Unhappy Agents: Why Good Coaching is Important to Your Bottom Line

How can contact centres utilise coaching to improve agent performance and reduce staff turnover?

With staff turnover being one of the biggest challenges for contact centres, how can we use coaching to improve?

In contact centres low morale among agents is a common problem. According to research from London Economics, "In many centres performance management... is rife with unfairness and inconsistency - making it worse than having no system at all."

Many of us have worked in a team where some people seem to get ahead no matter what they do, while others struggle to get by. Sooner or later, you'll come across an agent who has fallen out of love with their role; they're unhappy, demotivated and thinking about leaving for pastures new.

Research from London Economics shows that high staff turnover can be a common problem in contact centres, with as many as one in five agents leaving a centre every year.

Bad people management is costly - in a 2020 study, contact centre managers and leaders cited high staff turnover as the biggest challenge they face. The negative effects of this are clear: high turnover is extremely expensive (costing up to three times the salary) and if customers see your team as less than professional, they'll likely choose another supplier next time.  

Good coaching is essential in maintaining morale among the agents by helping them master skills needed for success, identify problems before they become habits, and develop a happier and more productive workforce. You can also use it to identify which agents meet the long-term goals of your contact centre and reward high performers accordingly.

Identifying potentially 'troubled' employees

Sometimes you can see problems arising from a mile off; they're usually associated with agents that are new starters or have recently returned after a break from customer service roles. They might have chosen the role because it offered them an opportunity to work at home since many contact centres have continued remote working post-pandemic. Many people who are parents to young children have decided to return to full-time employment now they can do this without leaving their family for extended periods of time. Others are people who have been made redundant in corporate back-office environments and are looking for a new challenge.

These individuals bring a lot to the role and in many cases their enthusiasm for customer service outstrips that of their colleagues, but they also harbour several expectations about what the role will involve: flexible working hours, reasonable (or non-existent) commute time and perhaps most importantly, room to grow within the business. If these expectations aren't met, you'll notice their morale begin to wane after just a few weeks.

The appearance of 'troubled' agents may be easy to spot in your contact centre - if so don't neglect them when it comes to coaching assignments. It's often better to take action before poor performance turns into bad habits; we all know how difficult it is to correct bad habits once they've been entrenched for several months.

Practical action: bring unhappy agents back into the fold

If you're dealing with a recently returned parent or someone who has just joined from an entirely different role, don't ignore these people just because they've not created any problems yet.

It's important to provide them with coaching and development opportunities, even if their accountabilities are different to those of other team members. For example, an unhappy agent who would once have had responsibility for lots of end-customer interactions may now find that they're working on taking orders over the phone instead - this will save you time (and money) in the long run.

When giving these agents work, help them feel part of the team by explaining the ways in which their task supports their colleagues. If customers and colleagues see your teams as being 'all together', rather than a collection of individuals, it will go a long way towards raising morale.

Coaching assignments for high performers

If you've got multiple hands-on managers or supervisors in your contact centre, it may fall to them to deliver coaching interventions. If you don't have regular one-to-one meetings with your more experienced team members, now might be a good time to start - you'll build trust and respect amongst the whole team if you ask for their input on these types of issues.

If this doesn’t suit your organisation, consider recruiting someone who can concentrate on coaching assignments full time, so they don't become an afterthought whilst the business grows. This person should however always act as a support for management by providing advice where needed, rather than taking over their managerial responsibilities.

Although top performers will often be confident in their abilities, they'll still enjoy opportunities to learn new skills. Assignments like shadowing supervisors or taking part in team coaching exercises can help them become better equipped to handle customer interactions and build relationships with other support teams within your organisation.

It's important that all employees feel valued, whether they're high performers looking for opportunities to advance with the business, or new starters still getting to grips with working in a contact centre.

Practical action: Don't miss out on high performer development

It's easy to think that your top performers are already doing well at their jobs and therefore don’t need to be rewarded to encourage better performance, but you may be missing an opportunity to create even greater levels of commitment.

If you're already recognising good performance among your team members, consider trying a wider variety of non-financial recognition methods. Tokens of appreciation like cakes, cards and or gift baskets highlight the individuals' achievements and are good ways of building morale - it's just as important to help your team members remember that they're generally doing a good job as it is to reward them for achieving specific goals.

People enjoy being part of a successful company, so if you have new products or services that have performed strongly in test markets then sharing this information can go some way towards inspiring confidence among your workforce. Using video conferencing software to showcase success stories from other teams is another great way to keep staff on their toes and encourage them to keep innovating.

If your contact centre has already made an impact on the business' bottom line, don't just sit back and wait for agents to notice how well they're doing - let them know exactly what their role is in achieving these goals. This will motivate them further and help everyone focus on creating even better experiences for customers as you look to ensure ongoing success for your organisation.

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