5 Tips for Customer Service Coaches in Call Centers

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Customer experience (CX) leaders place a big emphasis on communication between support agents and customers—rightfully so. However, if you want to deliver world-class experiences, solid communication between support agents and their coaches is equally important.

As a customer service coach, you’re responsible for delivering feedback (whether positive or negative), navigating interpersonal conflicts, and laying the foundation for professional development. There’s no blueprint for any of this. But with patience, empathy, and data, you’ll cultivate strong relationships with agents during your coaching sessions.

Let’s take a look at five ways you can foster better communication in your future coaching sessions.

1. Got an Issue? Get to the Root Cause

Whether you run into a conflict with an agent over goal setting, performance expectations, or something else, it’s common to fixate on the symptoms of the issue rather than the underlying cause.

Let’s say you have a disagreement over how much control the agent should have when it comes to appeasing an upset customer who didn’t receive their order on time. The agent wants to offer some free swag as an apology, but this isn’t an approved tactic. Your gut reaction might be that the agent is going rogue and not adhering to the approved de-escalation process. But in reality, the agent is frustrated with a lack of autonomy and feels they deserve more trust.

In these situations, questions (not assumptions or accusations) are the best way to identify the root cause of the disagreement. Here are some examples of questions to ask:

  • How do you feel about this situation?
  • Why do you think you feel [frustrated/anxious/upset]?
  • What do you feel is holding you back?

Once you both agree on the source of the issue, you can take steps toward a resolution.

2. Build Feedback Around Data

Opinions alone shouldn’t be the foundation for successful communication—you need to support them with data.

Citing data reduces friction between coaches and agents because it grounds both parties in a single source of truth rather than raw opinions, which can be tainted by biases. Whether that data is a Quality Assurance (QA) score or a performance metric like Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) scores or Average Handle Time, it’s crucial to have a mutually accessible dashboard so that everyone has access to the same data at the same time.

A mockup of the MaestroQA quality assurance dashboard

One example of emotionally charged, subjective feedback might be: “You were too slow resolving support tickets this month.” This doesn’t provide any value to the agent, and they might put their guard up—rightfully so.

Instead, weave in a statistic and make the feedback less personal. For instance: “Your First Call Resolution Rate is 12% lower compared to last quarter—let’s see how we can get that down.”

An alternative to citing numerical data is reviewing call recordings or screen recordings from customer interactions. For instance, Screen Capture illuminates all the steps that go into an agent’s interactions with customers, leading to more collaborative and transparent customer service coaching conversations.

“In 1:1 [coaching sessions], I can now say, 'I see you clicked back and forth, it seems like you struggled with this decision. Let's talk about your mindset in solving this ticket,'” says Kelly Moloney, Client Experience Lead at Stitch Fix.

3. Understand the Agent’s Perspective

Every agent has unique strengths, weaknesses, needs, and opportunities for growth. Accordingly, coaches need to bring their full attention to every conversation with agents—not pass it off as “just another coaching session.”

“[Not listening] is something we’re all guilty of,” says Adrienne Isakovic, a lecturer for Northeastern University’s Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication program. “As the other person is talking, we’re already preparing what we’re going to say in response. You need to actively listen, and even if it takes you 30 seconds after they have finished talking to respond, that’s fine.”

As a coach, you don’t have to agree with everything an agent says. That said, it’s crucial to step into their shoes and acknowledge that they have a different perspective. After all, they’re on the front lines interacting with customers every day.

If the agent’s point of view is unclear, follow up with questions and repeat their messages back to them to make sure you’re on the same page. For instance, if an agent appeals a QA score they receive from their grader (like the example below), ask them to elaborate so that you fully understand their rationale.

An example of the MaestroQA grading process

Acknowledging that you don’t have the full story and giving the agent an outlet to voice their opinion will increase their trust and foster a more authentic dialogue.

4. Avoid Unilateral Decisions

Customer service coaching works best when agents are involved in making decisions, whether that’s setting goals, optimizing a process, or coming up with a plan to refine their skills.

Let’s say an agent’s CSAT scores are stagnating. You might assume the best path to improvement is assigning an online course on emotional intelligence. But before you jump the gun, encourage the agent to offer ideas of their own. They may be more inclined to active learning techniques, like a live workshop with other agents.

This same principle of collaboration applies to resolving conflicts.

“The goal of conflict resolution is not to decide which person is right or wrong; the goal is to reach a solution that everyone can live with,” note the authors of UC Berkeley’s Guide to Managing Human Resources.

Coaches and agents both need to articulate the desired outcome, then work backward to find a middle ground. Here’s a simple example scenario:

  • Agent: I don’t want to feel micromanaged.
  • Coach: I want you to have all the feedback you need to succeed.
  • Compromise: We’ll use a learning management system where agents can learn and test valuable skills at their own pace in a low-stakes environment.

The more comfortable agents are with taking an active role in their growth, the better your relationship will be.

5. Close the Feedback Loop with a Follow-Up Meeting

Customer service coaching sessions typically occur once a month or once a quarter. However, this might not be frequent enough if the agent is new to the team or struggling with a particularly complex issue.

Schedule a follow-up meeting after your initial meeting to tie any loose ends and reinforce the points you previously discussed.

If you’re trying to resolve a conflict with an agent and can’t seem to make any progress, use the follow-up meeting to determine the next steps, such as:

  • Bring in a neutral third party as a buffer - this can be another coach, manager, or an experienced agent
  • Get HR involved
  • Assign the agent to a different coach or manager

Get Ahead of Issues Before They Happen

We’ve discussed strategies to navigate sensitive situations with agents. But one of the most valuable things CX leaders can do is forecast conflicts by proactively seeking out questions, comments, and concerns.

This can be as casual as a monthly check-in with agents via email or as structured as a formal employee engagement survey. Conflicts often stem from communication issues (or no communication at all), so understanding the agent experience lets you address issues before they cause problems.

Human nature isn’t an exact science by any means. But practicing honest, open dialogue puts the odds of a mutually beneficial agent-coach relationship in your favor.

Ready to coach with confidence? Get your free demo of MaestroQA today.  

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