacks to the customers right away, there’s no way we’ll be able to give them the information about the promotion.”
“We can still make this happen. If you can make those callbacks to the customers within the next few hours, we’ll be able to get them the promotional information before it’s too late.”
If you were a call center agent, which phrase would you be more apt to respond to: the sentence with the negative slant, or the sentence with the positive? Which would you find more motivating? Think about your language and all of the conversations you have daily with your agents and fellow managers. How often are you communicating using positive language versus negative? Try this: Next time, before you ask an agent to do something, or give feedback, re-phrase your words so they’re positive and see what type of reaction you receive.
- Listen. Really listen. Listening—effective listening—is a powerful skill that’s rarely used. Especially in a high-stress environment, it’s easy to get caught-up in rapid-fire mode and neglect the very fundamental coaching skill of hearing and understanding. However, listening is an art form worth spending some time perfecting. It will help your managerial abilities and productivity, and will help you strengthen relationships with your colleagues (it’s also useful to try at home with your family!).
In call center coaching, try the following tips to improve your listening:
- Focus: When someone’s speaking to you, don’t check e-mail or your phone. Look the person in the eyes and give them your full attention. This communicates respect and you’ll more fully absorb what they’re telling you.
- Don’t interrupt: Do you enjoy being interrupted? Chances are, you find it annoying. The person whom you’re talking to finds it annoying as well.
- Pause before you respond: Oftentimes, when you take a moment to formulate your thoughts before you respond, you wind up saying something different—usually something a bit more appropriate. The few extra seconds it takes to collect your thoughts before you respond will not dramatically impede everything else you need to cram in for the day.
- Paraphrase—show you understand: Finally, to make sure you understand what the other person meant to say, repeat back the key points and ask the person to confirm that’s what he or she really meant.
- Lighten up a bit. You may find it surprising that one of the key tools in effective call center coaching is humor. Why is it so important that it belongs in the “canon” of effective coaching skills? Because humor is closely tied to attitude and your ability to read a situation. Be careful, of course, about when it’s appropriate to crack a joke or lighten the mood, and make sure you don’t offend or insult someone at the expense of a few laughs.
Knowing how and when to use humor will make you more approachable, more likeable, and more human to the people you work with.
For more quick tips on call center coaching and improving your managerial skills, watch for our next post in the series, "Call Center Coaching: 5 More Tricks to Ensure Success." And for a more comprehensive look at call center management skills, download our free, 8-page white paper, "Best Practices for Improving Call Center Supervisory Skills."