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The most persistent contact center challenges can be overcome by making coaching a part of the culture and developing your agents’ listening and problem-solving skills

For several years we’ve been participating in Customer Contact Week (CCW), the world’s largest customer contact event series. As “the place where customer care, CX and contact center leaders come together,” these annual conference and expo events in Las Vegas and our hometown of Nashville allow us to get a pulse of the customer management practice and hear firsthand about the most critical contact center challenges and how supervisors, managers and agents are responding to the latest industry trends and developments.

Every year we poll CCW attendees about the critical issues they’re facing in two overarching categories: agent challenges and operational challenges. We checked back in on those topics again recently and, as we discovered, while the industry is changing at a rapid clip, the same big challenges persist year after year.

Top Contact Center Challenges

From the agent standpoint, the most prevalent challenges in 2020 revolve around improving the human touch in customer conversations and enhancing customer-facing skills, themes we heard both in 2018 and in 2019. It’s clear that, even in a world where technology and artificial intelligence are now commonplace in call centers, the need for those uniquely human skills isn’t going away. If anything, contact centers that place a priority on developing their agents’ ability to go “beyond the script” by building rapport, creating value and connecting emotionally with their customers will have a distinct advantage.

On the operational side, managers are still struggling with issues related to turnover, getting new agents ramped up quickly enough, coaching effectively, improving cross-selling and trying to understand where the root problems are when it comes to moving the needle on results. This time around, though, it wasn’t just one or two of these problems that stood out. Instead, managers told us they’re being challenged equally in all of these areas.

The underlying message is that today’s contact center managers are spread thin. They’re juggling a range of diverse challenges, and they’re constantly being pulled in different directions to deal with them. This can make it that much more difficult to make real headway on any of the critical issues they’re facing. And if the managers aren’t able to keep on top of things like onboarding, coaching and turnover, agent performance will continue to lag behind.

One thing’s for sure, if this cycle continues, you can bet we’ll be seeing similar results when we poll contact center leaders at next year’s event.

The Power of Coaching

What can managers do to start reversing this trend? One solution would be to devote time and energy ticking off each of these issues one by one through specific development and support from leadership. But that’s not exactly an efficient way to go about it, particularly considering that these are all high priority issues. It’s not like today’s contact center managers can afford to take their eyes off of any of them. And leaders are stretched thin as well. Getting them involved in every issue just isn’t a sustainable option.

A better solution is to use coaching to empower these managers to handle a more diverse set of challenges. Lou Cimini, Vice President of Human Resources at Samsonite, discussed this approach to coaching in a podcast interview with us about building people’s agility in the face of complex problems and continual change. As he points out, this is coaching at its most powerful. By developing someone’s confidence to step up and solve problems independently, and then giving them the tools to be successful at it, they can take on a range of issues, not just the immediate problem in front of them today.

Many managers, however, aren’t receiving any coaching at all, even though most are expected to coach their employees. In our coaching study with the Sales Management Association, only about 40% of the managers we surveyed said they are coached by their leaders. That not only affects their performance and motivation, it can have a ripple effect. If their leaders aren’t making the time to coach them, why should they make the time to coach their agents?

Empowering Your Contact Center Managers to Act

As Samsonite’s Cimini puts it, “The power of coaching can’t be underestimated. If you can spread it in your organization, the ROI is extraordinary.” Here are two keys to helping your contact center get the most from manager coaching.

  1. Make coaching part of the culture. Most people don’t need to be convinced of coaching’s value any more, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually doing it. The biggest excuse? There’s just no time. But our research has consistently shown that it’s not so much a time issue as it is a skill and will issue.

How committed are your senior leaders to coaching? It starts with them. When you have a simple, structured process they can follow, it will make it that much easier for them to find the time to do it and to do it effectively.

  • Develop problem-solving skills and confidence—and then let people act. When coaching is handled in a comprehensive, positive way, people become motivated and energized to take ownership of everyday problems. If there’s an obstacle, they feel empowered to solve it, whether that means asking good questions and finding resources to solve it, creating a team to figure it out, or presenting a potential solution to the boss.

In a fast-paced environment, we need managers to act as owners rather than delegating problems up. If you have regular coaching conversations with managers, provide them with the necessary tools and hold them accountable, you should be able to trust them to create the output the business needs. If leaders are constantly questioning their managers’ decisions, it might be a sign that they need more development around how to coach effectively.

Managers need to get out of firefighting mode so they can focus on developing the listening and problem-solving capabilities and performance of their agents. Make a commitment to coaching them to be owners of the business and let’s see what a difference that makes come next year’s CCW.

About the Author
Donna Horrigan
Donna Horrigan

Vice President of Client Development

For the past five years Donna Horrigan has been partnering with our clients to drive business outcomes through performance improvement...
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