Is Coaching A Waste Of Time?
Recently we came across an article by Dennis Adsit titled The Futility of Call Center Coaching. Naturally, we were intrigued!
Andy worked with our colleagues Rob Archambault, and Corey Savory from NICE Systems to craft this response.
Three Reasons Why Call Center Coaching Is Not Futile
Dennis Adsit makes an impressive case for The Futility of Call Center Coaching.
But even though coaching to improve call center performance may not work at all in theory, it works extremely well in practice. In fact, we have extensive experience with call center organizations that have continued to improve performance in sales, customer service, efficiency, accuracy, and other key metrics through a comprehensive program of performance management supported by behavioral coaching.
How have these organizations managed to succeed even though Dennis Adsit’s analysis suggests that they should fail?
As outside consultants, it would be inappropriate for us to share client-specific data that directly refutes Mr. Adsit’s conclusions. And we’re not going to challenge Mr. Adsit’s mathematics – which seem to be above reproach. Instead, we’d like to suggest that three of his underlying assumptions need to be seriously reconsidered.
1. Process improvement and coaching are not mutually exclusive.
They are separate activities, often performed by different people. And they both contribute to long term call center success.
Call center management should always continue to seek out opportunities to improve processes. In today’s dynamic work environment, the services and offerings of a typical call center must change rapidly. So it’s essential to conduct regular process reviews to ensure accuracy, efficiency, relevance, and compliance to both regulatory changes and alignment of the call center to the organizational strategic objectives.
At the same time, managers and supervisors should continue to monitor and coach front-line agents. Monitoring is the best way to ensure that front-line agents are adhering to business processes and executing them in the manner that was intended. And if employees are not able to meet expectations, coaching helps uncover the root cause of the challenges they’re facing and then provide the support that they need to succeed. In fact, it’s through discussions with front-line agents during coaching interactions that managers and supervisors are often able to identify opportunities for future process improvements.
Mr. Adsit based much of his article on the work of W. Edwards Deming. Yet Dr. Deming himself seemed to recognize the importance of coaching in his 6th posit, when he advised:
Institute modern methods of training on the job for all, including management, to make better use of every employee. New skills are required to keep up with the changes in material, methods, product and services, design, machinery, techniques and services.
Keep in mind that “modern methods of training on the job for all” should include an ongoing process of managers coaching the coaches to ensure that supervisors consistently hone their skills and elevate the level and effectiveness of the coaching they provide to the front-line.
2. Coaching plays a critical role in reducing call center turnover.
Mr. Adsit’s analysis assumes an annual turnover rate of 36%. This rate is typical for many call centers. But it’s not inevitable, and certainly not desirable.
The old adage is that employees join companies and leave supervisors. Evidence supports this. In their widely heralded book First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman summarized research that the Gallup organization had conducted with over a million employees from a broad range of workplaces. Their unsurprising conclusion: “People leave managers not companies . . . in the end; turnover is mostly a manager issue.”
Our clients continue to demonstrate that supervisors who coach effectively are able to increase employee engagement and reduce turnover. Agents who are empowered to make effective choices and participate in their own development are able to create more successful interactions – leading to positive customer feedback and higher employee morale.
Of course, a certain amount of turnover is not only inevitable but also desirable – if it’s concentrated among the poorest performers in your organization. Through rigorous and consistent performance management supported by effective coaching, our clients have been successful in moving their poorest performers up to higher levels of success or out to seek a better job fit in another organization.
3. Long-tenured employees can and should continue to improve.
Mr. Adsit suggests that “In my experience as a call center leader, long-tenured agents are not very responsive to coaching.” And he bases his analysis on the assumption that “the amount of improvement continues to halve every six months, following a declining exponential function.” Again, this assumption runs counter to our real world experience.
Most of our call center clients face challenges from aggressive industry competitors. And they serve customers who can choose from an increasing array of product, service, and pricing options. These call centers don’t have the luxury of standing pat and resting on their laurels. They must continually raise the bar of performance expectations at every level of their organizations. As a result, individual employees have to build their skills and knowledge and grow their professional capabilities. In an organization that is continually raising the bar, a solid performer who doesn’t continue to improve becomes a poor performer who doesn’t have a job.
And that’s why coaching works best in the context of a strong performance management process. By effectively analyzing performance and segmenting employees accordingly, our clients adjust their coaching cadence (frequency and duration) and focus their coaching efforts where they can achieve the greatest impact. They can – and do – employ different coaching strategies to retain and develop top performers, move the middle beyond comfort to capability, and help poor performers and those who resist coaching to improve quickly or seek opportunities elsewhere.
Our clients often find that it’s by focusing on their third quartile that they can maximize the overall impact of their coaching efforts. And this third quartile frequently includes those “long-tenured agents” that Adsit considers to be unresponsive to coaching. Our clients’ experiences – and results – prove otherwise.
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You can read Dennis Adsit’s article, The Futility Of Call Center Coaching.