Feedback is something that many people dread receiving or even giving. Somehow we often believe that if we are getting feedback, or if we are deemed to need training, we must be doing something wrong. But feedback, training and coaching are essential tools to keep agents on track and help them improve their performance. You don't have to be ill to get better!
Think of a cruise ship travelling between Southampton and New York. During the journey the ship may steer slightly of course due to bad weather or some other reason. If the ship's captain or navigator doesn't correct the course, the ship won't get to New York as it is supposed to.
The same is true in the work place. Constructive feedback can help agents improve their skills and performance. If they are just left to do their thing they may think they're doing just fine. Then at a later stage when they are called in for feedback and it isn't all positive they can get defensive and wonder why they weren't told this before.
A good rule to have is that everyone gets feedback, everyday. This takes the drama out of getting feedback. Instead it becomes part of the culture, an expectation and people will be more open to receiving it.
Feedback is supposed to be helpful. But, if it isn't given in the right way it can be harmful. Here are three things that can help you think about how you're going to give feedback. They are times, lines and signs.
The best time for feedback is right away or as soon as possible after the event. If it's positive and you see it, then say it. If the agent is still on a call, a thumbs and a smile may seem cheesy, but it sends the message very clearly that they are doing well. Critical feedback should be given one on one but in a way that seems natural. Rather than calling them into an office, see if you can speak to them on their own while getting a cup of coffee or walking to the break room. This is much less stressful and prevents feedback from becoming a 'big thing' to be worried about.
How feedback is phrased is critical. You want to try to be neutral and objective. Leave emotion or personal thoughts out of it. Ask questions to put across that you want to understand the situation from their viewpoint. On the www.catli.co.uk site you can access resources on the lines that are helpful and learn which ones spell disaster and should be avoided.
Signs refer to body language and tone of voice. They are the non verbal cues that need to support what you are saying. Signs can also give you clues as to what the agent is feeling. If they are already in a highly emotional state then now is not the time to give them feedback to correct something. This will only add to their stress and push them closer to breaking point. You want to be using feedback to build people up and help them improve.
Training goes hand in hand with feedback. If your feedback is about areas they need to improve on, but you don't offer them training to help them improve, then you are just telling them about a problem. You aren't helping them find a solution.
There are three important aspects of training. It needs to be:
In other words it needs to be results focus. There need to be specific objectives and outcomes for each training session. It shouldn't just be a corporate tick box. It should have a purpose that can be measured.
Training works when it translates into to new behaviour. This happens when skills are not just heard, but practiced and implemented for themselves. Make training exciting and interesting and get agents involved in the learning process. This will help them retain what they have learned and make them feel more motivated to implement it.
Trainers and the environment in which the training takes place should inspire energy and involvement. Taking agents away from the phones for training should be something they look forward to. Training that is motivational will be most effective in creating new behaviour that can result in better performance.
Coaching is about helping agents improve in a very practical way. Three key elements of coaching are data, discussion and development.
Technology can help facilitate coaching by using tools such as voice recording and speech analytics to gather quality data. This technology can efficiently flag calls that contain phrases or errors for managers to listen to and incorporate into their coaching.
This data is valuable in providing objective evidence when an issue is being addressed. For example: If you are working on reducing average call handling times, periods of silence on calls can be flagged as areas for improvement.
An important aspect of coaching is that it needs to be an active two way discussion. Questions are the singularly most important aspect of coaching. Questions enable you to understand what the agent is thinking or feeling and what they might need help with. Ask them for suggestions for improvement, rather than telling them. Coaching is about helping them find the answers for themselves so that they own the solutions.
Finally development opportunities are essential to follow-on from the gaps identified in coaching. Having a range of modules, whether delivered online or face-to-face, is important to support the soft and technical skills needed.
It is also critical to ensure that what is discussed in a coaching session is actually implemented and encouraged. Give positive feedback straight away when you see the new behaviours taking place. Check in with agents regularly to see how they are progressing in terms of dealing with a specific issue that was discussed. This will help motivate agents to improve their performance.
If you'd like to know more see my free webinar at www.contactcentresuccess.com for more easy wins to improve the performance of your contact centre.
Carolyn Blunt is a renowned trainer, business owner and writer. Her business, Real Results Training, specialises in soft skills training, particularly contact centre training, customer service, communication skills and leadership. Real Results Training is an approved centre for Institute of Leadership & Management qualifications and provides online training videos and packages.
Carolyn Blunt has been voted Most Respected Person in the UK Contact Centre Industry in the most recent poll by readers of Call Centre Helper Magazine. Carolyn has co-author of 'How to Deliver Effective Social Customer Service' published by Wiley. For more information visit www.real-results.co.uk