To say that the financial services industry is going through a lot of change is an understatement. Factors such as more rigorous regulations with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the evolution of bank branches with regard to customer interactions are requiring bank employees, especially contact center employees, to wear many new “hats” to deliver great experiences.
As more bank services are being pushed from the branch to the contact center, this workforce plays a vital role in ensuring the customer experience lends itself to helping recoup both mind-share and wallet-share. The wider range of services needed to assist customers and the pressure of regulations, privacy, data integrity and security has made agent training and coaching imperative.
A recent report from Ventana Research, “Insights on Contact Center Agent Productivity,” revealed some startling facts. A majority of the companies surveyed for the report targeted less than half a day per month for agent training, roughly equivalent to 2.5 percent of the agent’s time. And, less than one-third meet 90 percent of those targets, because of fluctuations in operations and call volumes. Even worse, more than one-third set no coaching targets at all!
While it’s no secret that employees who receive good coaching perform at a higher level than those that do not, the challenge often lies in finding, and best utilizing, the time. Time is a scarce commodity in the contact center and coaching and training often take a back seat to service levels. However, organizations that want to maximize productivity and improve customer experience find a way to make coaching and training a priority.
The following guidelines offer ways to nurture contact center agents and other front line employees with fluctuating customer demand to ensure proper one-to-one coaching and training is received to drive better customer service:
Every employee requires individualized coaching.Coaching every team member, from the one who is struggling to your top performer, is necessary if you are to drive continued development. Why allow an under-performer to continue at a low performance level and risk damage to a customer experience? Also, your top-tier agents are probably looking to advance and take on more responsibility, and coaching them for these opportunities encourages loyalty, job satisfaction and better customer interactions.
Develop a “coach’s playbook.”Instead of just providing advice, implement a playbook with action plans for supervisors to follow with associates. Use the plan to identify key steps involved, areas where the employee struggles, the behaviors needed to perform successfully and ways to change and practice those behaviors.
Engage your team.Show your team that you have confidence in their abilities by asking them to identify where they may be struggling. Quite often, they know they need help but aren’t sure how to ask for it. Coaching is just as much about asking questions (and getting truthful answers) as it is relating proper procedure.
Make coaching a priority.Set aside time for every agent to receive coaching on a consistent basis, and use intraday automation solutions to schedule regular coaching sessions during redistributed idle time. The same Ventana report says that, “Idle time occurs most often in one-to-two-minute slots. This makes optimizing that time so difficult that approximately 14 percent of companies don’t even try to do it.” That’s astounding and even troubling when you consider the good that can come from agents who are better informed and equipped to serve customers.
Establish metrics for accountability.Measuring whether or not targeted coaching goals are met establishes accountability. By adopting a measurement system that shows how much and what types of coaching agents receive, and also linking this to performance, constant improvement through coaching becomes systemic in the call center.
Be positive and deliver constructive feedback.Effective coaching relies on positive feedback. Instead of just pointing out shortcomings, suggest a different approach to use next time. This tactic helps to keep both you and the associate motivated toward improvement. According to customer experience consultant Melissa Kovacevic, “Your contact center becomes a very negative place to work when front-line leaders are doing more telling than asking, more talking about what an agent did wrong rather than catching an agent doing something right.”
Enlist support from all levels.Getting senior-level buy-in for your coaching program provides a level of accountability and credit to your efforts. Coaching should not be viewed as a nice-to-have activity. Instead, it should be understood that coaching is a vital part of the operational health of the call center. Agents and coaches alike will make a greater effort in their coaching sessions if they know that management is thoroughly supportive and backs up that support with time, processes and tools.
While time is a precious commodity in every business, so are your customers. Managers have to rethink how they look at usable time and stop using the perceived lack of it as an excuse for not delivering critical agent training and coaching. Intraday automation tools allow contact centers to redistribute idle time for more productive tasks like coaching, back office work and other off-phone activities. When time is well managed according to agreed-upon priorities, contact centers see productivity improvements and an uptick in customer service levels.
Matt McConnell is chairman, president and CEO of Intradiem